On his 21st birthday in 1988, Satya Nadella flew out from India to study at the University of Wisconsin in Milwaukee. In 1992, he was recruited by Microsoft.
In his new book, Hit Refresh, the Microsoft CEO talks about how Karl Marx, his Sanskrit scholar mother, and a cricket hero shaped his boyhood. Here are excerpts on his journey from Hyderabad to Redmond:
Well, my father was a civil servant with Marxist leanings and my mother was a Sanskrit scholar. While there is much I learned from my father, including intellectual curiosity and a love of history, I was always my mother’s son. She cared deeply about my being happy, confident, and living in the moment without regrets. She worked hard both at home and in the college classroom where she taught the ancient language, literature, and philosophy of India. And she created a home full of joy…
As a kid, I couldn’t have cared less about pretty much anything, except for the sport of cricket. One time, my father hung a poster of Karl Marx in my bedroom; in response, my mother hung one of Lakshmi, the Indian goddess of plentitude and contentment. Their contrasting messages were clear: My father wanted intellectual ambition for me, while my mother wanted me to be happy versus being captive to any dogma. My reaction? The only poster I really wanted was one of my cricketing hero, the Hyderabadi great, ML Jaisimha, famous for his boyish good looks and graceful style, on and off the field.
Looking back, I have been influenced by both my father’s enthusiasm for intellectual engagement and my mother’s dream of a balanced life for me. And even today, cricket remains my passion. Nowhere is the intensity for cricket greater than in India, even if the game was invented in England. I was good enough to play for my school in Hyderabad, a place that had a lot of cricket tradition and zeal. I was an off- spin bowler, which in baseball would be the equivalent to a pitcher with a sharp breaking curveball. Cricket attracts an estimated 2.5 billion fans globally, compared with just half a billion baseball fans. Both are beautiful sports with passionate fans and a body of literature brimming with the grace, excitement, and complexities of competition. In his novel, Netherland, Joseph O’Neill describes the beauty of the game, its eleven players converging in unison toward the batsman and then returning again and again to their starting point, “a repetition or pulmonary rhythm, as if the field breathed through its luminous visitors.” I think of that metaphor of the cricket team now as a CEO when reflecting on the culture we need in order to be successful.