Hit Refresh: The Quest to Rediscover Microsoft’s Soul and Imagine a Better Future for Everyone (2017) is Satya Nadella’s memoir of his work as the chief executive officer of Microsoft. Nadella describes his efforts to reform the company’s culture and push its priorities toward the next generation of technology.
When Nadella first joined Microsoft as an operating system specialist in 1992, the company culture was defined by political competition and misaligned priorities. As soon as he was hired as the company’s CEO in 2014, he gave himself the task of reforming the culture so that everyone would work together toward innovation.
Nadella was inspired to develop new technologies at Microsoft by his special-needs son, whose life with cerebral palsy was enriched with adaptive technology. Nadella began his journey to Microsoft as a child in India, where his parents encouraged him to pursue computer science. Although his true passion was playing cricket, he attended the Manipal Institute of Technology to earn a degree in electrical engineering. He then obtained a visa to earn his master’s degree in the computer science program at the University of Wisconsin. After obtaining his master’s, he briefly worked for a software vendor before joining Sun Microsystems. From there, he joined Microsoft.
Leaders at Microsoft, including founder Bill Gates and his successor CEO Steve Ballmer, pushed Nadella into more significant roles including leadership of the search engine team. To lead the team, Nadella needed to become familiar quickly with cloud services and consumer-facing products. Ballmer later asked Nadella to lead the server and tools business team, where he pushed for a greater focus on the cloud.
In 2014, Ballmer stepped down as CEO and the search team offered Nadella the position. The company’s value had stagnated and the employees were unmotivated. Nadella, who saw a need to refresh the company, decided Microsoft should shift direction toward mobile technology and the cloud. Nadella recognized that Microsoft was already behind its competitors on those fronts. He wanted to realign the company’s energies with its original purpose of empowering people through technology. Ensuring that all employees were motivated by that purpose, and by their individual passions, required a culture shift. Nadella wanted to refresh the culture and its values, not remake it.
Nadella became CEO at the same time that Microsoft finalized its purchase of mobile phone producer Nokia. That purchase eventually forced Nadella to lay off employees as the purchase turned out to be a loss. It was a difficult chapter in his career.
At Microsoft, Nadella learned that company culture comes from the CEO’s vision and effort. Leadership at Microsoft, including the CEO’s role, is defined by its ability to energize, enable, and bring clarity to the leaders’ teams. The CEO is also responsible for making the company more representative and preventing teams from isolating themselves.
One method Nadella implemented as CEO was to make mutually beneficial partnerships with Microsoft’s competitors. Some of these relationships presented new challenges for the company because the partners were also competitors, but their disagreements were ultimately settled in mutually beneficial ways.
Microsoft focused on three innovative technologies. One, the HoloLens, is the company’s entrance into the world of mixed reality. Microsoft developed the second one, Cortana, as an artificially intelligent assistant, and the company incorporates artificial intelligence into other tools such as translators. The third technology is quantum computing, which would vastly improve the speed and capacity of a wide variety of devices.
As Microsoft pursued long-term goals surrounding these technologies, it faced a series of events that called attention to its positions on privacy and trust. Controversially, Microsoft helped release a movie despite the opposition of state-sponsored hackers. It supported Apple in its fight against politicians who asked device manufacturers to compromise device security. These cases emphasized the importance of regulatory frameworks in the tech industry.
In the long term, Microsoft continues to focus on developing cutting-edge technology while staying true to its ethical obligation to empower people. Some people assume that new technologies will eliminate jobs, but technology has the potential to increase an individual’s skill level and education, and thus promote growth without disenfranchising workers.