The congratulatory texts and tweets started out the ultimate week of November. Microsoft had overtaken Apple to turn out to be the world’s most precious company, a lovely climax in a year that also noticed it pass Amazon and Google’s Alphabet Inc. Longtime personnel, who’d grown accustomed to contemplating Microsoft as far removed from its glory years, whilst it turned into run via Bill Gates and feared because the “Evil Empire,” has been flooded with messages from friends and family.

Yet no longer a word of this fulfillment became uttered whilst Chief Executive Officer Satya Nadella accrued his senior workforce for his or her weekly assembly that Friday. In an interview at Microsoft Corp. Headquarters in Redmond, Wash., Nadella seems irritated by questions about the organization’s ascendancy. “I could be disgusted if anyone ever celebrated our market cap,” he tells Bloomberg Businessweek. He insists the valuation—which surpassed $1 trillion on April 25 and is up more than 230 percentage given that his watch started out in February 2014—is “no longer significant” and any rejoicing about such an arbitrary milestone would mark “the start of the give up.”

The no-nonsense rhetoric is part of his shtick. Nadella, a fifty one-year-vintage engineer with more than one stages who grew up in Hyderabad, India, is understood for his librarian’s temperament. “At Microsoft, we have this very terrible dependency of not being capable of push ourselves due to the fact we simply feel very self-glad with the success we’ve had,” he says. “We’re studying how now not to examine the beyond.”

Even if it doesn’t ultimate, Nadella’s turnaround over the five years considering he changed Steve Ballmer as CEO has been not anything short of historic. The agency was universally regarded as spiraling closer to obsolescence, having neglected almost each good-sized computing fashion of the 2000s—cellular phones, serps, social networking—whilst letting its foremost source of sales, Windows, the running device that comes preloaded on PCs, stagnate.

Microsoft entrepreneurs want to attribute its reemergence as tech electricity to a type of cultural rehab, regarding what Nadella calls company “empathy” and a shift of his crew from a “constant mindset” to an “increase mindset.” The fact of the business enterprise’s turnaround turned into greater painful, in step with interviews with greater than four dozen current and former executives, board members, clients, and competition. Under Nadella, it cut funding to Windows and constructed an enormous cloud computing business—with approximately $34 billion in sales over the past yr—putting it in advance of Google and making progress in key areas against the dominant player, Amazon Web Services. “I don’t understand of some other software business enterprise within the records of technology that fell onto tough times and has recovered so well,” says Reed Hastings, CEO of Netflix Inc.

Microsoft’s Office collection of productiveness software program, previously a one-off purchase that blanketed the famously inept digital assistant, Clippy, is now a cloud-based totally service boasting more than 214 million subscribers who pay around $ ninety-nine a 12 months; it has extra subscribers than Spotify and Amazon Prime mixed. At the equal time, Azure, Microsoft’s cloud platform, has won marquee customers inclusive of ExxonMobil, Starbucks, and Walmart. There’s a bit of Silicon Valley cred, too, way to its acquisitions of LinkedIn, the expert social community, and GitHub, the software program code repository.

Nadella’s peers say Microsoft’s resurgence is as terrifying as it’s far surprising. When requested what threat a renewed Microsoft poses to the tech universe, the CEO of a rival software program company, who asked anonymity to speak greater candidly, starts humming Darth Vader’s Imperial March topic from Star Wars. Put any other manner: The Empire has struck returned.

It’s telling that Microsoft maintains to instill such emotions in competitors in spite of moderate-mannered Nadella on the helm. If Ballmer may be all the time related to his sweat-soaked dress shirts and “Monkey Boy” antics—he’d barrel onstage at product launches, bellowing and flailing his limbs—then Nadella’s character is typified through his preferred hygge hoodies. When the board appointed him as Ballmer’s replacement, Microsoft regarded trapped by the decline of Windows, which do a marketplace percentage of extra than ninety percentage at its peak. Windows became nevertheless extraordinarily profitable—Microsoft generated a licensing price on nearly every computer and computer bought—but people had been increasingly replacing PCs with iPhones and Android devices. (Even nowadays, Windows is a $20 billion-a-year business.)

In the beyond, the importance of PCs had brought on executives to compete bitterly for manipulating of diverse Windows-related fiefdoms and every promising offshoot to get sucked into the Windows vortex. New products had been relentlessly branded “Windows,” which includes the Windows Phone. Even Microsoft’s fledgling cloud carrier changed into called Windows Azure.

