NADELLA – The Changing Face of Microsoft


(Extracted from Part 1: The Learner)

‘I am a learner. The thing that I realized is, what excites me is that I'm learning something. I can learn something about some area. I can learn something from people. I can learn something from doing things differently. And I admire that in other people, too. I fundamentally believe that if you are not learning new things, you stop doing great and useful things.’ – Satya Nadella

Satya Nadella was born in Hyderabad, to a Telugu family from Anantpur district. His father, B.N. Yugandhar, an IAS (Indian Administrative Services) officer was a professional in his own right and had a sterling career. He was a member of the Planning Commission between 2004 and 2009 under Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, and worked extensively on projects related to poverty alleviation, rural development and safety net programmes, among other things. Yugandhar was posted at Hyderabad as the Sub-Divisional Magistrate (he later served here as the District Magistrate) when Satya was born in 1967. The level-mindedness of B.N. Yugandhar and Satya’s mother, Prabhavati Yugandhar, is evident in the manner they handled the news of the immense success of their forty-six-year-old son. Nadella’s own reaction to his elevated status at Microsoft was no different from theirs.

The initial years of learning

The first phase of what is now popularly referred to as Nadella’s ‘continuous learning attitude’ kicked off at Hyderabad Public School. Hyderabad Public School was established in 1923, and was known in those days as the Jagirdar College. ‘Jagirdar’ was a title given to feudal superiors who were granted a specific territory, or jagir, by the ruler or monarch of the place as a token of recognition for their service to the ruler. A jagirdar was usually a minister in the court of the monarch and, as far as his jagir was concerned, the de facto ruler of the territory. He could impose taxes on the people who occupied or worked on his land and was granted magisterial authority by the monarch. While the system of allocating jagirs started in the thirteenth century, it gained currency and official recognition under the Mughal emperor Akbar’s rule. It was later adopted by several other rulers and subsequently continued by the British East India Company. In British-ruled India, when the Jagirdar College was first established in 1923, admission to the institute was reserved exclusively for the children of jagirdars and other aristocrats. After Independence, India abolished the jagirdari system, and a year later the Jagirdar College at Begumpet, Hyderabad, was rechristened Hyderabad Public School, or HPS, as it is popularly known today. HPS is built on a sprawling 160-acre campus, and its magnificent construction ranges from the contemporary to the erstwhile Qutub Shahi style of architecture seen predominantly in Hyderabad. The notable fact about HPS is that while it was brought into existence as an exclusive seat of learning for the privileged children of aristocracy, the standout examples from the school have actually comprised children from regular families with little or no connection to nobility. And Satya Nadella is not the first man from this category to pass out of the hallowed portals of HPS. Shantanu Narayen (CEO, Adobe Systems), K.K. Reddy (the sixteenth chief minister of Andhra Pradesh), Harsha Bhogle (celebrity journalist and cricket commentator), Baron Billimoria (Chairman, Cobra Beer) and Talat Aziz (legendary ghazal singer) are just a few among the institute’s long list of high achievers.

At HPS, Nadella’s life was influenced by two very distinct experiences. The first was a girl called Anupama, his schoolmate and friend, whom he would marry several years later. Like Nadella, Anupama was also an IAS officer’s daughter. Her father, K.R. Venugopal, happened to be a former batch mate of B.N. Yugandhar, Nadella’s father. A lasting friendship began between the two young people that culminated in marriage in 1992. The second was something that most Indians would identify with – the incredible game of cricket. In his interviews and addresses, Nadella repeatedly alludes to his fondness for the game. While growing up, it was one of his passions. He played for his school, though by his own admission he wasn’t one of the most promising players on the school team. There were several others who were more proficient. Nadella, however, picked up much more from the sport than mere skill. As he has expressed it, ‘Perhaps, more than anything, I think playing cricket for HPS taught me more about working in teams and leadership that has stayed with me throughout my career.’

In an interview with Adam Bryant, conducted after Nadella’s appointment as the CEO, Nadella narrated a particular incident from his cricket playing days at HPS. Nadella was bowling and the captain of the school team observed that he could do a better job of it. He took over from Satya and bowled a spectacular over to give their team the fillip it required. Then, to Satya’s amazement, the captain threw the ball back to him and asked him to take over the bowling once again. A flurry of questions went blazing through Nadella’s mind, he says. What made him do that? Is this what they call leadership? In the interview, he goes on to say, ‘I will never forget that. These are the kind of questions I have since reflected on as I approach many of the things I do today leading teams.’


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