Stephen Dubner's conversation with the C.E.O. of Microsoft, recorded for the Freakonomics Radio series “The Secret Life of a C.E.O.”
This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
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more than the two hundred and fifty billion dollars since we spoke hope you enjoy Am I what Stephen donors at such a yesterday piping Hawaiian great to meet you? Thank you. How are you like right? Thank you for having me ok great. So first if you would you say your name in and what you do so Adela see your Microsoft very good. Now such the the market, cap of Microsoft, has risen more than cure. And fifty billion dollars during your three or tenure Microsoft, employees are said to be happier now and they ve been in quite some time. Everyone seems to love, or at least like such an attack Also, so I want to know, are you enjoying yourself as well or is? Are you just the leading leading the back? I mean, I think you The time is right to hit refresh rekissed in some.
Since the idea that a lot of progress has been made is not how I look at it. I think of anything at least I hope rob you know for us are we clearly grounded in all the things that we can do better in terms of whether it's the products we build the capability we create or the culture we have and on all three France? I feel there is a lot to be done and I am proud of some progress but its harm, not sufficient. If anything, I you know, my entire purpose of this book at least was this process? Is a continuous process, a renewal, that's not a destination that one reaches its no see. When you make no secret of the fact that a lot of people were hoping for an outsider to be appointed ceo of Microsoft but you're alive,
for I gather there wasn't a lot of enthusiasm internally when you were named talk about how that perception seems to have changed at least as far as you can tell have people come up to and said you know, I wasn't so sure you are the right choice, but now I'm liking where we're heading. What are you here in a relative Ultimately, I think anyone should evaluate people based on their ability to perform, and so I think there is Appropriate, whether its internally or externally, to be sceptical- and I think the board also did the right thing of looking far and wide and then saying: ok, let's take the better this person. As you said, I'm a consummate inside up, but the hunting that I've tried to do being someone was brought up in Microsoft, is have as objective outside in view and in the end. The combination of the two, I think, is what help
me led Microsoft. Speaking of the board, let me just ask you one question. I have really been curious bout I'm Steve Bomber, your predecessor, famously pushed to purchase Nokia, the fading mobile phone company toward the end of his tenure. You voted against it as you right here. But the deal wound up going through a few months after you were appointed CEO. So I'm I'm just curious how this works first ball. Why did the board select a ceo who'd voted against this gigantic reason? Acquisition, I'm guessing? They had asked you discussed with them in the interviews for the position, your position on? No, correct. Yet for sure, I'm one of the things I write about this in the book, but just to be here, put the facts and make them Clia
not in the border directorate Microsoft. I was part of the management team of Steve, so it's not like. I had a vote. Steam just went around the room and wondered and get the pulse of his leadership team, and we had a good debate and, as I right in the book, I felt that it is important for us to do things. Give where we were in the mobile space at that point, which was out the number three slot, with a huge gap between the one two and three to do something that is more unique, indifferent and differentiated, and so I was more in favour of that. The Nokia acquisition, quite frankly, did give us some hardware capability in we now deploy across the company in different ways but I want to do after becoming see you in particular focus our efforts on participating in mobility broadly defined. I wanna made the vision that I had was, let's not think about in after all free
This is again a lesson. I learned in fact observing what Stephen Bill did even with windows. After all rebuilt office for the MAC before Windows was even their hustle if you look all the way back into our own history, we a precedent for how we, think about our software on other people's endpoints. That's in fact, the start of our journey on mobility, but mobility, as you know, is not about just the device. Is the mobility of the human experience so at least I had a vision of how we can think about playing it differently and one more question about Nokia. Before we move, I guess back in time. Actually so shortly after you install to see yo you shut down Nokia, which resulted in a total right off of the purchase and about eighteen thousand jobs lost. What was that I mean that's a pretty big deal to be handling both. You know the Mccain
Serbia and the emotion of it shortly after you come in as a not obvious choice. A ceo just walk me through what that fell. Like on your way to accomplishing that you know first vote. I think these hard decisions around what do pick. And focus on is something that I believe a c o uniquely has to do. That's not something, You can delegate out it's not something that someone else can do on your behalf. I mean, ultimately, that's your core responsibility, under heading, especially taking those decisions that impact people's lives I ve heard is not easy. Ways are very heavily on me personally. So therefore, I have to think true and then having talked it through and made the decision we
to execute honour to your point where my pet, what was of paramount importance was to make sure that the employees being impacted were treated with dignity were given all opportunities to find their next play, whether inside of the Microsoft or outside and That was my real concern and priority, and that's where I poured my energy, but knew that I had to make calls on what is it that we're going to do and how are we going to define the core value proposition that we were going to create? You grew up in India, your father, there was a civil servant with a thirst for marxist ideas. Your mom was a sanskrit professor and, as you write the opposite of a tiger mom, she was really interesting. An you having a balance between intellect and happiness. You write that you weren't the greater student and then you did immigrate to the. U S and something you right in the book.