Nadella, who’s spent extra than 1/2 his existence at Microsoft, totally on non-Windows merchandise, stayed out of the Game of Thrones-like war to prevail Ballmer. He’d been recruited from Sun Microsystems Inc. In 1992, in part due to the fact, his team’s manager wanted a worker who “gets shit finished” and “doesn’t piss off different people,” says Jeff Teper, vice president in fee of Office, who hired him. These traits reputedly had been recherché in Redmond. Nadella started out by way of selling PCs to corporate customers. He later oversaw engineering for Bing, the business enterprise’s search engine, earlier than taking on Azure.

His self-effacing, if not bland, fashion is what Microsoft, paperwork crippled with the aid of egos and infighting, wanted. Colleagues swear they’ve never seen him get disappointed, raise his voice, or fireplace off an irritating electronic mail. Shelley Bransten, a Microsoft corporate vice chairman, shows that what makes Nadella precise is that he has “no swagger.” One executive even claims, no longer quite believably, that he’s by no means heard Nadella say no.

“Suddenly, the entirety from Satya become ‘cloud, cloud, cloud!’”

As Ballmer neared retirement, he turned into so fascinated about Nadella that he requested Hastings, then a Microsoft board member, to mentor the younger government. Hastings remembers Nadella coming to Netflix’s headquarters to take a look at executive reviews. “Ballmer did not have me do that with all and sundry else,” he says. “He certainly noticed Satya as the entire package deal of technical acumen and persona electricity, even though Satya manages in a one-of-a-kind manner than Steve.”

Nadella’s sport plan turned into to reorient Microsoft round Azure, a nascent business he’d been running on considering 2011, which would flip the corporation from an issuer of boxed software (which many customers really pirated) to an international computing engine that could hire out its processing energy and online storage to agencies. Of the hundred or so CEO candidates considered, Nadella most inspired then-Chairman Gates and the board together with his strategic and engineering chops.

Microsoft turned into already as a minimum 4 years behind Amazon.Com Inc.’s cloud commercial enterprise, which had annual sales of $4.6 billion. Nadella understood that any critical shift in emphasis might suggest taking a cricket bat to the Windows division. (A lifelong fan, he keeps a bat autographed by way of the top-notch batsman Sachin Tendulkar near his table.) But getting assets from other parts of Microsoft was like “pulling fingernails,” remembers Scott Guthrie, a govt vice chairman who took over the cloud unit while Nadella became CEO. He recounts a meeting where the cloud team agreed with Nadella’s method, however then realized that as a lot as 90 percent of the unit’s head remember turned into targeted on big Windows-centric companies. “Classic innovator’s catch 22 situation,” Guthrie says. “I had leaders underneath me who controlled multibillion-dollar P&Ls, and it’s hard while you say, ‘You’re now going to manage a $4 million P&L.’ ”

According to a former executive, Nadella pissed off with hand-wringing approximately the brand new cloud-vs.-Windows hierarchy, scolded a collection of pinnacle executives early in his tenure. At his Microsoft, there might be best “fixers,” no “complainers.” If humans didn’t purchase into his vision, he’d tell them, “Don’t stay. Time to transport on.” During this time he confirmed a capacity to make aggressive changes with little drama, a departure from Gates’s notorious temper tantrums of the Nineties and Ballmer’s chest-beating of the past due 2000s.

Nadella wrote off $7.6 billion from Ballmer’s buy of Nokia Corp., cutting 7,800 jobs in 2015, a clear sign he became giving up on an ambition to compete immediately with Google and Apple Inc. In cell. His first product statement becomes an Office version optimized for Apple’s iOS mobile working device. Microsoft had resisted one of these passes for years out of an issue that its productiveness software running on iPhones and iPads would velocity the decline of Windows PC income.

One longtime govt who recently departed describes Nadella’s method as “diffused coloration.” He by no means explicitly eighty-sixed a division or reduce down a product leader, but his underlying intentions had been always clear. His first email to personnel ran greater than 1,000 phrases—and made no mention of Windows. He later renamed the cloud supplying Microsoft Azure. “Satya doesn’t communicate shit—he just commenced omitting ‘Windows’ from sentences,” this executive says. “Suddenly, the whole lot from Satya was ‘cloud, cloud, cloud!’ ” He also started selling new buzzwords while he pointed out older merchandise, for example, the usage of the phrase “synthetic intelligence” whilst he mentioned Microsoft Office, this man or woman adds, “despite the fact that there was nothing AI about Office—besides what? Spell test?”

