Satya Nadella’s first encounter with Steve Ballmer went down probably just as you’d expect.
Nadella spoke at the opening launch event for the Global Innovation Exchange, a new U.S.-China tech institute supported in part by $40 million from Microsoft. The tech giant named the new GIX building in Bellevue, Wash. after Ballmer, the former CEO who Nadella succeeded in 2014.
Nadella and Ballmer sat next to each other in the crowd — it was quite the sight to see the two most recent leaders of Microsoft side-by-side, chatting it up. It was equally fun to hear Nadella on stage talking about the first time he met his predecessor.
“I distinctly remember the first time I met Steve in 1992 when I joined Microsoft,” he explained. “Steve stopped by my desk and gave me one of those infamous high fives that only he can do. He expressed his immense enthusiasm for me joining Microsoft. I was an entry level guy at that time at Microsoft and here was the CEO walking by my office and sort of giving me this high five.
“I was, in some sense, a changed person after that,” Nadella added, drawing laughs from the packed crowd of dignitaries, top politicians, venture capitalists, business executives, and other leaders from the region.
Nadella immediately noticed Ballmer’s enthusiasm and said it was a privilege over the next 25 years at Microsoft to “witness that contagious ability to create energy in everything he does, the passion with which he approaches all of his work.”
Ballmer certainly displayed that enthusiasm throughout his time at Microsoft; you’ve probably seen a video or two demonstrating his energy. The former CEO definitely hasn’t lost any of that buzz, judging by his intensity as an NBA owner.
Microsoft wanted to honor Ballmer at GIX, which is a first-of-its-kind global tech graduate school founded by the University of Washington and China’s Tsinghua University.
“It was not a difficult decision,” Microsoft President Brad Smith said. “In the 42-year history of Microsoft, no one has done more than one person to take Microsoft to the world, to build our subsidiaries and connect us with people and customers around the world.”
Ballmer only spoke for a few minutes, but it was clear that putting his name on the new GIX building meant something. The 61-year-old, who taught an MBA class at Stanford after retiring from Microsoft, specifically thanked Smith, Nadella, and Microsoft CFO Amy Hood before he became emotional.
“This is quite an honor for me,” Ballmer said at the end of his remarks, his voice trailing off and eyes tearing up a bit.
Nadella said he couldn’t think of a more appropriate way to honor GIX by naming it after Ballmer, who is credited with helping Microsoft expand its business and footprint around the globe. While Ballmer was CEO, Microsoft was the first company to open a basic research facility in China.
“No one has done what Steve has done to take technology from one place and have its impact create opportunity everywhere,” Nadella said. “He advanced the Microsoft global footprint and forged groundbreaking new partnerships around the world. He also had a vision for how two partners can achieve more together than they ever could on their own. That partnership model was core to Microsoft’s success and core to the approach that Steve has inculcated in everything that we do.”