Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft | Summary and Q&A

October 15, 2019
Stanford Graduate School of Business
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Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft


Satya Nadella discusses his leadership philosophy, the importance of empathy, the potential of AI, and the responsibility of tech companies to society.

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Key Insights

  • 😤 Nadella emphasizes the importance of empathy, humility, and the ability to work effectively in teams for leaders in large organizations.
  • 💪 He believes that strategies and markets will always be changing, but a sense of purpose and strong culture are essential for long-term success.
  • 🚨 Nadella encourages leaders to embrace scrutiny, learn from criticism, and actively engage in shaping regulations and ethical guidelines for emerging technologies.
  • 😒 He sees AI as a powerful tool for positive impact, particularly in areas like accessibility, but also recognizes the need for responsible use and the mitigation of biases.



Stacia, we are so excited to have you today as you can see. You've said that Microsoft's mission is not to be cool to make others cool? But Bob Dylan is playing across campus today and you sold out faster than him. So, [LAUGH] >> We certainly think Microsoft is cool. >> [APPLAUSE] Really though, we're so grateful to you ... Read More

Questions & Answers

Q: How does Nadella view the relationship between empathy and innovation?

Nadella believes that empathy is innate in humans and plays a crucial role in innovation. He sees empathy as the key to understanding and meeting customers' unmet and unarticulated needs, making it a core element of design thinking.

Q: How does Nadella balance the pressure to grow as a company with his responsibility to society?

Nadella emphasizes the importance of staying true to one's values and purpose while being open to change and learning. He believes that leadership involves recognizing and addressing criticisms, embracing scrutiny, and working towards a better future for all.

Q: How does Microsoft approach the ethical challenges of AI and emerging technologies?

Microsoft has adopted a principled stance on AI, recognizing the need for regulation and responsible use. Nadella emphasizes the importance of understanding the potential consequences of AI, addressing biases, and adhering to ethical guidelines to shape the future of AI development.

Q: How does Nadella view the impact of globalization on opportunities for tech professionals?

Nadella believes that there are opportunities for impact and growth in technology ecosystems globally, not just in the US. He encourages both working in one's home country and gaining experience abroad, as long as there is a focus on creating equitable growth and contributing to local and global communities.


This video features an interview with Microsoft CEO, Satya Nadella, where he discusses his childhood, the influence of his parents and sports on his leadership style, and the challenges and successes of his time at Microsoft. He talks about the importance of purpose and culture in driving innovation and creating a positive impact, and shares his perspective on topics such as AI, diversity and inclusion, and the role of large organizations in society.

Questions & Answers:

Q: How did Nadella's parents shape his life philosophy?

Nadella's father, a Marxist economist, instilled in him confidence and the belief that life is a marathon. His mother, on the other hand, taught him the importance of happiness and pursuing one's own passions. Both philosophies contributed to Nadella's upbringing and success.

Q: How did Nadella's sports experience influence his leadership style?

Nadella believes that team sports, like cricket, teach important lessons about leadership and teamwork. He shares a personal experience of a school captain who exhibited empathy and boosted his confidence, which influenced his own leadership values.

Q: How did becoming a parent shape Nadella's worldview?

When Nadella's son was born with cerebral palsy, it was a turning point for him. He shifted his focus from his own plans to taking care of his son and understanding the world through his perspective. This experience taught him empathy and the importance of seeing things from different angles.

Q: How did Nadella approach his role leading Microsoft's first real Cloud business?

Nadella took a risk by committing to the Cloud business, even though it had lower profit margins compared to the existing business. He recognized the need for a transition and was given permission by the CEO at the time to pursue this new area. Nadella believes that leaders must be willing to remove constraints and take risks for the long-term success of the company.

Q: What challenges did Nadella face when he became CEO of Microsoft?

Nadella took over the CEO position during a period when Microsoft was struggling and many believed an outsider should have been chosen. He acknowledges the high expectations and pressure from following Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer. However, he focused on redefining Microsoft's purpose and culture, which he believes are the foundations for success.

Q: Which is more important for Microsoft's renewal, culture or strategy?

Nadella believes that culture and purpose are essential for long-term success, while strategies and markets may come and go. He emphasizes the need to have a strong sense of purpose and a culture that supports growth and learning. Strategy is important, but it is the alignment with purpose and the cultural values that drive innovation and impact.

Q: How does Nadella see AI augmenting humanity rather than detracting from it?

Nadella believes that AI can have a positive impact on humanity, especially in areas like accessibility. He emphasizes the need for ethical AI development and responsible use of the technology. He acknowledges the unintended consequences of AI and the necessity of regulations to ensure its ethical and responsible deployment.

Q: How does Microsoft approach partnerships and responsibilities in relation to AI?

Microsoft has guidelines and principles in place to ensure the responsible use of AI, such as facial recognition. The company actively participates in shaping regulations and emphasizes the importance of AI safety. Microsoft believes in being accountable for its own actions and working with others to collectively address the challenges and potential risks of AI.

Q: How does Nadella balance the pressure to grow as a company with the responsibility to society?

Nadella believes that large organizations should embrace scrutiny and take responsibility for their actions and impact on society. He encourages a mindset of self-reflection and change, recognizing the need for the tech industry to mature and address issues such as security, privacy, and AI ethics. Balancing growth and responsibility is a continuous process that requires constant evaluation and improvement.

Q: How does Nadella stay true to his leadership style while being open to growth and change?

Nadella acknowledges the importance of understanding oneself and others in order to be an effective leader. He emphasizes the value of empathy and building meaningful relationships in the workplace. Nadella also emphasizes the need to have a sense of purpose and to see work as more than just a transaction, but as an opportunity to make a positive impact and relate to others.


Satya Nadella believes that purpose and culture are instrumental in driving innovation and creating a positive impact. He emphasizes the need for leaders to understand themselves and others, to have empathy, and to build meaningful relationships. He encourages a growth mindset and stresses the value of diversity and inclusion. Nadella also highlights the ethical responsibility in AI development and the importance of regulations. He believes that large organizations should embrace scrutiny and strive to balance growth with their responsibilities to society. In the end, Nadella sees technology as a tool that should augment and empower humanity rather than detract from it.

Summary & Key Takeaways

  • Nadella reflects on how his childhood, influenced by his father and mother's contrasting philosophies, shaped his confidence and humility.

  • He discusses the impact of sports, particularly cricket, on his understanding of leadership and the importance of making hard calls while supporting and empowering team members.

  • Nadella shares his personal experience of becoming a parent to a son with cerebral palsy and how it deepened his empathy and sense of purpose.

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