Really I found fascinating. You noted that you benefited from good timing or good luck in a number of ways. You write the convergence of several tectonic movements, helped you along India's independence from british rule, the american Civil Rights Movement, which, in immigration policy? In the U S and the global tech boom, I know that's a lot to look back on, but for you for just one person, when you kind of look at that arc and how, unless clear it would have been on paper fifty years ago, or so. I'm just curious how you assess this oh system and all these events that led to it- and I guess the natural next question would be. What are you trying due to prolong or to what are you trying to do to continue to create opportunities for people like yourself, you haven't, I think, that's a very important up he's here, because
I think, I'm a product of two amazingly unique american things. The first is this technology. That reached me where I was growing up that even made it possible for me to dream the dream and then the enlightened american immigration policy that would be like to debate, but it allowed me to come here in the first place and live the dream, so I think that that's what's unique about us, that's what is and what makes us competitive. That's what I think makes us even the beacon of hope for people who needed the most, and so I believe we should preserve it? We should promote it. We should debated for sure, because there are things that are. We may want to change in how it goes out. Immigration policies implemented or how complicated it is or meat can be simplified. But that said,
I am at least someone who I believe only in America wouldn't a story like pine be possible, and so Therefore, I look at it. It's a while. If that's the case, then let's make sure- and I will at least be do everything I can to make sure I advocate for that. In addition to you, the ceos of Google you'll be Mastercard. Many other big american firms are Indian American, often immigrants like yourself. How do you account for that massive successes or anything you all have in common, and I'm just really curious your view well I'd. I admit I helped us companies other than the Cinderella. Google, we already to the same high school. So I don't know. Maybe it was the water, but I first of all, I think it's sort of one of those false positives that you can take too much out of
it reaches. I think each of us have had our own unique story of the unique path is, after all, a country with billions people, but a relatively low immigration rate for most for most of the immigration history, correct That is correct and I am not in fact a very deep student, although that thing has been recently a book even written about skill indian immigrants, which at some point when I get the time I will read out and study, but I think, What you are seeing here is that last part of that formula, which is there was this tat boom, especially in the early starting in the early nineties. There was a good supply of engineering graduates out of the country and I think market meets supply and demand. Supply and the enlightened immigration policy, I think, is what made it possible, but people who have come here have contributed. I think,
When I look at the south asian immigrant population or any other immigration population, immigrant population weathers from China, Eastern Europe- and I look at Microsoft the number of countries and nationalities that are represented and what they evolved brought Two american competitiveness is something that I think is only possible in this country. Nowhere else when, where else will you found a company and say let people from sixty five countries come here and all become great. Well, meaning contributing employees and taxpayers yeah, but let me ask you to brag just two: little bit, maybe more than your interested in or may be a little bit more jingoistic than you're interested in, but I'm just curious to know as in India. Is there anything about your
bringing your culture, your family structure, you're kind of appreciate the familial appreciation for education and accomplishment and discipline. It said I'm just I'm really crease, no, because I think people listening to this. I understand that you can do play it say you know it may be a false, positive and some, but I think a lot of people listings. A around the world will want to say you know I would have They are doing to succeed so brilliantly I could you know, perhaps mimic just parts of that within my own. Family and so on. I'm just curious to know if there's anything that you would identify as necessary Billy, Indian. I don't know what honesty Stephen Averages, whether there is anything necessarily india- and I do believe that There is a certain bein, a structure to the edges. National system of that country,
