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The tech world’s best CEO? Microsoft’s Nadella, hands down.


Over the years, plenty of kudos have been directed at the people at the helms of big tech companies. Until recent hard times, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, Apple’s Tim Cook and Alphabet’s Sergey Brin, among others, have been fawned over by a compliant press and portrayed as visionaries and great leaders.

But the world’s best tech leader hasn’t been lionized, not even now that the tech giant he has guided for almost five years remains relatively stable amid jumpy markets. I’m talking about Microsoft’s unassuming CEO, Satya Nadella, who as often as not has been considered merely a steady, somewhat boring functionary. Take a look, though, at what he has done at the company through 2018. He has successfully turned Microsoft from a plodding, increasingly irrelevant company into a tech powerhouse that’s surprisingly nimble and more willing to change course than its competitors.

To fully recognize how much Nadella has transformed Microsoft, look back to February 2014, when he took over as CEO from Steve Ballmer. He was saddled with Ballmer’s decision to buy Nokia for $7.2 billion to prop up a failing Windows Phone business — as well as the decision to pour immense amounts of money and time into a mobile operating system that no one wanted to use.

Less than a year and a half before that, the company had released Window 8, one of the worst versions of Windows ever built. Given the pace of change in the tech world, it’s easy to forget how big a problem that was a few short years ago. Windows was still Microsoft’s cash cow, seen as the core of the company. Fatefully, Ballmer’s Microsoft had borrowed elements of Windows Phone’s Metro UI, but the way that Windows 8 was most like Windows Phone was that hardly anyone wanted to use it.

At the same time as the Windows 8 rollout, Microsoft had introduced the Surface tablet, which was widely derided as overpriced, underpowered and serving little purpose.

The company culture had stagnated, clinging to past days of Microsoft glory (and antitrust ignominy). Ballmer’s arrogant belief that Microsoft could solve any problem by using Windows as a battering ram still ruled.

Nadella had a lot to prove to employees, because he was only the third Microsoft CEO since the company’s founding in 1975 — and the first who hadn’t been associated with the company’s one-time dominance of the tech world.

Nice guy, said the business press, one who was cloud-savvy and steeped in both tech and business experience. But no one was expecting to pile accolades upon his head any time soon.



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