“Hit Refresh: The Quest to Rediscover Microsoft’s Soul and Imagine a Better Future for Everyone” by Satya Nadella

Hit Refresh

I typically do not read business books. However, the author of this book, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, recently appeared on a talk show that I watch, and I was intrigued. Not just by the premise of the book — when do you hear the word “soul” in the context of a technology company? — but by Nadella’s own story. I found out that his son has severe cerebral palsy, and this topic only came up because he was talking about the power of technology to do good, exemplified by some students from the local university who had rigged his son up with a device that allowed him to play music on his own. While that was a truly inspiring example of how technology can help, what I found even more inspiring is how he had achieved so much, risen to lead the leading technology company of the world, all while having a very challenging personal life. Usually when I read about highly successful people, I assume that they must have a charmed personal life which allows them to achieve the great things that they have achieved. But clearly, this was not the case with Satya Nadella.

They say that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, and having a child with special needs would, I think, certainly make you more empathetic, more generous, and overall, a nicer person. But I didn’t think it could actually make you capable of also rising all the way to the top as a business and technology leader, which is typically a highly competitive, cut-throat field. But, as it turns out, it can, as evidenced in Hit Refresh, in which Nadella describes how his personal experiences have shaped the way he leads Microsoft. It’s no longer just about being the market leader and increasing profit margins, but more about making a difference. It’s being able to steer Microsoft to use its vast engineering talents to continue developing devices and software that can improve the lives of millions of people around the world, using cloud connectivity, mobile access, data analytics and other technologies. It calls for cooperation with companies that were once bitter rivals, such as Apple, along with younger powerhouses such as Google. When the focus is more on doing good rather than on under-cutting rivals and being the “best,” even employees can feel imbued with a sense of purpose and meaning that makes their everyday work much more life-affirming.

For those curious about Nadella himself, Hit Refresh does provide a brief account of his background and journey from India to the US — a journey which will be familiar to many Indians who also came to the US to work in engineering and software — as well his many years working at Microsoft as he rose through the ranks before finally becoming CEO. The book also discusses upcoming technologies such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, mixed reality, and quantum computing, all of which seem promising to our continued improvements as a society and which Microsoft is exploring. Hit Refresh also has some discussion about politically sensitive issues such as privacy, security, and globalization, but not as much as I had hoped. It would have been very illuminating to know how a progressive technology company, which wants to have a global impact, can operate in a political climate that is protectionist and nationalistic, almost regressive?

While the subtitle of this book, The Quest to Rediscover Microsoft’s Soul and Imagine a Better Future for Everyone, is somewhat grandiose, it is a simple, non-pretentious, non-erudite, straight-from-the-heart account of how Satya Nadella — only the third CEO in Microsoft’s 42 year old history — has been inspired by his personal experiences to make empathy rather than competitiveness the essence of Microsoft, so it can contribute to making the world a better place for everyone.

Hit Refresh: The Quest to Rediscover Microsoft’s Soul and Imagine a Better Future for Everyone
Author: Satya Nadella
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication Date: September 2017

Contributor: Lachmi Khemlani runs a technology publication in the San Francisco Bay Area.

“Retire Young, Retire Rich: How to Get Rich Quickly and Stay Rich Forever” by Robert T Kiyosaki with Sharon L Lechter

retire-young-retire-rich

I read ‘Rich Dad, Poor Dad’ several years ago and I was greatly impressed. It presented a wholly new perspective on the accumulation of wealth. So I had great expectations of Kiyosaki’s ‘How to Get Rich Quickly and Stay Rich Forever’. I was a little disappointed. What’s most annoying is that there are umpteen repetitions. After reading this one, I don’t feel inclined to read the other books in the series.

The author’s focus on financial literacy is probably the most important aspect of the book. It is also a matter that does bear repetition. Some home-truths really need to be repeated – only then do they sink in. Kiyosaki reminds us that, “Saving money is slow. You can become rich by saving money, but the price is time… your lifetime.” He adds that, “Many people today are not in the same professions as their parents…….but when it comes to money, investing, and retirement, they do exactly the same things. When it comes to money, many people are still swinging their parents’ axe.” How true!

I like the way the author explains the principle of leverage making it ever so simple: ‘Doing more with less’. The examples he gives are illuminating. “In the beginning, animals could run faster than humans, but today humans can travel faster and further than animals because they created tools of leverage, such as bicycles, cars, trucks, trains and planes. In the beginning, birds could fly and humans could not. Today, humans fly higher, further and faster than any bird.”

Kiyosaki points out that Bill Gates, Michael Dell, Ted Turner, Henry Ford and Thomas Edison did not finish school. I can’t help wondering what the world would have been like if Edison had concentrated on making money rather than on conducting his experiments. Of the Wright brothers Kiyosaki says, “They are prime examples of people who studied because they wanted to learn and not for grades; they worked hard for free without guarantees, took risks intelligently, and pushed themselves and the world into another reality.” Such examples are bound to inspire and motivate – and they certainly add spice to the core message of this book.

The author also points out some simple facts that every investor ought to know from the start. “Out of ten investments, the odds are two to three will be bad, two to three will be good, and everything in the middle just lies around like a lazy dog.”

Overall Assessment: This book could have been written in 100 pages instead of 550. Then it would have been another masterpiece.

Retire Young, Retire Rich: How to Get Rich Quickly and Stay Rich Forever!
Author: Robert T Kiyosaki with Sharon L Lechter
Publisher: Warner Books
Publication Date:: 2002

Contributor: Pushpa Kurup lives in Trivandrum, India and works in the IT sector.

“The Millionaire Next Door: The Surprising Secrets of America’s Wealthy” by Thomas J. Stanley and William D. Danko

the-millionaire-next-door

It’s evident that extensive research has gone into the making of this masterpiece. Thomas J. Stanley studied wealthy individuals for decades before he co-authored this book along with William D. Danko. There are quite a few ‘get rich’ books on the market. This one is undoubtedly special.

The good news is that anyone with a decent job can accumulate a fortune over time. The bad news is that high income does not automatically translate into great wealth. What do the wealthy folks in America have in common? Have they merely inherited a fortune? Not so, say the authors. One thing they all have in common is frugality. We all know of Warren Buffet, but hey, there are dozens of others! And the rich are not who we think they are.

The authors state that affluent persons tend to answer ‘yes’ to three questions they were asked in routine surveys:

  1. Were your parents very frugal?
  2. Are you frugal?
  3. Is your spouse more frugal than you are?

“Most people will never become wealthy in one generation if they are married to people who are wasteful. A couple cannot accumulate wealth if one of its members is a hyper-consumer. This is especially true when one or both are trying to build a successful business. Few people can sustain profligate spending habits and simultaneously build wealth.” So high living is just not cool.

Tighten your belt folks! Take a deep breath. Do you really need that new Lamborghini?

You can also learn new ways of calculating what your net worth ought to be. “Multiply your age times your realized pre-tax annual household income from all sources except inheritances. Divide by ten. This, less any inherited wealth is what your net worth should be.” Check it out. Do you pass the test? No? Then buy another copy of the book and give it to your spouse.

Overall assessment: Wanna become rich? Try this one!

The Millionaire Next Door: The Surprising Secrets of America’s Wealthy
AUTHORS: THOMAS J STANLEY & WILLIAM D DANKO
PUBLISHER: TAYLOR TRADE PUBLISHING
DATE OF PUBLICATION: 2010

Contributor: Pushpa Kurup lives in Trivandrum, India and works in the IT sector.

“The Hard Thing about Hard Things: Building a Business When There are No Easy Answers” by Ben Horowitz

The Hard Thing about Hard Things

This is a must-read book for entrepreneurs, especially those who have wandered the streets looking for venture capital, struggling to manage all aspects of a company while barely being able to make ends meet. The book talks about hiring, management cultures, and styles, lay-offs, selling the company, partnerships, and every possible aspect involving startups.

Most entrepreneurs, especially those who have struggled, should be able to relate to every line in this book. It is very much a “guy’s book written for guys.” The direct in-your-face style makes this book hilarious in parts.

This is the only book that I have ever purchased thrice – first on my Kindle and two hard copies – the second hard copy was intended as a gift for a friend/entrepreneur.

The author, Ben Horowitz, founded Opsware and is now a leading investor based in Silicon Valley.

The Hard Thing about Hard Thing: Building a Business When There are No Easy Answers
Author: Ben Horowitz
Publisher: Harper Business
Publication Date: March 2014

Contributor: Pran Kurup is an author and entrepreneur based in the San Francisco Bay Area.

“The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon” by Brad Stone

The Everything Store

This is an excellent book for anyone interested in learning more about Amazon and its evolution. It is meticulously researched and gives you a good inside view of Amazon’s culture, Jeff Bezos style – his frugality and ruthlessness.

It is mind-boggling to imagine that a former investment banker (a non-techie) could have built a company with such cutting-edge products and services. It is an excellent book that captures the entrepreneurial spirit and business strategy vis-a-vis Amazon’s success story.

I read this book quite a while back but it remains very much in my memory because it is one of the better business books published in recent times. Hats off to the author, Brad Stone for this outstandoing book.

The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon
Author: Brad Stone
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Publication Date: October 2013

Contributor: Pran Kurup is an author and entrepreneur based in the San Francisco Bay Area.