That, I think would definitely I benefited from, and all the others you mention benefited from like the school the high school I went to, I think, was I mean a bit over the four five of us who, in their real all, we know we were very fond of the place because I think it is formulated in vain differ we shall do you know what debater. I was a curricular end and we were all you know, learn different things there, but both of us are, you know, are fond of that institution and I think, more than anything else, it gave us the freedom. Think learn and pursue ball dreams, but I dont know if there's anything uniquely indian about it when I start talk to people, for example, one of the things that are, I mean it's amazing, to see this generation of people who grew up after the cultural revolution. It is, in fact the first
generation that went to college after the cultural revolution. They are the ones who give me greater than many of them who work, as my colleagues at my Microsoft ever had a chance to learn a ton from them same thing, from Eastern Europe, and we know when the book the wall fell and a lot of eastern european countries start participating in our autonomy and they came, I think each one of these societies, some of the best and brightest people with ambition, people intact work. Setting the common thread here and in fact, the fact that the Eu S was able to tap into it. That's the story that needs to be written quite frankly, which is which other place I'm you think about tie me right? Oh yeah, the Berlin Wall fell, but where did they all show up in the Silicon Valley? That's it what we should look at the great point. Let's talk about your own fan,
If a bit you and your wife was an architect, have three kids, the eldest down his early twenties has severe sir cerebral Palsy one of your daughter's has learning differences that required her to go to school in Canada, so that obviously had a huge impact on on your family and on you as a person, especially as you were, climbing the corporate ladder at Microsoft. Can you talk about how being apparent within that family? change your world view as a manager. You write about the empathy that you learn to accomplish. I'm really curious to know what kind the various contributions that parenting had to your ultimately becoming the kind of ceo you are, so those moments and so the learning from being a father, a parent clearly on have been defining moment for me, he'll these hit refresh moments for me when I reject
and the book I in fact it is hard for me to write, because I wanted to write only the second and the third is TAT S much less about the technology in the future. But I have to look back and sort of asked myself like. Ok, how did this come about even the books, like everything, that's nonviolent communication or carriage, wax mindset, we're going books, my wife introduce me to then add done, but vanity but by my son zones, but to mean the thing that strikes me harm. Quite frankly, ex post is how you know Naturally, it came for Anu, my wife, what she needed to do. We will be everywhere. I was twenty nine years old are both my wife and I were only children of apparent. So we were more concerned about. Oh, how sure
decorate on nursery? How, when will? I know, get back to a job after the sun is born? And yet you know the 13th of August, one thousand nine hundred and ninety six at eleven to I'm all life changed and multiple years to even understand what had happened, because in some sense I was more about me. Why did this happen to us? What happened to me and it's only observing my wife, you know really step up, give up a carrier do all things. She was doing to care for, saying that with that's. When I realize nothing happened to me, in fact, really something has happened to my son and it's time for me to step up and see life, through his eyes and do what I'm I should do as a Farrington and as a father. That's, I think, perhaps the big,
lesson for me around empathy, and it's not an. I write about this in the book as well, which is, I think, empathy is only developed through your lives experience. It's not something really endowed on you as long as ever read, but every passing year, with perhaps every passing mistake you make you develop more of assent. Being able to see life through other people's eyes is gonna. Make you more effective parent, more effective colleagues- and I are more effective part I think that's at least what I've been able to learn from my own personal experience when you look back on your younger professional self. When you had less empathy than you later developed. Do you see yourself as being kind of professionally selfish and overly critic, or do you always a relatively nice guy, if carried out for others? Do God's yes, but
I would say the one thing that is hardly know. I dont think even that interview question. I write about I always ask myself you know at at whatever twenty five when I was interviewing, and somebody says what would you do if you you see a baby on the street crying and after having fallen down? I answered with your thinking. This is some trip question. Maybe there's some algorithm that are missing and said I'll call nine one one only to have that manager wait. We cannot get a pittance walk me out of the room saying you know, that's the absolute bullshit sir, if you see a baby falling down, you pick them up and hugged them and was devastated because I remember thinking about it and I say how could I not get that and that's when you say well, you know what your life has a way of teach you, and the question is: are you just have to?
