SATYA NADELLA – The transformational leader driving the resurgence of Microsoft

“The most important attribute that any leader needs to have—and it is often underestimated—is the need to create clarity when none exists.”— Satya Nadella



Satya Nadella is an Indian-American transformational business leader currently serving as the Executive Chairman and CEO of Microsoft Corporation. He is credited with Microsoft’s resurgence, positioning it as a leader in cloud computing and Artificial Intelligence.[1] Under his leadership, there has been a cultural transformation at Microsoft and the value of the company has grown tenfold to over $3 billion.[2] Nadella’s remarkable rise to the top of one of the world’s influential technology giants and his achievements at the top is a story that is worth telling. 



From Hyderabad to Redmond

Satya Nadella was born on 19th August, 1967 in the southern Indian city of Hyderabad. His mother, Prabhavati, taught ancient language, literature and philosophy of India at the college level.[3] He describes himself as ‘my mother’s son’ as she was a constant steadying force in his life growing up. His father Bukkapuram Nadella Yugandhar worked with the Indian Administrative Service (IAS) administering many districts at different times in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh. This meant Satya moved places often and lived in “old colonial buildings in the middle of nowhere with lots of time and space”[4]. When Satya was six, the family lost his five-month-old sister and this had a devastating impact on the family, ultimately leading to his mother giving up her job.    

As a result of his father moving around a lot, Satya moved schools a lot until age fifteen, when the moving around stopped for him to enter Hyderabad Public School. His childhood dream was to play cricket for Hyderabad and work for a bank. This was fine with his mother but his dad pushed him to get out of Hyderabad for greener pastures. His father gave up the chance to pursue a PhD in Economics on a Fulbright fellowship in the early 1960s to join the IAS.4

When Satya was fifteen his father bought him a Sinclair ZX Spectrum computer kit and this spurred his interest in software, personal computing and engineering. In pursuit of this interest, he wrote the entrance exam to the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) but unfortunately failed the exam, much to the disappointment of his father. Fortunately, he got admitted to Manipal Institute of Technology (MIT) to study Electrical Engineering. He hoped that studying electrical engineering would get him closer to computers and software. He completed his studies at MIT in 1988 graduating with a Bachelor’s degree[5]. He migrated to the United States on his twenty-first birthday in 1988 to pursue a Master’s degree in Computer Science at the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee. At the University of Wisconsin, he developed an interest in the theoretical aspect of computer science focusing on the computer science puzzle known as graph coloring.  Nadella completed his Master’s degree in 1990. He also has a master’s degree in business administration from the University of Chicago[6].

After graduation, Nadella landed his first job in Silicon Valley with the now defunct Sun Microsystems where he worked on workstations, which was his focus at that time. He worked on Sun’s desktop software and he spent two years with Sun witnessing a transition in the computer business as both Sun Microsystems and Microsoft were undergoing transitions. In 1992, Nadella left Sun Microsystems for Microsoft, a journey from Hyderabad in India to Redmond, Washington State, USA (location of Microsoft’s headquarters). 



Influence of Family Life

Satya Nadella is married to Anupama, his childhood sweetheart. Anupama’s father and Satya’s father joined the IAS together and were friends. Satya and ‘Anu’ got married in December 1992 in India. By 1994 Anu had completed her degree in Architecture at Manipal Institute of Technology but was facing difficulties obtaining a visa to join Satya in the United States because of Satya’s permanent resident status there. Satya was told it would take five or more years to get a visa for Anu because of the existing rules regarding his permanent resident status. He was advised by a lawyer at Microsoft that reverting to an H-1B status would allow Anu to obtain a visa much earlier. He therefore decided to give up his green card to go back to an H-1B status, a temporary resident status. His priority was the love of his life. The decision worked and Anu eventually joined him in the US. Satya subsequently gained notoriety as the guy who gave up his green card. Satya and his family live in Bellevue, Washington.[7]

The couple have two daughters. They lost a son, Zain, at the age of 26 in 2022; Zain was born with cerebral palsy.[8] Just as the loss of his five-month-old sister had affected and shaped his family in the 1970s, the birth of Zain in August 1996 with cerebral palsy and his subsequent death in February 2022, shaped Satya and Anu’s understanding of life. They learned that the problems of life cannot always be solved in the manner one wants and that one must learn to cope. During one of his numerous visits to the ICU unit to visit Zain, Satya noticed how many of the devices were running on Windows and were increasingly connected to cloud storage. This drove home the importance of the work he was doing at Microsoft and reminded him of the importance of his decisions as the CEO of Microsoft. 


