SATYA NADELLA’ S COR­NER OF­FICE, ON THE FIFTH FLOOR OF BUILD­ING 34 AT MI­CROSOFT’S RED­MOND, WASH­ING­TON, HEAD­QUAR­TERS, FEA­TURES A CAN’T-MISS 84-INCH TOUCH-SCREEN COM­PUTER THAT DOM­I­NATES ONE WALL. BUT WHAT DE­MAND SEVEN MORE AT­TEN­TION ARE THE VAST QUAN­TI­TIES O

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The place looks more like a neigh­bor­hood book­shop than the com­mand cen­ter for the third-most-valu­able com­pany on the planet.

“I read a few pages here or a few pages there,” Nadella says, in his typ­i­cally un­der­stated man­ner. He is sit­ting in a turquoise arm­chair, with mul­ti­col­ored socks show­ing above his ca­sual brown shoes. The stacks around him in­clude heady tomes such as Bio­nomics and How Will Cap­i­tal­ism End?, but his taste is eclec­tic. At one point dur­ing our con­ver­sa­tion he ref­er­ences a Vir­ginia Woolf es­say about ill­ness; at another, Trinida­dian au­thor C.L.R. James’s lit­er­ary take on cricket. When ex­plain­ing the im­pact of Mi­crosoft’s Cor­tana AI as­sis­tant, Nadella es­chews mar­ket-share data for Shake­speare: “If Othello had Cor­tana, would he have rec­og­nized Iago for who he was?”

One of Nadella’s first acts af­ter be­com­ing CEO, in Fe­bru­ary 2014, was to ask the com­pany’s top ex­ec­u­tives to read Mar­shall Rosen­berg’s Non­vi­o­lent Com­mu­ni­ca­tion, a trea­tise on em­pathic col­lab­o­ra­tion. The ges­ture sig­naled that Nadella planned to run the com­pany dif­fer­ently from his well-known pre­de­ces­sors, Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer, and ad­dress Mi­crosoft’s long-stand­ing rep­u­ta­tion as a hive of in­tense cor­po­rate in­fight­ing. (Car­toon­ist Manu Cor­net crisply summed up the Mi­crosoft cul­ture in a 2011 org chart spoof that de­picted the var­i­ous op­er­at­ing groups point­ing hand­guns at each other.) “It was the first clear in­di­ca­tion that Satya was go­ing to fo­cus on trans­form­ing not just the business strat­egy but the cul­ture as well,” says Mi­crosoft pres­i­dent and chief le­gal of­fi­cer Brad Smith, a 24-year com­pany vet­eran. Nadella has been com­mit­ted to al­ter­ing how Mi­crosoft works by chang­ing how it thinks.

The Mi­crosoft that Nadella in­her­ited was re­garded by both Wall Street and Sil­i­con Val­ley as fad­ing to­ward ir­rel­e­vance. The tech in­dus­try had shifted from desk­top com­put­ers to smart­phones—from Mi­crosoft’s Win­dows to Ap­ple’s iphone and Google’s An­droid. (Win­dows’ mar­ket share on phones was less than 4%.) Ap­ple and Google had soared to record mar­ket val­u­a­tions; Mi­crosoft’s stock price had stalled, de­spite the fact that rev­enue had tripled and prof­its had dou­bled dur­ing Ballmer’s reign as CEO from 2000 to 2014. When Ballmer an­nounced his in­ten­tion to re­tire, in Au­gust 2013, suc­ceed­ing him wasn’t nec­es­sar­ily seen as a plum as­sign­ment. A Bloomberg story about the search for a suc­ces­sor was sim­ply ti­tled “Why You Don’t Want to Be Mi­crosoft’s CEO.”

“I was en­vi­sion­ing [some­one with] more of a bull-in-a-china-shop men­tal­ity,” says Ma­son

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