when when that lesson is thought you bet, you know you learn from it was his trial, and say whatever in eight capability I have is the only need capability that I will ever have your wife presumably would have picked the baby up instantly correct I gotta, presumably because after all, that's what came naturally to her with zones, but but I think she would also be willing to admit that it is in fact true, even her own lives experiences that our ability, for example, She was telling me the other day about how much she has learned being a mother of a child with disabilities on how to relate to others and especially new parents with children with disabilities eyes, not something that she grew we're door had in any need capability for about something that now she has definitely a much more and pathetic?
coming up after the break a hint of what Microsoft, working on right. Now I can just imagine you for your hologram was right. He heard her interview with me as opposed to just on the phone, back to our conversation now with such an Adela, the CEO of Microsoft. Let me ask you about the future and the kind of things Microsoft is working on, which I know you're. Very excited about, and ultimately will probably all be, the ideas that will all be excited about whether it's for a person with disability,
being able to engage with others or, though the world more or whether it's for productivity, Et Cetera, I'm curious to know. What you see the future, really looking and feeling and smelling like you write that we Microsoft are hard at work, building the ultimate computing exe, variants blending mixed reality, artificial intelligence and quantum computing. So It is true that a bit what's it look like what does it actually do ya? I mean this is the real fun part right reaches Other things about computing, unlike perhaps any other a medium, and especially software is its most malleable. In other words, you create something from nothing and it's always changing
ex reality to me is that ultimate blending off the human experience with the computing experience I mean think about it, your field of view right. What do you see a blend of the analogue and Digital ha. That's I mean what you get a glimpse Many were the hollow lands where it all we ve. I walk into my office and I put on my hollow lens. I have all these dashboards have created, with all these pie, Chart said what have you that our just all floating around in my room, like it's, an infinite screen room, and I think that in the future, precisely what is now a form factor that is looks like you know, a big ceta goggles will become just like a set of Eyeglass, so I think the ability, To blend analogue to Digital is what we describe as mixed reality. There are times when it to be fully immersive, that's called virtual reality. Sometimes, when it is, you can see
but the real world and the artificial world, that's what is odd, meant a reality. But to me, that's just a dialogue that you sat and are we have taken a pretty unique opera ouch in thinking about this space, and so that's one aspect in fact, or just to give you good example. You listen is a good example. I eat you in at a conference just earlier this week we demonstrated how fundamentally mixed reality changes collaboration. I mean just imagine if your hologram was right here interviewing as opposed to just on the phone we shortfall. Or using a Smith mixed reality to change how they collaborate in the past. Forty would create these clay models, which weighed five thousand pounds that needed to be moved so that people can critique
The new car, whereas now they have essentially these sessions where people in their manufacturing design sales can all look at the model simultaneously. Annotate did leave voice comments. I mean it's just a complete new way to collaborate in a way. I I think that the Thirty two reason over data and create intelligence is another amazing, amazing breakthrough. I give you an again a very enjoyable example, a group of people came together at Microsoft and created this new app called seeing your eye that anyone can download from the Apple Appstore. In fact, it uses all the cutting edge machine learning he I techniques or on computer vision from a cloud and things about the capability for someone with visual impediment to be able to see in fact
I wanna be my colleagues Angela Mills, whom I ran into recently, was telling me about how as visually shared vision, impairment and she uses that act now to confidently go into the cafeteria order: food, Would she walks- and I'm not even realise this- to be such a challenge, which is she said? I can now walk into a conference room at work, knowing that that's the conference room than I am expected to be in its raw barging into the wrong meeting for the first time and You know that yeah. I can actually help someone fully participate in her job, it's remarkable and to finish off the Ark on Quantum we in fact, I brought up it all field's medal, whether in math and a couple of physicists it a computer scientists. Earlier this week to talk about quantum in the progress we are making their, but ultimately I believe
in order to bring about some of these magical experiences any I capability we will have to break free of some of the limits were hitting of physics. Really, I mean Moors LAW, even though we are grown transistors exponentially that you know is become, hard and even event grew the transistors exponentially computing power was only going leniently, but order to reason over larger and larger amounts of data. I mean think about the unsolved problems right when we talk about global warming, what if there was a catalyst that good absorb carbon economy? problem cannot be solved. The organic chemistry problem that cannot be solved here, it'll take a classical computer, the amount, time it as either had that has transpired between big bag to now, but a quantum computer cat, solved out. So I think we need to go after this ball. New departure of building out a computer, that's vey, deaf!