Leading and succeeding at Microsoft

Satya Nadella is praised for steering Microsoft away from a failing mobile strategy and refocusing the tech giant on cloud computing and augmented reality.[9] He first joined Microsoft in 1992 working on its operating software, Windows NT. He steadily rose through the ranks at Microsoft, picking up valuable leadership lessons along the way from people like Doug Burghum, Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer.

In 1999, Satya was appointed vice president of small businesses and in 2001, he was named corporate vice president of Microsoft Business Solutions. He was promoted to the role of senior vice president of Research and Development for Microsoft’s online services division in 2007. From 2011 to 2013 he served as president of Microsoft’s server and tools business. He subsequently served as a vice president of the tech giant’s cloud computing platform leading the transformation of the firm’s business and technology culture from client services to cloud infrastructure and services.[10] 

In February 2014, Satya was introduced as the CEO of Microsoft taking over from Steve Ballmer, who had succeeded Bill Gates in 2000.[11] Nadella’s first decade at the helm of Microsoft has been defined by cloud computing.  He has been championing cloud computing and positioning Microsoft to be a leader in the field. Cloud computing is transforming businesses around the world. Schools, farms and hospitals all over the globe depend on cloud computing. Under Nadella’s leadership, Microsoft is investing billions in OpenAI and is committed to building its public cloud computing platform, Azure, into a supercomputer for the world.[12] Microsoft is on course to own its own $20 billion cloud business. On April 30, 2024, Nadella announced that Microsoft would invest $1.7 billion over the next four years in new cloud and artificial intelligence infrastructure in Indonesia as it seeks to expand its presence in Southeast Asia.[13] 

Nadella has overseen some of the major acquisitions by Microsoft: the $69 billion acquisition of Activision in 2022, the $20 billion acquisition of Nuance Communications in 2021 and $26 billion deal for LinkedIn in 2016.[14] 

When he took over in 2014, Microsoft’s market capitalisation was just over $300 billion. After a decade of him being at the helm, the company’s market capitalization has grown tenfold to $3.06 trillion and Microsoft is a leader in cloud and artificial intelligence.[15] Over the past ten years, Microsoft has created $2.8 trillion in shareholder wealth.[16]

Nadella’s tenure as CEO is not without controversy though. In October 2014, during a Women in Computing programme held in Phoenix, USA, he stated that women should put their faith in the system and not ask for a raise and that the system will actually give them the raise as they go along.[17] He was severely criticised and he apologised for his statement in memos to staff at Microsoft. He affirmed his support for equal pay for men and women for equal work and the need for women to ask for pay raises.[18]



Leadership Principles and Impact

Satya Nadella states in his autobiography, “Hit Refresh,” that he “was influenced by his father’s enthusiasm for intellectual engagement and his mother’s dream of a balanced life.”⁴ His leadership style has been shaped by certain principles he learned from playing cricket. The first principle is to compete vigorously and with passion in the face of uncertainty and intimidation. The second principle focuses on the importance of a leader putting the team first, ahead of the leader’s personal statistics and recognition. The third is an emphasis on the central importance of leadership, that is, the role leaders must play in bringing out the best in everyone on the team. Leaders must be empathetic and must bolster the confidence of the people they lead. He indicates that throughout his life’s work he has seen these principles at work. As an empathetic leader he has interacted with people globally and has seen at first hand the “interplay between empathy and technology.” The Microsoft CEO says “empathy isn’t a soft skill; it’s actually the hardest skill we learn.”[19] He asserts that these principles have not only shaped his corporate leadership style but also his leadership style as a husband and father.

