This employee, Rakesh Malhotra, left Microsoft two years ago to join cloud startup Apprenda as a vice president. But he worked for Nadella since 2011, when Ballmer put Nadella in charge of the Server and Tools division, replacing longtime executive Bob Muglia.
Nadella, who has been with Microsoft for 22 years, is seen as a safe choice as Microsoft's new CEO, someone who knows the company and won't drastically change course.
But inside Microsoft, he's known as the guy who gets rid of Microsoft's over-the-top sales-y culture, ushered in when boisterous sales guy Steve Ballmer took over from Bill Gates as CEO.
Nadella is also known as the guy who gets rid of middle management.
Malhortra first met Nadella when he became his boss in the Server and Tools group. Malhortra was an engineer, and Nadella held an informal meeting to ask lead engineers about their products.
That meeting was crazy wild for Microsoft because it wasn't crazy wild. Meeting a new executive usually involved a lot of pomp and circumstance, Malhotra said, including PowerPoint presentations, demonstrations and rehearsals for the meeting.
Nadella "literally gave you a day’s warning. No theater. That may seem normal to people outside of Microsoft, but I can tell you that at Microsoft, and I was there for 10 years, that never happened before Nadella. Never once," Malhortra said.
If big changes are needed at Microsoft, Nadella won't be afraid to make them, either, Malhortra says.
"People say he's safe but I don’t think he’s a safe choice. He changed how the Server and Tools division worked. He got rid of three layers of management," Malhortra said.
"Microsoft at its core is an engineering company and he’s an engineer. By and large the rank-and-file say, 'He’s one of us.' People at Microsoft are happy," he added.