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How Microsoft’s CEO has ‘hit refresh’ in business and in life

What are the hard questions that CEOs need to grapple with in order to renew and rethink business? Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella joins Judy Woodruff to discuss his new book, “Hit Refresh,” as well as how he’s learned empathy from being a parent, changes to his perceptions of gender and opportunity and his advocacy for immigrants.

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  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Finally tonight, we hear from a leading CEO about changing the culture of a successful company and how his own personal experiences helped inform his approach.

    Judy recorded this conversation for the NewsHour Bookshelf.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Most CEOs who write memoirs and leadership books do so after they finish their career, but the chief executive of Microsoft, Satya Nadella, is out with one now about his ongoing efforts to reinvent Microsoft and make sure the tech giant stays relevant in a fast-changing industry. It’s titled “Hit Refresh.”

    The company has had its share of critics over the years, and has sometimes adapted slowly, but it has long been hugely profitable. In the last quarter alone, it earned more than $24 billion, and its market value has jumped by $250 billion since Nadella took over more than three years ago.

    Among other things, Nadella is trying to make sure Microsoft is adapting to the era of cloud computing.

    The book is also a part memoir of his own experiences, including his early years in India and coming to the United States.

    Satya Nadella joins me now.

    And welcome to the NewsHour.

    So, as we were just saying, most people don’t write a book while they’re still in the middle of work. But you did. Why?

  • Satya Nadella:

    It’s — right.

    I mean, most business books in some sense are either — are mostly look-backs, either at grand successes or grand failures. And I mostly wanted to reflect on, as a sitting CEO, the hard questions and the answers to that while you’re going through the process of — or the difficult process of transformation.

    So, it is not — it is not meant to be actually something that is a look-back after having reached some destination or declared some victory.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    You said at one point in the book that, originally, you conceived as a collection of meditations from a CEO in the middle of transformation.

    If it’s not that, then what it is?

  • Satya Nadella:

    It is that. It is that sitting CEO’s…

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Aha.

  • Satya Nadella:

    … meditations of the transformation that we’re going through then, vs. having reached any destination.

    The thing that I realized is, this process of change is not something that is a one-time process. It’s this continuous journey of pushing yourself to renew, and the difficulties of doing it, because the one thing with change is, it’s easy to talk and hard to do.

    And so that’s the metaphor. Even this “Hit Refresh,” the trick is not to say, let’s change everything, because the browser, when it hits refresh, it knows what to change and what to keep. And that’s what successful companies have to learn to do continuously.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And you also write about your own personal story, about how you and your wife, your first son was born with pretty serious cerebral palsy. He’s now 21 years old.

    And you write about how that has changed you, what it — how it took you longer than it took your wife to sort of come to grips with that. Talk about that.

  • Satya Nadella:

    Both my wife and I were the only children in our family, and we were very excited. The entire family was very excited. I was 29 years old before Zain was born.

    Even a few hours before, perhaps, if you had asked me, you know, what are the thoughts that are going through my mind, they were mostly concerning things like, hey, will the nursery be ready, will Anu, my wife, go back to work?

    And, of course, everything changed that night. There was in utero asphyxiation, as a result of which, Zain was born with some severe damage to his brain. And that resulted in cerebral palsy.

    And maybe even for two years, maybe even longer, I went through this phase where I was mostly reflecting on all the things that happened to me, which is, wow, all the plans we had and I had are no longer valid. Why did this happen to us? Why did this happen to me?

    And it was only by observing my wife and what came naturally to her — in fact, I remember, as she recovered from the C-section, she would, in fact, drive Zain from therapy to therapy, trying to give him the best chance he could get.

    And without schooling me directly, though, by me observing her, I realized that nothing had happened to me. Something really had happened to Zain, and it was time for me to get over ruing the fact of what happened to me, and really start seeing the world through his eyes.

    And that realization, which I used the word empathy for it, is not sort of an innate capability I had. It’s life experiences like this one that helped shape that in me. And that, of course, is something that goes — carries forward in who I am at work.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    You are candid, Satya Nadella, in talking about early mistakes you made. I mean, one was the comment you made in 2014 about women shouldn’t be pushy in thinking about asking for a pay raise.

    You learned from that. You have talked about how it made you think differently about women in the work force.

    How so?

  • Satya Nadella:

    Yes.

    For example, at this Grace Hopper conference a couple of years ago, when I went there, I went there to learn. And I did learn for sure, because the question that was asked was around women and pay. And I gave an answer which was sort of nonsense based on sort of my own personal experience.

    And Maria Klawe, who was interviewing me on stage, was kind enough to correct me right there. But, even subsequently, when I went back even to Microsoft, met with some of the senior women who work with me is when I really understood in a deep way all that is wrong with our system.

    So, for me to go to a women’s conference and say, trust the system, is to disjoint from the realities. That’s when, again, very similar to sort of Zain’s birth, it was a moment where I was able to see it through their eyes, but, more importantly, understand my responsibility.

    As a CEO, my job is to make sure that I’m pushing to create a system that not only has representation, but, more importantly, it helps everyone have the opportunity to contribute and get the reward for it.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    There’s a public policy issue you have also been outspoken about that I want to ask you about, and that is immigration.

    You have talked about the virtues of immigration. You have been outspoken in advocating for those young people who came to the United States without documentation, but with their parents, the so-called DACA program, the dreamers.

    And you have expressed that you hope the Trump administration and the Congress sees fit to do something about that. Why is that a concern, a worry for you?

  • Satya Nadella:

    When I look back, I’m a product of two amazingly unique American things.

    One is American technology reaching me where I was growing up, allowing me to dream, and then American immigration policy letting me live that dream out. And when I think about both of these, I think that that’s where our competitive advantage comes from.

    So, I don’t think immigration is something that we do that is somehow disjoint from the broader advantage it brings to our society, to our economy.

    And, quite frankly, it’s not just about skilled immigration, because one of the other things that gives us a tremendous amount of soft power in the world is, America is a beacon of hope for everybody who needs it the most. And that is an invaluable position to have in any global order.

    So, I do hope that we see immigration, without, by the way, ignoring the fact that equitable growth for people who are already here in the United States is a super important agenda. But if you don’t pit these two things against each other, but recognize America’s own interest in having an immigration policy and also tackling the equitable growth inside the country, I think, are things that we should really step up, both in the legislative, as well as in the private sector.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Satya Nadella, who came to the United States, what, at the age of 20?

  • Satya Nadella:

    At 21.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Twenty-one.

  • Satya Nadella:

    My 21st birthday.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Now CEO of Microsoft.

    And the book is “Hit Refresh.”

    Thank you very much.

  • Satya Nadella:

    Thank you so much.

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