Is Satya Nadella the Greatest CEO Ever?
When Satya Nadella was appointed as Microsoft’s new CEO in 2014, he inherited a company in need of drastic change, renowned for its inability to cooperate with others and its toxic culture of interdepartmental friction. It seemed that Microsoft was quickly fading from relevance, especially under the success of competitors like Apple. In addition, the decision to appoint Nadella, an engineer with no CEO experience, as Microsoft’s new Chief Executive Officer seemed both surprising and questionable.
Yet today, Nadella’s incredible success in his new role is undeniable. At the start of his tenure as CEO in February 2014, Microsoft’s stock was trading around $34 and its market value was around $315 billion, according to Thomson Reuters data. In April 2019, Reuters data showed that Microsoft’s market value passed the $1 trillion mark, with its stock trading at around $129. This monumental development made Microsoft the most valuable U.S. publicly traded company, surpassing even Apple. Today, Microsoft’s stock is trading at around $138, more than three times its value in 2014, when Nadella was appointed CEO.
While evidently impressive, the numbers don’t quite encompass all that Nadella has done for Microsoft. His impact hasn’t been limited to just performance: he has transformed the company’s entire culture and essentially equipped it to continue growing and evolving into the future. In 2011, a mock Microsoft org chart, drawn and posted by Manu Cornet, went viral. The chart depicted different departments all pointing guns at each other, a satire which provided a telling insight into the general organization and culture of the company. Constant competition and a focus on specific products inhibited cooperation and growth, and created an environment in which many employees felt reluctant to share new ideas, out of fear of departing from the company’s set direction. Nadella, who had been working for Microsoft for several years before becoming CEO, was well aware of this culture and the dangers it entailed. With no cooperation within the company, no cooperation with other companies, and a culture where new ideas were stigmatized, growth was nearly impossible.
Nadella began by redefining Microsoft with a new direction, a new purpose. Microsoft’s purpose became to “empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more.” This move away from the image of Microsoft as a product company was a means of reinvention, a redirection towards a growth mindset.
From breaking down literal walls in Microsoft office spaces to creating events like One Week, an annual week-long employee meeting, Nadella has committed himself, and Microsoft, to fostering curiosity, innovation, and cooperation. The highlight of One Week is a three day hackathon, where employees are encouraged to work on projects that depart from their regular, everyday tasks, during which Nadella strolls around, trying and checking out the inventions born out of his employees’ minds. These hackathons have produced many new, innovative products that have since been introduced to the public, like artificial intelligence for the visually impaired, for example - ideas that most likely would never have seen the light of day in pre-Nadella Microsoft. But even beyond that, such events help to encourage employees to act on their creativity and innovation, to value and promote growth both as employees and individuals. And what better way to promote the company’s evolution than to empower its employees to exceed expectations, explore their strengths and curiosities, and be excited to do so?
It seems that the most successful and effective Chief Executive Officers share many traits - leadership, commitment to their company and its success, an ability to look to the future, a history of results, and even a certain adaptability. But how many can completely change a company’s pre-existing culture? How many can get even those who left the company to want to come back? How many can redesign and restructure a company’s entire attitude, while empowering their employees to be their most content, most fulfilled and successful selves? And how many can do all of this and more in 5 years? It is impossible to say if Satya Nadella is the greatest CEO ever… but it wouldn’t be outrageous to qualify him as such.
Written by Paul Luu Van Lang & Edited by Alexander Fleiss