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In First Big Exec Confab, New Microsoft CEO Says Company Needs to Be Full of "Challengers" and Not Followers

Think different?


It took long enough for the board to pony up and give longtime company veteran Satya Nadella the big job at Microsoft. Now, the tech world is about to find out a lot about his style of leadership, both public and private.

According to sources, Nadella largely impressed the audience of about 120 senior executives who gathered for an offsite recently, the first at which the new CEO ran the show. He was named to the job, replacing Steve Ballmer, in early February.

Sources in attendance at the gathering said they welcomed Nadella’s message to the top troops, a message which was more forthright about Microsoft’s challenges than usual.

In fact, Nadella told the execs the software giant needed to behave more like “challengers” than followers in a number of different key digital arenas, such as mobile.

“Satya was basically saying we can’t just assume we can dominate,” said one exec attendee. “It’s a very different world out there that moves a lot faster than we have in the past.”

Whether it’s just talk or not remains to be seen, with Nadella just beginning what has been described to me as a listening tour of Microsoft employees and its partners. He has seen Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer, for example, as well as other Silicon Valley leaders.

He’s set to appear in the heart of the tech community next week, at a media event in San Francisco, which Microsoft has called a “briefing and news focused on the intersection of cloud and mobile computing.” That’s an area that Microsoft has lagged in, considering its immense size and power, with upstarts like Dropbox and big players like Google besting it.

And the following week, also in San Francisco, Nadella may appear at Build, Microsoft’s annual developers conference, though that is still undetermined.

How much change Nadella, who has been at the company since 1992, will push for will be carefully gauged. There’s some question whether he can be an agent for the kind of dramatic shift that some think Microsoft needs, especially since much of the same management remains in place and his key adviser is former CEO and co-founder Bill Gates.

“It’s hard to say you want to be an insurgent when you have been part of the system for so long,” said one exec. “What Satya is saying is right — the question is: Does he mean it?”

In his first letter to Microsofties, Nadella did seem to try to be a little different by quoting one of the world’s most famous iconoclasts, who paid the price for being that way:

“To paraphrase a quote from Oscar Wilde — we need to believe in the impossible and remove the improbable.”

It’s a good sentiment, but given the need to shake up Microsoft, here’s an even better one from Wilde IMHO:

This article originally appeared on

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