Satya Nadella has given his first interview with the press, since becoming CEO of Microsoft Feb. 4, to The New York Times.
In a Q&A interview with Adam Bryant that ran Feb. 20, Nadella again offered a picture of himself as someone who understands well that Microsoft’s history and successes will do nothing to hold him up, and success will come only from pushing forward, forward, forward. Part of his job may include ensuring that the company understands this, as well.
“Culturally, I think we have operated as if we had the formula figured out, and it was all about optimizing, in its various constituent parts, the formula. Now it is about discovering the new formula,” Nadella said, when asked about the need to create a more unified Microsoft culture.
“So the question is: How do we take the intellectual capital of 130,000 people and innovate where none of the category definitions of the past will matter?” he continued. “Any organizational structure you have today is irrelevant because no competition or innovation is going to respect those boundaries.”
Driving innovation, he continued, also entails being alert to it.
“When you have a $70 billion business, something that’s $1 million can feel irrelevant. But that $1 million business might be the most relevant thing we are doing.”
The need to keep looking forward was also tied to his answer about what he learned from former CEO Steve Ballmer. Nadella told a story about going into a performance review and trying to gauge his performance based on how those who’d had the job before him had done.
Ballmer told him, he said—in what might also pass for a pep talk in handing over the reins to Nadella—”Who cares? The context is so different. The only thing that matters to me is what you do with the cards you’ve been dealt now.”
Nadella also spoke to the theme of forward motion when asked about his “big-picture thoughts” on how to make his mark on the company.
“Longevity in this business is about being able to reinvent yourself or invent the future. In our case, given 39 years of success, it’s more about reinvention,” said Nadella. “We’ve had great successes, but our future is not about our past success. It’s going to be about whether we will invent things that are really going to drive our future.”
He went on to say that he’s interested in the “rise and fall” of things—civilizations, companies, families.
“There are very few examples of even 100-year-old companies. For us to be a 100-year-old company where people find deep meaning at work, that’s the quest,” said Nadella.
In the materials Microsoft released upon the announcement of Nadella’s promotion, Nadella repeatedly marketed himself as someone with a voracious appetite for learning; again, as someone pulling himself forward by grabbing at and digesting ever more knowledge.
In those materials, Nadella is quoted as saying, “Our industry does not respect tradition—it only respects innovation.”