In a July 2019 interview with Chicago Booth Magazine, a publication the University of Chicago’s business school, his alma mater, Nadella listed three attributes he looks for in leaders. They are the leader’s ability to create clarity when none exists, the ability to create energy and the ability to create success in an overstrained space (environment).[20]  

Nadella is credited with re-shaping the culture at Microsoft inspiring employees to embrace a “learn-it-all” curiosity that got all stakeholders of the company – developers, customers and investors – to engage with the company in a new way. He has placed an emphasis on the kind of soft skills that are often derided in the extremely competitive corporate world.[21] Nadella believes that empathy is key to innovation and it is needed to understand and satisfy customer needs. He encourages business leaders to, “Listen more, speak less and be decisive when the time comes.”[22]


Awards and Recognition

Nadella has been globally recognised for his achievements at Microsoft and in the global technology industry. In 2022, he was awarded the Padma Bhushan Award, one of the highest civilian awards by the government of India.[23] In honour of his transformative leadership he was awarded an honorary Ph.D by the Georgia Institute of Technology in January 2024.[24] He was named CNN Business CEO of the year for 2023 in recognition of him leading Microsoft to shift focus from the legacy of Windows to an industry-leading position in AI innovation.[25]  In 2019, he was named Fortune’s Businessperson of the Year.[26] He was praised for his willingness to delegate. Also in 2019, he was named the Financial Times Person of the Year.[27] He’s been named among Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in the world twice, both 2018[28] and 2024.[29]

Nadella has served on many boards and committees including the Board of Directors of Starbucks, Board of Trustees of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and the Board of Trustees of the University of Chicago.



Satya Nadella did not expect to lead one of the world’s most influential and most profitable companies when he was a young man in the Indian city of Hyderabad. His dream then was to play cricket and to work in a bank. He eventually moved from Hyderabad to Redmond to work at Microsoft and in his early years at Microsoft, becoming CEO was “not even a thought” he says. Rather, his focus was on excelling in the little role he had at that time, according to him.  Nadella’s best career advice is,  “Don’t wait for your next job to do your best work.”[30] 


[1] Marcus Law (2024-02-06) Satya Nadella’s 10 Years as Microsoft CEO: From Cloud to AI  Technology Magazine. Retrieved 29th April 2024

[2] Wily Healy (2024 -04-23) If You’d Invested $10,000 in Microsoft Stock When Satya Nadella Became CEO, This Is How Much You Would Have Today Retrieved 29th April 2024
[4] Nadella Satya, Shaw Greg & Nichols, Jill Tracie (2017), Hit Refresh: the quest to rediscover Microsoft’s soul and imagine a better future for everyone. New York, HarperCollinsPublishers, 

[5] Satya Nadella’s life and career, from computer-science student to CEO of Microsoft and turning it into a $3 trillion titan  Business  Business Insider Africa. Retrieved 29th April 2024

[6] McCracken, Harry (2010-12-15). “Microsoft’s New CEO Satya Nadella: 10 Things to Know”Time. Archived from the original on 4 February 2014. Retrieved 29th April 2024
[7] Retrieved 29th April 2024
[8] “Microsoft Says Son of CEO Satya Nadella Has Died”. March 2022. Archived from the original on 1 November 2022. Retrieved 29th April 2024
[9] Retrieved 29th April 2024
[10] Hollar, Sherman (2020-12-01). “Satya Nadella – Biography & Facts”. Encyclopedia Britannica. Archived from the original on 2 February 2022. Retrieved 29th April 2024
[11] “Microsoft names Satya Nadella new CEO”. CNET. 4 February 2014. Archived from the original on 6 February 2014. Retrieved 29th April 2024
[12] Marcus Law (2023-01-23). Microsoft confirms ‘multibillion-dollar’ OpenAI investment  Technology Magazine. Retrieved 29th April 2024
[13] Edna Tarigan (2024-04-30). Microsoft to invest $1.7 billion into AI infrastructure in Indonesia, CEO Satya Nadella says
[14] “Padma Bhushan: Microsoft’s Satya Nadella, and Google’s Sundar Pichai get Padma Bhushan, India’s third-highest civilian award – Times of India”. The Times of India. 25 January 2022. Archived from the original on 26 January 2022. Retrieved 29th April 2024[15]

