Satya Nadella on the Meaning of Work

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Now here’s a different spin on ambition.

This is the second of a three-part interview with Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella. You can find the first part here.

Microsoft was long governed by a larger-than-life, brash and frankly ambitious figure, Steve Ballmer, who headed the company until 2014. But these days, there’s a different kind of CEO in charge, one who thinks out loud about the meaning of work, and professes a quiet and intense passion.

“When I was growing up, you just didn’t feel you were in some race to get somewhere,” Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella tells OZY’s Carlos Watson in this interview. His hometown of Hyderabad, India, was still sleepy in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and his parents were devoted to a life of the mind — mom was a professor of Sanskrit poetry, and dad was a Marxist. They gave young Satya room to wander, on and off the cricket pitch. Later in life, one of Nadella’s greatest influences was a colleague who urged him to seek the meaning and purpose in work, and to harmonize his work life with his, well, life.

Being the CEO of a huge tech company was never on his agenda, Nadella tells Watson. “To assume destination … is more hubris than confidence,” he says. Great achievement requires belief in oneself, he says, but “there is this fine line between confidence and hubris.”

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