The coincidence is interesting given the ongoing protests in India against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), Trump’s policies with regard to immigrants, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s handling of the protests and his focus on expanding the use of technology in governance, and Nadella’s own views on CAA.
The Modi government is trying to modernise its IT infrastructure, which could possibly see Microsoft use Nadella’s visit to consolidate its position in India and help the government through machine learning, artificial intelligence, industrial automation, cloud computing and more.
Where business & politics meet
While the Hyderabad-born CEO intends to meet PM Modi, there isn’t any confirmation on when a meeting could happen. Any talks could come under the CAA cloud given Nadella’s criticism of the amended law.
At an event for technology editors in January, Nadella said the CAA was “just bad” while responding to a question from BuzzFeed.
“If anything, I would love to see a Bangladeshi immigrant who comes to India and creates the next unicorn in India, or becomes the CEO of Infosys. That should be the aspiration,” he went on to say, triggering a social media storm.
While there was no official comment from the BJP, party leader Meenakshi Lekhi made a veiled dig at Nadella, saying the “literate need to be educated”.
How literate need to be educated ! Perfect example. Precise reason for CAA is to grant opportunities to persecuted minorities from Bangladesh, Pakistan & Afghanistan.
How about granting these opportunities to Syrian Muslims instead of Yezidis in USA ? pic.twitter.com/eTm0EQ1O25
— Meenakashi Lekhi (@M_Lekhi) January 14, 2020
This isn’t the only time Nadella has spoken out on the issue. In the last week of January, he said that countries which failed to invite immigrants will lose out as the global tech industry expands. He said governments needed to “maintain that modicum of enlightenment and not think about it very narrowly”, and “people will only come when people know you’re an immigrant friendly country”.
Nadella is an immigrant himself, having moved to the US for his masters degree. The son of an IAS officer, who served as a secretary to former prime minister P.V. Narasimha Rao, Nadella has been a vocal advocate of immigrants rights.
In America, it’s family first
For Nadella, family has been central to his approach to most things in life. On the day he was appointed CEO of Microsoft in 2014, he sent an email to all his employees saying: “I am 46. I’ve been married for 22 years and we have 3 kids. And like anyone else, a lot of what I do and how I think has been shaped by my family and my overall experiences… Family, curiosity and hunger for knowledge define me.”
In his autobiography ‘Hit Refresh’, he talked about how he once gave up his green card so his wife could move with him to the US. Nadella and Anu married in 1992. At the time, she was still living in India while he was in the US, already working at Microsoft’s Redmond headquarters and had got the “coveted” green card.
However, Anu’s visa application to the US was rejected by immigration authorities owing to a long wait list for spouses of permanent residents. Microsoft’s immigration lawyer suggested Nadella give up his green card and reapply for a H-1B skilled worker visa, under which spouses could be brought along without waiting.
“Such is the perverse logic of this immigration law,” Nadella wrote in his biography.
Also read: Why hostility to immigration runs so deep
Running a business just like playing test cricket
The 52-year-old is part of an elite group of tech business heads in the world. But Nadella wasn’t always an overachiever. By Indian standards, he fell below the creamy layer of engineers since he didn’t go to IIT. Instead, he studied at Manipal Institute of Technology.
To those who know him, Nadella’s business and managerial approach is much like test cricket — executed with immense deliberation and patience. A Sachin Tendulkar fan, it’s a sport Nadella follows avidly.
During his predecessor Steve Ballmer’s time, people considered Microsoft’s epic journey all but over. The company faced stiff competition from Apple, its Windows 8 operating system had proven to be a disaster and its search engine Bing was hardly impacting Google’s success.
After Ballmer made way for Nadella, Microsoft’s stock jumped by 14 per cent in the first year. The second year saw a 21 per cent leap.
Of the things that ensured Microsoft’s re-entry in the tech arena was Nadella’s emphasis on embracing rivals like Apple and Linux. Nadella suggested a Microsoft Office version for the Apple iPad and partnered with Linux on Microsoft Azure cloud.
This wasn’t the only course correction he executed; Nadellla also revamped the work culture at Microsoft. Just before his first address to employees, he “shortened the stage” so he didn’t sound like he was bestowing wisdom. He also got rid of a ‘quota system’ within the company that forced employees to rank colleagues one through five to reinforce a culture of toxic competition. This number remained a “permanent scar” on an employee’s record.
“The one thing that is constant for us as individuals or institutions, or even sport, is change… the key is not to rue having missed anything. The question is how are you going to catch the next wave?” he said in an interview.
Nadella has not only caught the wave, but has been riding it.