[15] Jordan Novet (2024-02-24) Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella hits 10-year anniversary Retrieved 29th April 2024

[16] Matt O’Brien (2024-02-03). Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella caps a decade of change and tremendous growth | AP News AP News. Retrieved 29th April 2024

[17] Staff; agencies (2014-10-10). “Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella: women, don’t ask for a raise”. Archived from the original on 17 September 2017. Retrieved 29th April 2024
[18]Swisher, Kara (2014-10-09). “Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella on Women Pay Gaffe: “I Answered That Question Completely Wrong.””. Vox. Archived from the original on 6 August 2020. Retrieved 29th April 2024

[19] Kylie Kirschner (2023-10-17). Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella says empathy isn’t a soft skill — it’s actually ‘the hardest skill we learn’. Business Insider Africa. Retrieved 30th April 2024.

[20] Sandra Jones (2019-01-19)  Leadership Lessons from Satya Nadella | The University of Chicago Booth School of Business. Chicago Booth Magazine. Retrieved 29th April 2024

[21] “Transforming culture at Microsoft: Satya Nadella sets a new tone”www.intheblack.comArchived from the original on 14 June 2020. Retrieved 29th April 2024

[22] Newsroom (2018-06-18). “Satya Nadella: when empathy is good for business”www.morningfuture.comArchived from the original on 14 June 2020. Retrieved 30th April 2024

[23] “Padma Bhushan: Microsoft’s Satya Nadella, and Google’s Sundar Pichai get Padma Bhushan, India’s third-highest civilian award – Times of India”. The Times of India. 25 January 2022. Archived from the original on 26 January 2022. Retrieved 30th April 2024

[24] “Georgia Tech Presents Satya Nadella With Honorary Degree”Georgia Tech News Center. 25 January 2024. Retrieved 30th April 2024

[25] Samantha M. Kelly (2023-12-31). Microsoft’s Satya Nadella is CNN Business’ CEO of the Year | CNN Business Retrieved 30th April 2024

[26] Lashinsky, Adam (2019-11-19). “Businessperson of the Year 2019”FortuneArchived from the original on 4 July 2020. Retrieved 30th April 2024

[27] Waters, Richard (2019-12-19). “FT Person of the Year: Satya Nadella”Financial TimesArchived from the original on 5 July 2020. Retrieved 30th April 2024

[28] Isaacson, Walter (2018-04-19). “Satya Nadella”TimeArchived from the original on 4 July 2020. Retrieved 30th April 2024

[29] Hobson, Mellody (2024-04-17)“Time 100: Satya Nadella”. Time Retrieved 30th April 2024

[30] Morgan Smith (2023-03-24) Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella’s No. 1 tip for career success Retrieved 30th April 2024



50 Inspiring Living Leaders

This 50 Inspiring Living Leaders series highlights current influencers who are succeeding in leadership, integrity, family or entrepreneurship in whatever field and exhibit most, if not all, of our values of PELÉ. We value people, growth, particularity, excellence, success, authenticity and significance. These stories are largely written in terms of growth, success and significance in leadership, integrity, family and  entrepreneurship. While we do our best to receive personal references about each leader, most of our research and writing is based on literature review of publicly-available information. As authorities in leadership, we are fully aware that there is no such thing as a perfect leader, and leaders may have their flaws, but we choose to celebrate these inspiring living leaders for their achievements outlined in our series. Having said that, should you happen to have any incontrovertible evidence that any of our featured leaders does not fit our bill of an authentic leader, please write to us at Our vision at PELÉ is a flourishing global ecosystem of authentic leaders characterised by healthy growth, holistic success and lasting significance.

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