Hate Management books? Me too. But Nadella’s Hit Refresh is a worthy call to arms not only to his troops, but to business overall.
What, exactly, does Microsoft stand for?
I’ve been covering the company for three full decades, and for the first two, that was an easy question to answer. Under Gates the company stood for its core mission: ruthlessly putting a computer on every desk and in every home. That meant cunning domination of profitable, winner-takes-all tech markets. Microsoft under Gates crushed its earnings, took names, and made shareholders rich.
When we try to fathom inequality and how it affects our society, we usually turn to graphs and data. But people’s stories help, too. This week Jane Mayer’s New Yorker profile of Robert Mercer, “The Reclusive Hedge Fund Tycoon Behind the Trump Presidency,” provides a different path towards understanding the sociopolitical dysfunction that extreme inequality can cause.
Mercer is a taciturn libertarian hedge fund leader who loves guns and model trains, doesn’t believe in climate change but does believe in the gold standard, and backs crackpot research into human life extension, along with Breitbart News, in which he’s a key investor. But unlike so many others of his ilk, such as the Koch brothers, he’s not an oil man. A data scientist and expert in computational linguistics, he turned his experience in pattern-finding from language translation to equities trading in the ’90s. He’s a geek who hates the government — even though it backed some of his early research.
As part of the NewCo Shift Dialogs, I had a chance to interview Brad Smith of Microsoft. You can watch the video here, but because we had to cut it down for time, many fascinating portions of the conversation did not make it into the video. Below is the full transcript, with light editing for clarity.
As president you don’t have product responsibility, but you have a lot of corporate responsibility. It seems to me that you’re responsible for the kind of company that Microsoft is going to be, what it wants to be in the world. You have to understand input from the outside, listen to the needs of the inside, and bring the two together.
New President Brad Smith on a Renewed Mission, a Major Culture Shift, and the Role of a Corporation in Society
This week’s column introduces the Shift Dialogs, NewCo’s new video series featuring in-depth conversations with the leaders driving significant change across business, culture, and society. Our first episode features Brad Smith, President and Chief Legal Officer of Microsoft. We’ve also released the second episode, featuring Max Ventilla, founder and CEO of AltSchool.
Back in 1993, when an early thirty-something lawyer named Brad Smith joined Microsoft, his new employer was a fearsome amalgam of every badass tech company on the planet today. It had the ubiquitous reach of Google, the scary omnipotence of Facebook, the arrogant presumption of Apple, and the heartless calculation of Amazon. Its ruthless business practices were the subject of intense debate — was Microsoft too powerful? What could be done about it?
There was plenty for the new Associate General Counsel to do. His company was a magnet for legal trouble, locking horns with regulators and competitors around the globe. As the dot-com boom swelled in the late 1990s, Microsoft dominated the Internet with its Explorer web browser, and Wall Street crowned it the undisputed king of tech — in 1997, Microsoft’s market capitalization stood at more than seventy times that of its struggling rival Apple Computer.