Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella had a couple of big acts to follow when he took over the top job. And he's done well at it, leading the software giant to more than $85 billion in annual revenue--and an all-time stock price high--while also investing in emerging technologies, including artificial intelligence, augmented reality, and quantum computing. He also co-authored Hit Refresh: The Quest to Rediscover Microsoft's Soul and Imagine a Better Future for Everyone, which hits shelves this week.
But there's one thing Nadella tries not to do: emulate one of his predecessors, Microsoft founder Bill Gates. "The best piece of advice [Bill Gates] gave me was, 'Don't try to be like me,'" Nadella said on Wednesday afternoon at Hearst Tower in New York City. "It's impossible to have the kind of contagious energy that he had."
That was in conversation with Hearst's CEO, Steve Swartz. The publishing behemoth had gathered dozens of business leaders and journalists at its midtown headquarters, in part to promote the release of Nadella's book. They discussed everything from Nadella's childhood in India, his ill-conceived response to a 2014 question about women in business--that they ought to "have faith that the system will actually give you the right raises as you go along"--as well as how his wife, Anupama Nadella, influences the way he thinks.
Nadella, who inherited Microsoft in 2014 from then-CEO Steve Ballmer, sees Gates's advice as two-fold: On the one hand, it would be foolish to try and replicate the so-called "magical powers" that founders possess, he said. Those are unique. At the same time, it was important for Nadella to develop his own style of leadership distinct from each of his predecessors--and prove that he deserved the role.
"[Bill Gates] has been an amazing inspiration in terms of how he led, but also the confidence he gave me to--in some sense--be my own person," Nadella said.
To be sure, the lauded founder is by no means gone from the company. Gates still spends a lot of his time at Microsoft headquarters, and he still lives in Seattle. The two also exchange emails on a regular basis, Nadella said. "You can be sure that Bill has this very particular style of writing," he continued, chuckling: "It's like a telegram that never ends."