Microsoft's Satya Nadella tells Wharton how hubris brings down empires from Greece to Silicon Valley

Erin Arvedlund, on

Published in Business News

PHILADELPHIA -- In a talk earlier this week to a packed house at Wharton, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella stressed the importance of fostering empathy because it unlocks customers' needs.

The CEO of the software giant also told the audience at Irvine Auditorium how he unplugs at night and reads books. Here we present an edited version of his remarks and questions posed by Wharton marketing professor and author Adam Grant.

Adam Grant: Talk to us about your early ambitions.

Nadella: All I wanted to do was play cricket for India, work in a bank, and study political science. That was it, but my father ... led me to explore the world outside. I had curiosity.

Grant: You took an entrance exam to study computer science and failed it. How did you rebound?

Nadella: My father was stunned at how my report cards were so bad. He was very nice about it, and said, "That must mean you have some other passions." I was in ninth grade when he bought me a Sinclair ZX80, my first computer. That turned me on to a passion. I was a tinkerer. I got a computer science engineering degree (in India), and then a masters at University of Wisconsin. Then I went to work at Sun (Microsystems).

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Grant: What's your story about getting to Microsoft?

Nadella: I was going to go to business school at the University of Chicago, and I got an offer from Microsoft. The guy who hired me convinced me to drop out, saying 'you'll end up working here afterward anyway. Join now!' And so that's what I did.

Grant: You joined during the early days, before Windows 95 came out.

Nadella: We make platforms and tools for others to create more technology. There was a profound shift to the Intel-based architecture on desktops and servers. We were able to ... take that shift and democratize technology for small and large businesses. Look at productivity stats at that time; the last time technology truly contributed to productivity was the late '90s and early 2000s thanks to some of the work at Microsoft and others.


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