and all the way from the math do the physics to the computer sides of it. So you think in computing that level, next level is more reachable, then and say. Well, let me ask you another: parallel batteries, re energy storage in batteries. Deuce. Are you saying that quantum computing will attain the next level for computing faster than energy technology than battery technology will for energy storage, nor, in fact seen the computing is about how in every industry and every human endeavour of innovation get their faster. So, for example, take the battery peace. I am not an expert in batteries, but if it is about disk bring some new material that can store energy better. Then the abyss the tea to really discover that material is some computational problem that needs to be solved or more adult. That's where something like the quantum computer can help
so in some sense, computing is not about living in its own world. It's about being blended into the chain of solving the most challenging problems of the day. Well and sounds like it's the engineering or the computer engineering version of your mission. Essentially now, as you describe Microsoft, as a platform company really correct, that's Craig, I mean it. I of data- about Microsoft and our story of art, but so to speak, the first product that Paul bill created was the basic interpreter for they all tat, and of course, you know, and this week I was, King about visuals studio, add what you can do with quantum computers. A lot has happened between the owl tat. Quantum computer,
about. What has remained constant for us is that we create technology so that others can create more technology, and I always say we had in the empowerment business. We empower people and organizations all over the planet to achieve more and that to me: is it the core of who we are I'm going to ask you a series the relatively short questions hoping to get in as much as we can in the time that you ve got. So let me start here such a you ve got over a hundred twenty thousand employees around the globe. If we put him altogether in one room, how many do think you'd know, by name let's say five thousand wow, that's impressive really, twenty five years, five thousand five percent, the aperture. Now are you sending copies of the book to every ploy or maybe requiring all of them to buy it.
No, we are sending copies to every employee and it's an agitated addition, so we have in fact it's called not hit refresh, but it's a five ahead, so the hates the brow the commander it's fun. It's already does actually refer doing a really at outdated version of it for its quality employee addition, since we're not getting the agitated and give us a taste of what kind of things they'll be learning that we're not learning mostly just fun comments on the side given the tidal, where it doesn't say, Microsoft. It says our and you know it's not hit refresh but commander five. Those are the kinds of things got it. Ok, obviously, the role of CEO is vast
and there are many duties and obligations, there's deal making youve acquired linked in and merging the makers of minecraft, among others, their strategic planning and customer relations and technical element. You are, after all, an engineer and daily personnel management. Can you rank for me. You're different duties from kind of least faith to most. I don't know how honest you're willing to be, but I'm really curious to know, from least to most favorite I mean I have to admit the most favorite is when I get to meet these engineers, who know no fear or no conceptual boundary and can dream of the most impossible? Things is no question I mean for me, that's. When I get energize didn't that's my most favorite, that's my least
everything would be when someone says you know come just: do these ribbon cutting type of things? You know they are part I think I wonder why labour especially No, why do somebody care about a sea of a tech company, oh and but yet I think people think somehow there is somebody Riyadh and I'm always astounded by it, and would you say, podcast interviews rank close. Or to the ribbon cutting or the meeting with engineers. Are you? talking to you is what my great pleasures are right now I know you're a good liar Cosette sounded very. Let me ask you this. You re, interestingly, in the
about many reforms you ve made at Microsoft, especially on the kind of executive management level. I'm talk to me for a minute about meetings, something that I think confounds a lot of people talk to me about. What is the right number of people to have a meeting and when is the right time or what is the right occasion to have a meeting such an amazing question. In fact, we ve gone and analyze this up in office to six five, we have something called Org analytics that comes with it, which helps in fact, organization understand the meeting habits and can t just like you know how it's so stunning right, which is. We do all kinds of analytics around sales data and a lot of other pieces of information. What if we start to bring that same amount of rigour to how people spend time so for Example, one thing good, we realized is the most senior you are. The most careful you need to be.