The cloud push began gaining momentum, which helped rejuvenate Microsoft’s picture and enhance employee morale. Guthrie recollects being elated one month when cloud sales elevated by way of $forty,000 on an earnings-and-loss statement. “We were like, ‘Oh yeah!’ ” he says, chuckling. “And then, ‘Oh boy, we’ve got billions to move.’ ”

The cloud is conceptually idea of as a digital alternate of bits, but it’s truly all approximately physical infrastructure—airplane-hangar-size information centers and transoceanic cables yo-yo-ing petabytes of records. Amazon, Microsoft, and the alternative huge cloud players enable different organizations to outsource giant computing requirements to those costly infrastructures, which means Netflix can seamlessly circulate movies in your cellphone or Citibank can system billions of online transactions while not having to domain construction initiatives.

By 2016, Microsoft’s board changed into developing involved the organization wasn’t transferring fast enough to capture Amazon, which became producing $12 billion in cloud services sales. The difficulty changed into that the corporate-software enterprise should fall apart faster than new cloud services may want to replenish the organization’s coffers. To refocus completely at the cloud, Nadella initiated a sequence of predominant reorganizations, culminating in ultimate 12 months absolutely surprising (to longtime Microsoft employees, anyway) termination of the complete Windows department, which he split into Azure and Office teams. By then the cloud warfare with Amazon had escalated: For every cloud infrastructure, development and database product Amazon added, Nadella might try to fit the advances of the one, pumping billions of dollars into buying facts facilities and startups.

It wasn’t the simplest cloud engineering that had fallen behind Amazon, but also sales. Nadella assigned Judson Althoff, an engineer-grew to become-income exec, the task of dismantling the business enterprise’s method of promoting licenses based totally on the range of employees the use of corresponding software and services. The licenses were complex to tabulate and tended to make clients sense as if income reps were IRS auditors. Althoff introduced three,000 engineers to the sales department, wherein they would be anticipated to write down sample code in meetings with capacity customers. The blurring of the traces among engineering and income become designed to improve Microsoft’s pitch and additionally to reveal product teams to the matters customers hated. When engineering veteran Corey Sanders joined the group, Nadella jokingly advised him, “You’ve screwed up [Azure] for 10 years, and now you have to parent out a way to promote it.”

Microsoft won’t expose Azure’s sales or say if it’s worthwhile—the $34 billion determine consists of Office—but analysts say its aggressive position is enhancing. The organization’s cloud marketplace percentage went from 14 percent at the quiet of 2017 to 17 percent on the end of 2018, even as Amazon’s become flat at 32 percentage for the identical length, in step with researcher Canalys. An Amazon spokesman notes that the organization is still by some distance the maximum famous cloud provider. A former Amazon cloud govt, who requested to stay anonymous, puts it extra pungently: “Have a touch extra reverence for the chief. Microsoft has come to a protracted manner, however, apprehend that they’re the Twins and we’re nonetheless the Yankees.”

This extreme one-upmanship turned into on show at a current Azure sales pitch in Redmond, where 20 or so Microsoft personnel and senior executives from WPP Plc, the huge advertising conglomerate, gathered for an “envisioning” meeting. Nadella seemed wearing a beatific smile, then made a beeline across the conference room table to greet WPP CEO Mark Read.

After introductions, Read presented an overview of WPP’s enterprise challenges, asking Businessweek no longer to disclose that information. Nadella sat opposite him stirring a cup of tea, nodding theatrically. Then, thirteen mins in, he piped up, pitching a cloud partnership. “We don’t need you to think about this as just constructing an app on our platform,” Nadella said. “We need to enable you to construct your personal platform.”

Nadella didn’t well know it, but everybody knew this became a dig at Amazon. Jeff Bezos’ business enterprise has been ruthlessly expanding, posing a potential chance to cloud clients, such as large-box stores and leisure corporations, even as it seeks to store their statistics in its servers. “Microsoft does it in a tasteful way, however, they don’t go away you improper for your influence that Bezos could be lurking on your backyard and gadget studying your records and concentrated on your clients,” says a former e-commerce employer vice president who struck a massive cloud partnership with Nadella. “In the Ballmer days, it becomes bluster. But Satya has gotten truly exact at stating, ‘Do you need your generation accomplice to be your competitor?’ ”