Microsoft VP talks new CEO, politics at BDA dinner

Microsoft executive vice president Brad Smith speaks before a crowd at the Bellevue Downtown Association
Microsoft executive vice president Brad Smith speaks before a crowd at the Bellevue Downtown Association's 40th Anniversary celebration dinner at the Meydenbauer Center on Thursday, Feb. 6.
— image credit: Vivian Hsu Photography

Microsoft general counsel Brad Smith shared with attendees of Thursday's Bellevue Downtown Association's 40th anniversary dinner the behind-the-scenes moments that led up to announcing Satya Nadella as the software company's next CEO before sharing an impassioned political message for lawmakers in Olympia.

"It was on Monday that we put the finishing touches on his agreement. It was about four o'clock in the afternoon that he signed it. It was an agreement in which he was represented by one of the law firms in the room," said Smith from inside the Meydenbauer Center.

He teased the company postponed making the announcement until Tuesday, assuming the news would be overshadowed by a first-ever Super Bowl victory by the Seattle Seahawks.

"It was Tuesday morning before we all went out to meet the employees, and I was backstage with (former CEO) Steve (Ballmer) and Satya, actually telling him at that moment the White House was on the phone and (senior advisor to the president) Valerie Jarrett was wanting to give her congratulations," he said.

Born in India, Nadella moved to Bellevue 22 years ago, making the Eastside city his longest point of residency, Smith said, encouraging attendees of Thursday's event to congratulate their neighbor in his new position.

Smith waxed poetic about Seattle history, recalling efforts to connect Lake Union to Lake Washington and the triumph of the University of Washington men's rowing team against strong adversity during the 1936 Olympics in Nazi Germany, before laying down some politics.

While he appreciates the 60-day goal lawmakers have set to complete this legislative session, Smith said he'd prefer it if legislators stayed in Olympia until a transportation package is complete. A $170 million deficit holding back completion of the SR-520 bridge project was the impetus for Smith's annoyance with the Legislature, having failed to pass a transportation plan last year over partisan differences.

"As much as I appreciate what they do, I think the message should go from Bellevue to Olympia, 'We love you guys, but please, do not come home,' " said Smith, " 'do not ask for our vote, do not ring our doorbell, do not ask us for political contributions until you do your job, complete your work, do what it takes to finish this bridge."

Washington and the Eastside should have loftier goals for establishing a generational legacy, Smith added, highlighting the strength of diversity as it relates to business. He used Nintendo of America's decision to base itself in Redmond as an example.

"I'll tell you this, diversity is our strength," he said. "We need to bring more people to Bellevue and the Eastside."

Smith also called for a greater investment in higher education and a new model of international partnerships to do that. He said Washington state is in a good place to increase its emphasis on computer science in public schools, which is currently average.

"And by average, I mean it's pathetic," he said, pointing at the low margin of Washington schools currently offering advanced placement computer science courses.

While the Eastside appears to be a bastion for tech companies like Microsoft, Smith criticized the lack of funding from the state to support tourism since the economic downturn in 2008 while other states and cities have done the opposite.

"At a time when people in California are talking about Silicon Valley, people in Utah are talking about the Silicon Slopes, people in New York are talking about Silicon Alley, people in London are talking about the Silicon Roundabout," he said, "it is time for us to let the world know that we have the Silicon Sound.


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