Satya Nadella is making Microsoft nicer

The CEO who took over from Steve Ballmer in 2014 says he's pushing the famously competitive and combative Microsoft to be more empathetic.

Ian Sherr Dara Kerr
Ian Sherr Former Editor at Large / News
Ian Sherr (he/him/his) grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, so he's always had a connection to the tech world. At CNET, he wrote about Apple, Microsoft, VR, video games and internet troubles. Aside from writing, he tinkers with tech at home, is a longtime fencer -- the kind with swords -- and began woodworking during the pandemic.
Dara Kerr Former senior reporter
Dara Kerr was a senior reporter for CNET covering the on-demand economy and tech culture. She grew up in Colorado, went to school in New York City and can never remember how to pronounce gif.
2 min read
Vanity Fair New Establishment Summit - Day 1

Satya Nadella at Vanity Fair's New Establishment Summit

Getty Images

In 2011, a cartoon zoomed around the internet depicting the organizational setups of various tech companies.

Amazon was a typical top-down setup, with someone in charge and people working for that person, then people working for them, etc. Apple , meanwhile, was depicted with everyone in a circle effectively all answering to the CEO.

Then there was Microsoft , where the cartoon depicted different teams, but each holding guns pointed at one another. For those who knew Microsoft's cutthroat culture, both internally and to the outside world, it rang very true.

When Satya Nadella was tapped to lead Microsoft in 2014, he decided the company needed a different approach.

"I said 'We need a learning culture,'" he told an audience Tuesday at Vanity Fair's New Establishment summit in Los Angeles

Since then, he's pushed Microsoft to be more collaborative with competitors. For example, one of his first decisions was to release Microsoft's Office productivity software for Apple's iPhones and iPads. He's elevated the role of consumer technology at Microsoft, both by expanding the company's line of Surface computers and by giving more prominence to the Xbox video game team

When Microsoft geared up to release Windows 10, the latest version of software that powers PCs, Nadella made it free for the first year. He's even said to be looking into a "major" expansion of Microsoft's presence in Silicon Valley

And there's Microsoft's old mission statement, "A PC on every desk and in every home" running Microsoft software. Now, it has a more modern twist: "To empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more." 

While Nadella didn't go into much detail during his panel discussion Tuesday, he did write a book about his efforts, called "Hit Refresh," where he talked about changing Microsoft's culture

Bottom line, he said Microsoft needs to be empathetic, even if it's actually a massive company that could take on pretty much anyone.

"Instead of viewing things as zero sum, it's how do we think of partnerships," he said.

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