This week I scored an exclusive interview with Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, which was interesting (and challenging) for a couple of reasons.
One, he wanted to talk about the new reality of hybrid work, which is a major theme I've been exploring for more than a year. The pandemic forced companies to turn on a dime and stay productive with workers at home, and software like Microsoft Teams has been a major factor in enabling that. Microsoft certainly wants to maintain the momentum Teams and Office 365 gained during the pandemic; but how will they do it when the sense of urgency gives way to other calculations?
Two, I needed to talk about Bill Gates. This would be Nadella's first significant interview since the Microsoft co-founder's divorce announcement, and the news that Gates had an affair with a Microsoft employee that began about 20 years ago, at a time when he was chairman and chief software architect of the company. How would Nadella address the news that a mentor and advocate had done something that runs afoul of the culture he's trying to establish in today's Microsoft?
It's a part of my job that's the hardest for outsiders to understand, but I can unpack a bit of it for you here: There's nothing quite like the live CEO interview.
It's a little crazy if you think about it: These CEOs are people with responsibility for tens or hundreds of thousands of jobs, billions of dollars in spending, and in Microsoft's case more than a trillion dollars in market capitalization. When they get on stage or appear in an event, it's normally a carefully choreographed and scripted affair, with an army of the best public relations and marketing professionals tasked with making sure the message sounds, looks and feels right. But in a live broadcast interview on CNBC, they're tossing most of that playbook out the window. Sure, they prepare and have their talking points. But if my interview feels just like their stage presentation, I've failed. And they have, too.
So the way I think about it is, my live interviews are really about trust. I don't give my interview subjects the questions ahead of time. They might know subject areas I'll address, but they usually don't know all of those, even. It really is a live interview. And I like to think that the reason why the CEOs and their teams want to do these interviews — even (or especially?) when there's difficult news to address — is because they trust that I'll be fair. And they know that if they address the tough topics with a fair reporter in an unscripted setting, the public is more likely to trust the message they deliver.
Check out the newsletter below for a couple of videos from the Nadella interview, and others from this week and last. I skipped putting out the newsletter last week because I drove down to Maryland to see my parents, unmasked, for the first time in more than a year. The theme of the week: Reopening.
Did the Crypto Crash Break Bitcoin's Story? On the Other Hand
Did the crypto crash change the Bitcoin story? I argued both sides in the latest On the Other Hand, on CNBC's Squawk Box:
Microsoft Is Studying Hybrid Challenges: CEO Satya Nadella
Microsoft this week released Hybrid Work: A Guide for Business Leaders, a look at the factors that will influence how well companies grow productivity coming out of the pandemic. It's an opportunity for Microsoft to keep its productivity software in the conversation of course, but also for us to learn more about how the software giant is rethinking its own investments in commercial real estate and R&D:
Nadella on Bill Gates Affair and the Culture and Practices in Today's Microsoft:
Bill McDermott: ServiceNow Has Better Growth Prospects than Other Cloud Upstarts
Last week I spoke with ServiceNow CEO Bill McDermott about the company's growth plans after he presented at the company's analyst meeting. The stock has had quite a run over the past year along with other cloud names, but investors have been wary since February:
René Lacerte: Buying Divvy for $2.5 Billion a Bet on SMB Needs
I guest hosted The Exchange on CNBC for a couple of days last week, and got to bring a couple of Fortt Knox alumni on. Bill.com CEO René Lacerte had recently reported earnings and a major acquisition. We talked about small business trends, their digital transformation process, and why he's making a big strategic purchase:
Doug Hirsch: GoodRx Building Out A Diversified Platform for Consumer Health
Why have just one Fortt Knox alum with earnings and acquisition news when you can have two? During my turn on The Exchange, I also caught up with GoodRx co-CEO Doug Hirsch, who is taking the company beyond prescriptions and telehealth as the company diversifies its revenue streams and offerings:
Carnival CEO Arnold Donald on Opportunity and Education
Education and opportunity are essential ingredients for success. Before the pandemic, Carnival CEO Arnold Donald talked to me about his story for Fortt Knox. It illuminated the difference access can make:
Kindbody CEO Gina Bartasi on Extreme Perseverance
"You're going to will it to success." Gina Bartasi is a serial entrepreneur, now founder and CEO of fertility startup Kindbody. Perseverance is the most important practice she's learned from tough times building companies, and she talked about it in this archive conversation:
Duolingo CEO Luis von Ahn on the Team that Invented Captcha
Luis Von Ahn is founder and CEO of Duolingo, a language-learning startup recently valued at more than $2 billion. Years ago, he was part of a team at Carnegie Mellon University that invented the original Captcha. In this Fortt Knox archive conversation, he told me how it happened:
Last year I launched forttmedia.com, with The Black Experience in America: The Course. It's a curriculum I designed to look more closely at the journey America has taken with race, with an eye toward the future. I've intentionally priced them near what you'd pay to purchase a TV episode; it comes out to less if you purchase a bundle: