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The Unusualness of Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella

November 25, 2019, 1:55 PM UTC

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Last week, Fortune named Satya Nadella its Businessperson of the Year. In my brief write-up of Nadella’s accomplishments, I note the unusual degree to which some of Nadella’s direct reports have a spotlight focused on themselves rather than on the CEO.

Chief among them is Brad Smith, Microsoft’s longtime top lawyer but also its president, head of policy, and chief global diplomat. Two others are Amy Hood, the company’s powerful chief financial officer, and Kathleen Hogan, the head of human resources. Nadella credits Hood with managing Microsoft’s delicate shift of resources from Windows to the cloud, and he attributes to Hogan the company’s critical and not-easy-to-pull-off cultural shift of the past few years.

Many CEOs wouldn’t tolerate the attention their top people get, particularly the stature that Smith enjoys. “I’m wired to be fairly confident in myself and to let others shine,” Nadella told me. From other chief executives, that would come off as PR spin. From Nadella, it comes off as authentic.

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Gregor Theisen, a senior partner in McKinsey’s Hong Kong office, made an amusing yet telling comment in Paris last week during a roundtable on business opportunities in China at Fortune Global Forum. For years, he said, his firm has arranged tours of Silicon Valley for clients. Nowadays, clients want to tour Shenzhen or Shanghai. If they want to go to Northern California, it’s to visit Napa Valley, not Silicon Valley.

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The Wall Street Journal published a sharp (as in not fluffy) compendium of business books to consider as gifts for the holidays. British financial journalist Philip Delves Broughton made a smart observation in his review of Marc Benioff’s book, Trailblazer. He suggests that both of these extremes miss the mark: do-gooder CEOs emphasizing purpose and Milton Friedmanesque CEOs optimizing only for profits. “Actually, there is a third type of CEO,” he writes. “The type that simply gets on with the job without fretting over this difference. Who doesn’t bear the guilt Mr. Benioff appears to suffer for having built a successful business. Who sees profits made honorably, employees well treated, customers respected, families taken care of and doesn’t get lost trying to answer the little known Zen koan: If a CEO gives a lecture about social purpose but everyone tunes it out, does he make a sound?”

Adam Lashinsky

Twitter: @adamlashinsky

Email: adam_lashinsky@fortune.com

This edition of Data Sheet was curated by Aaron Pressman.

NEWSWORTHY

When the whip comes down. On decision day for Uber in London, the ride hailing startup lost its license to operate in the city. Uber immediately appealed the decision by Transport for London. CEO Dara Khosrowshahi tweeted that the ruling was "just wrong. Over the last 2 years we have fundamentally changed how we operate in London."

Hurry up and wait. AT&T announced plans on Friday for a broad rollout of super-fast 5G mobile phone service for customers, reaching parts of 15 cities within the next few months and the entire country by the middle of 2020. The plan is similar to–although slightly lagging behind–the rollouts of Verizon and Sprint. T-Mobile says it's going almost nationwide on Dec. 6. In a new report on Monday, telecom equipment maker Ericsson predicts 74% of mobile customers in North America will be on 5G by 2025.

Cashing in. India's fintech giant Paytm raised $1 billion of backing from investors led by T. Rowe Price in a deal valuing the mobile payments startup at $16 billion. Paytm is looking at expanding further into banking and insurance.

Pandora's box. Tim Berners-Lee, who more or less invented the World Wide Web, has some ideas for fixing the Internet. In an effort he's calling the Contract for the Web, Berners-Lee's proposals include that governments ban targeted political advertising online and that all companies issue reports on their progress towards diversifying their workforces.

Fragile. Elon Musk says he has uncovered the mystery of why the windows on the new Tesla Cybertruck cracked during a demo last week. Blame it on the sledge; sledgehammer, that is. "Sledgehammer impact on door cracked base of glass, which is why steel ball didn’t bounce off," he tweeted. "Should have done steel ball on window, *then* sledgehammer the door. Next time." The cracked windows don't appear to have scared away buyers. Musk also said Tesla has received 200,000 preorders.

Schoolboy draw. Professional poker player and tech exec Dennis Blieden pled guilty on Friday to embezzling $22 million from his former company, online influencer marketing firm StyleHaul. Much of the money was transferred into cryptocurrency and used for online gambling, prosecutors said.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

When computer programming needed a breakthrough in the 1960s, a young MIT professor named Barbara Liskov realized that software didn't need to run as one long set of instructions–instead, code could be separated into modules. Her abstraction of programming is at the root of all modern programming languages and earned Liskov the Turing Award in 2008. In an interview with Quanta writer Susan D'Agostino, she explained how she got interested in programming:

I was interested in the underlying work. “How do you organize software?” was a really interesting problem. In a design process, you’re faced with figuring out how to implement an application. You need to organize the code by breaking it into pieces. Data abstraction helps with this. It’s a lot like proving a theorem. You can’t prove a theorem in one fell swoop. Instead, you invent some lemmas and you decompose the problem.

In my version of computational thinking, I imagine an abstract machine with just the data types and operations that I want. If this machine existed, then I could write the program I want. But it doesn’t. Instead I have introduced a bunch of subproblems — the data types and operations — and I need to figure out how to implement them. I do this over and over until I’m working with a real machine or a real programming language. That’s the art of design.

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

Microsoft Proved a Four-Day Workweek Improved Productivity in Japan. Can Its Results Translate to the U.S.? By Jenna Schnuer

Google and Twitter Changed Their Rules on Political Ads. Why Won’t Facebook? By Danielle Abril

Deliver Us From A.I.? This Priest-Led Network Aims to Shepherd Silicon Valley Tech Ethics By Rebecca Heilweil

This Startup Wants to Be the PayPal of Weed By Richard Morgan

How Robots Are Changing the Construction Industry By Jennifer Alsever

Tesla’s Cybertruck Stuns… For Better or For Worse By David Z. Morris

IBM Showcases A.I. That Can Parse Arguments In Cambridge Union Debate By Jeremy Kahn

BEFORE YOU GO

NASA has decided to put its entire library of images online for free. And there's a search engine. Now your phone can feature the gorgeous Crab Nebula or Buzz Aldrin on the moon. Need a new screensaver or wallpaper background? Have at it.

Aaron Pressman

On Twitter: @ampressman

Email: aaron.pressman@fortune.com

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