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All the books Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella talked about at Davos

REUTERS/Denis Balibouse
Satya Nadella: CEO, book lover.
  • Heather Landy
By Heather Landy

Executive editor of Quartz

Davos, SwitzerlandPublished This article is more than 2 years old.

Like a lot of corporate chieftains, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella is a book person. He reads books, he writes them, he gives them to the people around him. And in an on-stage interview yesterday at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, he discussed no fewer than five of them, averaging one mention of a book every six minutes over the course of the half-hour session.

Here’s the rundown, should you want to round out your bookshelf with titles endorsed by the leader of the world’s second-biggest company by market value.


By Colin Mayer, Oxford University Press, November 2018

Discussing the purpose of companies on a stage with World Economic Forum founder Klaus Schwab, the Microsoft chief noted that “last year, perhaps there were more books written on capitalism and how capitalism needs to be redefined than ever before.” (Don’t we know it.) But only one such book (technically from 2018, not 2019) got name-checked here by Nadella.

Prosperity, by Oxford economist Colin Mayer, argues that “a corporation finds profitable solutions to the challenges of people and the planet,” Nadella explained. “The key word is ‘profitable,’ because we do know that capitalism does have the ability to allocate resources in the most efficient way. But the other key word is ‘the challenges of people and the planet.’ It’s not about creating more challenges to people and the planet but to have real solutions to the problems. I like that.”

The Narrow Corridor

By Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson, Penguin Random House, September 2019

What’s interesting here is that Acemoglu and Robinson are the same writing duo who got into a row with Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates over their 2012 book Why Nations Fail, which was shortlisted for a Financial Times Business Book of the Year award. Gates, by then deep into his philanthropy, wrote a review rejecting their theory that it is inclusive institutions, and not geography or culture, that makes the difference between societies with good living conditions and those without. He called their analysis “vague and simplistic.” The authors, MIT economist Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson, a political scientist now at the University of Chicago, shot back with a point-by-point rebuttal in Foreign Policy.

It was the type of argument for which there are no winners, but Nadella’s praise for Acemoglu and Robinson’s newest book perhaps offers vindication for the authors.

“There’s a fantastic book I recently read, it’s called The Narrow Corridor,” Nadella said in response to a question from Schwab about runaway pay for executives. “It’s [about] the real, constant tension between what does a society want and … what does the government want … and you have to find the narrow corridor. And similarly I believe between markets, democracies, and liberal values, we have to find the corridor that works, where there isn’t anything out of kilter, whether it’s CEO pay” or anything else.

Hit Refresh

By Satya Nadella, HarperCollins, September 2017

Nadella isn’t the type to toot his own horn, and indeed it was Schwab, not Nadella, who brought up Hit Refresh, the memoir Nadella penned three years into his tenure as Microsoft CEO. Schwab was referencing what Nadella wrote then about technology trends; our reviewer found the book to be most compelling in the more personal sections, where the executive wrote about his Indian upbringing, his immigration to the United States, and his rise through the ranks at Microsoft.

Shaping the Future of the Fourth Industrial Revolution

By Klaus Schwab and Nicholas Davis, Penguin Random House, November 2018

After Schwab’s mention of Hit Refresh, it was only right for Nadella to reference one of Schwab’s recent works. Shaping the Future of the Fourth Industrial Revolution was written with Nicholas Davis. We’re pretty sure Nadella read it, considering he wrote the foreword.


By Carol Dweck, Penguin Random House, February 2006

You can try to find an interview where Nadella doesn’t talk about having a growth mindset, but there’s a good chance you’ll fail—in which case you should learn from the experience so that your next search goes more smoothly, rather than presuming, with a fixed mindset, that your lack of success is preordained.

Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck’s scholarship on the power of mindset is one of the underpinnings of Microsoft’s cultural rebirth under Nadella. Her 2006 book makes the argument that success—at work or in any other endeavor—is deeply influenced not only by our talents and abilities but by how far we think we can stretch them.

“I would say that whatever change we’ve been able to achieve is because the cultural meme we picked was inspired by Carol Dweck and her work around growth mindset,” Nadella said. The practice of being “vulnerable enough to say ‘I’m not perfect, I’ll never be perfect, but I can learn’—that’s a good posture to have, to have a living culture that is constantly keeping up with our own aspirations.”

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