Satya Nadella Speaks at Harper Center

by Amrita Khanna (Dixit) & Nikhita Giridhar

  Satya Nadella, ‘97 and CEO of Microsoft joins Dean Rajan in a fireside chat, organized by Student Life as a part of the Distinguished Speaker Series.    Photo courtesy of: The Booth Experience Student Blog

Satya Nadella, ‘97 and CEO of Microsoft joins Dean Rajan in a fireside chat, organized by Student Life as a part of the Distinguished Speaker Series.

Photo courtesy of: The Booth Experience Student Blog

Satya Nadella, Booth ’97 and Chief Executive Officer of Microsoft visited Chicago Booth’s Harper Center campus on Wednesday, October 3rd as a part of Student Life’s Distinguished Speaker Series. In his fireside chat with Dean Madhav Rajan, attendees were provided the opportunity to learn about Nadella’s personal and family background, the role of education in his career, and leadership insights he’s developed over time. Nadella grew up in Hyderabad, India and he received a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering, a master’s degree in computer science, and his MBA from Booth. After working at Sun Microsystems, he transitioned to Microsoft in 1992 and has been with the company since, holding roles across enterprise and customer divisions. In his own words, he thought of the MBA as his ticket to Wall Street before realizing that software was his future. Nadella maintains ongoing involvement with the Chicago Booth community. Outside of his visits to campus for talks like this one and alumni panel discussions, it was recently announced that he was elected to the University of Chicago Board of Trustees and began a five-year term in September (https://news.uchicago.edu/story/microsoft-ceo-elected-university-chicago-board-trustees).

The Distinguished Speaker Series (DSS) aims to bring high-profile business, government, and community leaders to campus. In just the last year, the myriad of speakers has included David MacLennan, ’88, Chairman and CEO of Cargill; Gary Briggs, VP & CMO of Facebook; Sally Grimes, ’97, Group President of Prepared Foods at Tyson; Paul Donofrio, ’90, CFO of Bank of America; the list goes on. Nadella’s event was advertised to the student body via email with a link to Nadella’s bio (https://news.microsoft.com/exec/satya-nadella/) and a livestream link due to limited space. In the moments before the doors to Room 104 opened, many attendees lined up with a sense of excitement, especially because several of them had previously watched Nadella’s speeches online or read his book, Hit Refresh: The Quest to Rediscover Microsoft’s Soul and Imagine a Better Future for Everyone. Full-time student Surbi Luhadia (’19) explained that she registered for the event because, “Microsoft is such an interesting and powerful organization that we’ve grown up with. You feel a lot of pride that someone from Booth is now there, running it, especially because Microsoft has only had 3 CEOs in its history.”

In the fireside chat, Nadella covered his 3 principles of leadership, which he also outlines in his book. 1) Provide Clarity – in the face of ambiguity a leader should “synthesize the complex,” 2) Generate Energy – leaders should “inspire optimism, creativity, shared commitment, and growth through good times and bad,” and 3) Make Things Happen – “life is an over-constrained problem” and even in an such an environment, leaders should be “boundary-less and globally minded in seeking solutions” (Hit Refresh). Additionally, he explained why and how empathy plays a strong role in his leadership style – from its impact on his role as a father to his belief that it allows an innovator to meet customers’ unmet, unarticulated needs. In response to an audience question, Nadella also unpacked the cultural shift that has been ongoing at Microsoft since his appointment as CEO. Specifically the learn-it-all attitude that he encourages everyone to emulate. Through his guidance, Microsoft employees aim to practice a growth mindset every day in terms of customer obsession, diversity and inclusion, and uniting as One Microsoft. After interning at Microsoft this summer, full-time student Bo Shi (‘19) attested to Nadella’s description of Microsoft culture. Shi explained, “Satya refreshed not only Microsoft’s mission, but also its culture from ‘know-it-all’ to ‘learn-it-all’—emphasizing humility and empathy with customers and each other. Aligning a whole company around that singular culture is really impressive, and I saw it during my internship. It was pervasive.”

In closing, he reiterated the importance of purpose and mission in empowering others to build legacies that will outlast them. He stressed on the responsibility of CEOs of multinational companies to create equitable distribution of opportunity, recognizing that 1B+ people in the world do not actively participate in our economy due to lack of access. Building AI tools, for example to help people with dyslexia, and to create opportunity is the mission of the hour. In a lighter vein, he alluded to learning more than just Lagrange Multipliers at Booth. Instead, it was an education in confidence and knowledge and one that he believes everyone should have access to.