2020 Spirit of Service Award

Satya Nadella

CEO, Innovator, Technologist

Since becoming the chief executive officer of Microsoft in 2014, Satya Nadella has restored the company’s spirit of innovation, placed a new emphasis on the ways that technology can improve how individuals and businesses engage with government, and committed the company to racial justice and environmental stewardship.

Microsoft today is actively engaged with the federal government on a number of fronts, including helping agencies find new and creative ways to improve customer service and internal operations through the use of artificial intelligence, cloud computing and predictive analytics. The company also is working with the Partnership for Public Service to help senior leaders better understand current technology topics their agencies may encounter.

Some of Microsoft’s federal projects include working with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to better predict patients’ needs and implement new payment models; aiding the Department of the Interior’s use of aerial drones to monitor more than 500 million acres of public land; helping the Navy transcribe courtroom hearings through the use of Microsoft’s speech to text technology, speeding up a previously costly and time-consuming process; and assisting the Department of Agriculture, federal scientists and researchers with harnessing data and artificial intelligence to help farmers increase crop yields, reduce costs and make crops more resilient and sustainable.

At the onset of the ongoing pandemic, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention launched a Microsoft-powered healthcare tool or “bot” to help Americans determine if their symptoms could be coronavirus and to help alleviate the initial strains on the health system. The company also has worked with numerous agencies to ramp up their remote work capacity, including the Department of Defense.

Nadella said his company’s intention is to create partnerships with the government and to “ask the tough questions, like not just what computers can do, but what they should do?”

Outside the federal space, the Microsoft CEO also has launched a global skills initiative to help 25 million people facing unemployment due to COVID-19 acquire the skills needed for the most in-demand jobs. Bringing together resources from across Microsoft, inclusive of LinkedIn and GitHub, the initiative will reimagine how people learn and apply new skills.

Within Microsoft, Nadella has embraced a culture open to learning and new ideas, one that places an emphasizes diversity and inclusion. In June, the company reaffirmed its commitment to addressing racial injustice by focusing on Microsoft’s culture, its ecosystem and its communities. Nadella also has made a commitment to reduce Microsoft’s carbon footprint by 2030, part of a company-wide focus on environmental sustainability.

As a leader, Nadella preaches the need for building cohesive and engaged teams, a concept driven home to him during his school days playing cricket in India. “One brilliant character who does not put team first can destroy the entire team,” he wrote in his 2017 book, “Hit Refresh.”

He also has acknowledged the importance of self-awareness. “If there’s criticism for what you’re doing, it’s appropriate to look in the mirror and understand whether there are changes needed,” he said during a 2019 public forum at Stanford Graduate School of Business. He added that large organizations should welcome scrutiny of what they are doing. “We need to think about unintended consequences of our technology, for example.”

Originally from Hyderabad, India, Nadella earned a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from Mangalore University, a master’s degree in computer science from the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee, and a master’s degree in business administration from the University of Chicago.

Nadella joined Microsoft in 1992 where he led a variety of products and innovations across the company’s consumer and enterprise businesses. Before joining Microsoft, Nadella was a member of the technology staff at Sun Microsystems, a technology company acquired by Oracle in 2010