January 31, 2014 9:22 am

Softly-spoken techie from Hyderabad rises to top tier at Microsoft

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After a high-profile search for the successor to a man who screamed “I love this company”, a softly-spoken insider has emerged as frontrunner to take the top job at Microsoft.

Satya Nadella is seen as the likely successor to Steve Ballmer, though the board is not thought to have made a formal selection.

Speculation had focused on leading global executives such as Stephen Elop, the former Nokia chief executive, and Ford boss Alan Mulally. But the US tech group looks set to turn to an India-born engineer to lead the PC pioneer’s push into the mobile era.

Microsoft man

Despite some clamour from shareholders for an external appointment, Mr Nadella is a company veteran. The 47-year-old joined Microsoft in 1992 and for some time has been seen as a rising star. He ran Microsoft’s consumer online services business, including its Bing search engine, before being made president of its cloud and enterprise unit in February 2011.

“At that point, everyone was like, who is this guy?” says Chris Hickey, analyst at Atlantic Equities.

Should he be appointed, Mr Nadella would be likely to go down well with Microsoft staffers. He is seen at the company’s Redmond headquarters as a popular techie and a consensus-driven engineer who understands the science behind the business.

Indian origins

If appointed, Mr Nadella would be only the third leader in the software company’s 39-year history, and its first foreign-born boss – presenting quite a contrast from Mr Ballmer, a larger than life American.

Mr Nadella was born in Hyderabad in 1967 but moved to the US to study computer science at the University of Wisconsin. He spent time on the staff of Sun Microsystems, now owned by Microsoft rival Oracle. He holds an executive MBA from the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business.

In the cloud

As job applications go, doubling your division’s revenues year on year takes some beating. Microsoft’s commercial cloud services revenues rose by more than 100 per cent year on year in the three months to the end of December.

Nadella runs the team behind Cloud OS, Microsoft’s next-generation platform which powers all of its cloud services for businesses round the world.

Future direction

Microsoft is at a critical juncture. Mr Ballmer pledged to push the company deeper into consumer hardware, such as its Surface tablet and Xbox games console, and online services. But what Mr Nadella would do is still in question.

“The interesting thing will be, what’s his whole attitude to enterprise versus consumer focus?” says Mr Hickey.

His own words

At December’s Le Web conference in Paris, Mr Nadella said: “Who knows what’s going to really happen in 10 years? You look at what’s happening and you try to project forward.

“This meme of digitising everything is well on its way forward. If you think about technology, I think it’s data and the ability to reason over data that will shape more of the future.”

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