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

Erin Arvedlund, on

Published in Business News

At work, I was open about accessibility, that became my passion. Zain really is locked in, so we like him to be in control of his own music, for example.

Grant: Microsoft was once known for stacked performance rankings, and people being pitted against each other. You're shifting that, bringing empathy to the table.

Nadella: That's customer obsession, meeting unarticulated needs. Looking at log files, sales people talking to the customer. Diversity and inclusion, the culture comes by behaviors in every meeting. Do you recognize differing styles? Also, no competitor respects boundaries of our organization.

Grant: It's your four-year anniversary as CEO on Feb 4. You have more than 100,000 people working for you. What's your road map?

Nadella: What bothers me, maybe because my father was a Marxist. Anyone at any company can walk out. The notion of "I work at Microsoft" -- that's what I wanted to change. You should vote with your feet. Microsoft works for you. I stayed for 25 years. Microsoft gave the most amazing platform on accessibility. It's not beautiful everyday, you have to tolerate imperfection.

Grant: What happened after the Grace Hopper conference? (Nadella made tone-deaf remarks about women not asking for raises, advising they wait for "karma.")


Nadella: I made a completely stupid mistake. It's a nonsensical answer at a women's conference, for a CEO of a company talking around what someone should do if they're not comfortable asking for a raise. It was a great learning moment; no one cared about my personal experience. Did I get my responsibility as a CEO to shape the system? We have a real challenge in our industry; it's not just about having parity of pay, being able to have equal opportunity for equal work. On aggregate, women's representation, is it growing? In tech, we're seeing glimmers of hope but we have a long way to go.

You have to work at multiple things: We have to make sure young girls are attracted to computer science, such as the curriculum around Minecraft, for example. We have to make it possible for people to get into Microsoft and once they're there, the support, the mentoring that helps them feel a sense of belonging.

Parental or caregiver leave are more conducive. Unfortunately, still the burden of some child care and parental care falls on women, so you've got to create systems to support them.

Grant: There's a lot of humility from you.


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