Setting up meetings. Like in eight, this is big awakening to me as well, which is even I set up a review. It turns out that, Oh well do at least five reviews before they show up to me because that's kind of how it goes right the review, with their manager, manageable review with their manager and depending on the topic in the matrix. Innovation. It could become an exponential growth thing, so being for giving proper guidance that hey this is a discussion we're gonna. Have you don't need to have a pre meetings for essentially what is going to be a discussion, I think, can help cut down the amount of time people spend on meetings it simple. Yet it has a profound impact and organization just gonna, give you another aspect of meetings which is you by a company, and you hope
the integration is going well, you can actually observe it. You can in fact see whether salespeople are talking to engineering deems any salespeople are not talking to engineering. That means the feedback cycle is broken so meetings are actually crucial? and so you can think of rest. So your organization, like a graph and reason about that graph. Questions you have what norms are connected, how frequently how they connect it did so that's the kind of stuff than we are in fact, building right into our products. Great Microsoft has had an amazing run as a as a firm as a tech firm and its had a very nice renaissance under under your leadership. That said, history is not kind to most big firms. They tend to not adapter, not keep Ibm is not a bad example of that trend, although there still quite alive there there diminished what The odds. Do you believe?
Microsoft will still be a big player in ten or twenty years, and what does it need to do to get there are in you? Basically captured the essence of wide this book witches evade. There is any did we can learn. I think whether for us as individuals, whether it is us, as you know, is institutions or organizations or ass societies, is hit. Refresh. Nothing can be taken for granted. There is no such thing as a perpetual motion machine. What you have to do is be graded, hitting those Rick ash moments and know that not every one of those moments of refresh is going to work out but that should not dissuade you from going after the next opportunity. You get one last question for you. You have openly opposed many
of president trumps immigration policies, as well as his withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement. You also at least judging from the fund. Perhaps I saw in the reporting, didn't seem that enthusiastic about meeting with the President's Technology council a few months back. What is it, for you to be- and I know that you're a kind person in a careful person and you're, the ceo of a multinational firms- are not expecting fireworks here, but I am is to know what it's like for you to be. The ceo of a multinational firm and an immigrant in the age of president Trump. You know, I've had a chance to meet President Trump twice once before. He was inaugurated in once after, along with a lot of my Industri colleagues, and I had a rich dialogue around immigration, around investments in digital technology, in the public sector and infrastructure
the conversation, quite frankly that we had in the previous administration and its a conversation that mynors pretty much my dialogues with heads of states all over and so I think that I am a great believer in the exceptional country that we have, that that is the United States and and it's a pleasure. Speaking with you, I appreciate your time and I congratulate you and all your good hard work and I hope we crossed paths again. I look forward to it. Thank you so much for the opportunity. In next week, special episode you'll hear my full conversation with Jack Welsh, the Legend paths. Again, I look forward to it. Thank you. So much for the opportunity for the brightest, most aggressive self, confident people I could fly and the third one what's important because they speak batty yeah. Well, when you have a crappy idea, they tell you also please
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Transcript generated on 2021-01-21.