SAN FRANCISCO — Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella delivered a keynote address at Saleforce’s annual Dreamforce conference here this evening, the latest sign of the new era for Microsoft’s relationship with Bay Area tech scene and the rest of the tech industry.
Fielding questions on stage, he began by talking about just how far the company’s culture has come over the past year. He said work is too important for a company to not put effort into shaping the way it fits into its employees lives.
“The culture of a place is what I think defines the pursuit of excellence,” he said. “You can look at a company and say, ‘Wow, they’re doing great things.’ But you have to look underneath that.”
When asked what keeps him up at night, Nadella turned the question to give a somewhat unexpected glimpse into the way he thinks about his role at the company.
“It’s a cliché to say culture is everything, but it is,” he said. “I don’t think our success is going to be determined by anything other than our culture facilitating everyone at Microsoft being able to do their best work.”
That, he said, is what keeps him up at night and is also why he gets up in the morning. As CEO, he added, “we can talk about vision, of course, but my real job is curation of culture.”
Nadella said he doesn’t believe you can freeze a culture and replace it with a entirely new way of going about business overnight. Instead, he said there has to be lasting corporate values.
“In our 40 years there has been this one common thread of empowerment. … That’s our soul,” he said. “That’s why I’m at Microsoft and that’s what we do at our best.”
He then did the absolutely unthinkable: gave an on-stage demonstration using an iPhone.
“It’s not my phone, but it is an iPhone,” he said. He called it an “iPhone Pro” — because it’s fully loaded with all the Microsoft apps.
Just the fact that he is on stage is proof of the so-called “new Microsoft.” It wouldn’t have ever happened just a couple years ago, as Microsoft and Salesforce used to publicly criticize each other during bygone eras. But things have changed as Nadella continues to usher in a softer, more competition-friendly culture.
Now well into his second year at the helm, Nadella has worked to bring Microsoft’s key products to competing devices, even opening things up to Apple and extending an olive branch to cloud storage competitor Box.
Last year Microsoft and Salesforce signed a longterm partnership to integrate the companies’ key products, and earlier today the pair announced they were going to “double down” on that partnership with deeper integration.
The two companies are on such good terms that it was widely reported earlier this year that Microsoft was willing to spend up to $55 billion to acquire Salesforce. The deal never happened, and the companies have since gone back to business as usual — though more friendly than ever before.
The keynote wasn’t just about cultural changes, but also changes we’ve seen in Microsoft’s product lineup. Nadella touched on Windows 10 and some of its features, including the Cortana digital assistant for PC, natural language searches and the ability to write on webpages using touch screens.
Nadella said the common thread across it all is a natural experience that moves across devices with users.
“To me, that’s the vision,” he said. “Windows 10. It’s not about a Windows release to me. It’s about a new generation of Windows.”
Nadella also used the event as a chance to announce Microsoft’s most recent philanthropic push. The company is expanding its YouthSpark program, committing to donate $70 million over the next three years to nonprofits working to expand computer science education, particularly for under-represented populations.
Technology Education and Literacy in Schools, which pairs tech professionals with educators to co-teach computer science courses at U.S. high schools, will be one of the first to partner with Microsoft. Nadella gave TEALS a special shoutout during his keynote, encouraging those in attendance to volunteer with the organization. TEALS was founded by Microsoft employee Kevin Wang.
Nadella’s speech is one of the major draws for this year’s Dreamforce conference at San Francisco’s Moscone Center, which was expected to attract about 150,000 people to the city.