Nadella, 46, will be only the third CEO of Microsoft after founder Gates and Steve Ballmer, the man he is succeeding. Gates, who was CEO for 25 years before stepping aside for Ballmer in 2000, is himself is giving up his job as chairman of the company to become technology adviser to Nadella, supporting him in shaping the future of the company. John Thompson, formerly the lead director, will be the new chairman.
The elevation of Nadella, a company insider for 22 years (he joked in an interview that he has also been married to his wife for 22 years), was a foregone conclusion, once heavyweight outsiders such as Ford’s Alan Mulally and Nokia’s Stephen Elop dropped out or were passed up for the job. For a brief while, the names of Google’s Sundar Pichai and Motorola’s Sanjay Jha also made the rounds, serving to highlight the intensity of executives of Indian origin breaking the glass ceiling, something that began some two decades ago, but has become more pronounced now.
(Emphasizing this even more, even as the Microsoft board named Nadella for the post, a Senate Committee was sitting down in Washington DC for the confirmation hearing of Indian-American physician Dr Vivek Murthy for the position of US surgeon general. If confirmed, Murthy, who is only 36, will be the country’s youngest surgeon general, a post that was established nearly 150 years ago).
In his first in-house interview after being named for the job, Nadella said he was “honored, humbled, and excited” by his elevation, and the opportunity to make an impact is what drives him.
“I love to learn. I buy more books than I read or finish and sign up for more online courses than I can actually finish. Learning truly excites me,” the father of three kids, who went to the US for higher studies after an engineering degree from the Manipal Institute of Technology, said.
Gates himself, also a father of three kids, endorsed Nadella for the top job, saying, “During this time of transformation, there is no better person to lead Microsoft than Satya Nadella. He is a proven leader with hard-core engineering skills, business vision and the ability to bring people together.”
Corporate observers, market mavens, and tech media pundits pronounced Nadella a “safe choice,” saying little in his history as a Microsoft insider suggests he will break from the company’s pattern as a fast follower, rather than a trend setter.
Nadella’s elevation makes him the highest-ranked executive of Indian origin in the corporate world, ahead of such familiar names as Pepsico’s Indra Nooyi and Mastercard’s Ajay Banga. Microsoft’s Windows still runs roughly nine out of every 10 desktop and laptop computers in the world, and its Office and Exchange programs are corporate mainstays. The company generated $27 billion in operating profit in the year ended June 30, and holds $84 billion in cash, making it a corporate powerhouse despite the relative decline in its fortune in recent years.