Bill Gates and Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella Both Read a Lot of Books

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by Tolu Ajiboye · 7 min read
Bill Gates and Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella Both Read a Lot of Books
Photo: Microsoft

Steering Microsoft is more than just a job for the people who have had the privilege to take on this role. One unstated requirement is the hunger for information, which Bill Gates and Satya Nadella both have.

Bill Gates, one of the world’s most popular people and Microsoft co-founder, has something in common with the company’s CEO Satya Nadella. Can you guess what it is (if not to take the company that unites them)? It has appeared that they both like books.

Bll Gates is known to be one of the world’s richest man especially. Though now this status belongs to Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, Gates had managed to take over Jeff Bezos some weeks earlier. But his popularity isn’t all about his money. If it was, his ability to remain a top earner even after billions of dollars in charity donations, would still make him extremely popular. Since co-founding Microsoft in 1975 with Paul Allen, the company has become one of the world’s largest and most profitable companies and this didn’t come easy. Today, Microsoft Corporation which was a company that was mostly focused on developing the Windows operating system has diversified significantly into many other things.

Gates was at the helm of affairs at Microsoft until June 2008, when he stepped down as the company’s chairman. While still on the board and contributing as a technology advisor to the corporation, it’s widely said that he’s had a strong hand in picking the company’s successors.

Microsoft has not had a lot of CEOs in its lifetime. In January 2000, Steve Ballmer succeeded Bill Gates as CEO and remained at the position until 2014 when the board unanimously chose Satya Nadella as a replacement. Since Nadella took control, he’s been credited with making amazing changes at the company that has ensured significant growth and development.


There are several habits ascribed to Gates which have been said to be the reason he’s been this successful. Apart from his clear ability to make interesting but obviously profitable decisions, the Microsoft co-founder is also popularly known as being a bit of a bookworm. Most of the largest companies in the world, regardless of where they are located, are led by people who have a stronger-than-average need to acquire more information. This makes it a little expected and not too unsurprising that Gates reads a lot.

The need to imbibe knowledge from books is also quite present with Nadella as well. In a September interview with Fast Company, Nadella’s office was described as “more like a neighbourhood bookshop than the command center for the third-most-valuable company on the planet.” Nadella also spoke about the shocking volume of books in his office saying:

“I read a few pages here or a few pages there. There are a few books, of course, that you read end-to-end. But without books, I can’t live.”

At different times, Satya Nadella has expressed his love for books and shared some specific ones, also adding his interpretation of the books’ subject matter. One of the most important books Nadella shared while speaking to The Economic Times. The CEO said that the makeover he’s done with Microsoft was mostly inspired by reading. Citing “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success” a book from psychologist Carole Dweck, Nadella suggested that the book’s general premise give him an idea to try at Microsoft.

“The simple concept in that book was that it’s better to be a learn-it-all even if the know-it-all has more innate capability, because the learn-it-all ultimately will do better. And I said: ‘What if we introduce that as the meme to have the cultural dialogue at Microsoft?”

One another from the important books for Satya Nadella is called “Nonviolent Communication” and was written by Marshall Rosenberg. The book delineates proper ways to ensure that conflicts are resolved as amicably and as peacefully possible. The author’s experience with peace conflict resolutions comes from years of running peace programs in war-torn regions including Serbia, Ireland, Sri Lanka and Rwanda. Nadella found this book so compelling that he asked his leadership team to read the book as a way to ensure that communication and conflict –resolution, are as “non-violent” as possible.

One more interesting mention – that could be a bit surprising – is a children’s fantasy novel written by Lloyd Alexander. “The Book of Three” includes a quote that Nadella once posted on Twitter, suggesting that there’s a great enough lesson to be learned from it. In a conversation between the book’s main character Taran and a magician named Dallben, Taran expresses desires which Dallben rebuffs. When questioned by Taran, Dallben replies saying:

“We learn more by looking for the answer to a question and not finding it than we do from learning the answer itself.”

Whatever Nadella’s efforts are – including ideas picked up from several books – have worked so far and brought more recognition for the 52-year-old CEO. Career site Comparably named Nadella the 4th best CEO for 2019. Fortune also recognized Nadella as the business person of the year.

To draw a parallel with Gates’ own reading habits, the Microsoft co-founder shared a book he’s been so impressed by, that he has given it out as a gift to at least 50 friends of his. Called the “The Rosie Project” by Graeme Simsion, the book’s main character is a geneticist named Don Tillman. While Tillman may or may not be suffering from Asperger’s Syndrome, he wants a wife and decides to find one by creating a 16-page questionnaire to help achieve this. Speaking on the book, Gates said:

“The book is less about genetics or thinking too logically or the main character’s hilarious journey than it is about getting inside the mind and heart of someone a lot of people see as odd – and discovering that he isn’t really that different from anybody else.”

Success of Satya Nadella Is a Result of Reading Books?

According to the founder and CEO of Zuora subscription management platform Tien Tzuo, the secret to Nadella’s success is a Fish-Shaped Curve. Tzuo believes that since Nadella assumed the CEO position, he made really great moves – many of them seemingly cringeworthy at the time – which eventually ended up with Nadella “swallowing the fish.”

The phrase was first used by Thomas Lah and J.B. Wood in their book titled “Technology-as-a-Service Playbook: How to Grow a Profitable Subscription Business.” The fish analogy describes a situation where a traditional company decides to change its modus operandi from a purchase-based style to something more subscription-focused. According to the book, this transition period is a very delicate one because revenue and general growth usually shrinks quite considerably especially because payments have stopped being outright. As the period progresses and to counter the shrink, the company must make very significant investments in the subscription model and many other divisions, to make up for the shrink.

At the end of the period, there usually is bigger revenue growth and development because the investments become fruitful and the growth shrink re-adjusts. Tzuo says that apart from Microsoft, this has been seen in other major firms such as Cisco and Adobe.

It is not unsurprising that both Bill Gates and Satya Nadella have a strong hunger for books as a way to shape their thinking. Leading a multinational corporation like Microsoft requires a lot more than passion. Anybody at the helm of affairs of such a giant firm needs to stay hungry for knowledge and ground-breaking information, which will inspire the kind of changes required for these firms to stay firmly at the top.

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Tolu Ajiboye
Author Tolu Ajiboye

Tolu is a cryptocurrency and blockchain enthusiast based in Lagos. He likes to demystify crypto stories to the bare basics so that anyone anywhere can understand without too much background knowledge. When he's not neck-deep in crypto stories, Tolu enjoys music, loves to sing and is an avid movie lover.

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