The former and current Microsoft take the stage in a rare joint appearance at a regional conference on technology and economic development in Vancouver.
VANCOUVER, B.C. — The first and third chief executives of Microsoft rarely share the same public stage.
But in a joint appearance on Tuesday, Bill Gates and Satya Nadella seemed to be on the same page on a raft of topics, from the benefits of a more integrated global community to the importance of government funding of basic research.
Both men were in town for a meeting of Microsoft’s board, held in Vancouver to coincide with a regional conference sponsored by the company.
At a lunch event at that conference, Microsoft’s co-founder and current chief executive took questions from Brad Smith, the company’s president and chief legal officer, on topics from Microsoft to innovation and education.
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Both men said investment in basic research, with a long-term view, was key for the company’s growth and remains important to its future.
Microsoft “had a grand view for where it wanted to go,” Gates said, citing ambitions to involve the company across the world and in a variety of products. He credited the pioneering computing work done by laboratories at AT&T, IBM and Xerox in Microsoft’s success. “We thought, boy, we’d better be inventing some of this stuff, and not just benefitting from what other people have done.”
The company’s massive investments in research, most notably with its Microsoft Research arm, “paid off very strongly,” said Gates, who left his day-to-day role at Microsoft in 2008 but remains on the company’s board of directors.
Nadella credited Gates for Microsoft’s research work, and said partnerships with universities and governments were key to breakthroughs like the company’s near-real-time Skype Translator tool.
“I’m a big believer in having government participate, universities doing their work,” and the corporate sector contributing what it can, he said.
Gates said governments in the U.S. had failed to keep up investment in their universities amid budgetary pressures caused by the cost of health care and other factors. British Columbia, he said in a nod to the hometown audience of business and government leaders, had done a better job.
Gates also said the rebuke of a more integrated global community delivered by Britain’s vote to exit the European Union was “a huge concern.”
Both Microsoft and Gates’ foundation have built their operations on the assumption that a more connected world, sharing research and fielding a competitive marketplace, is the default position.
“I think we do need to step back and say, ‘Are we doing enough in communities, are people seeing these benefits’ ” of a more integrated global economy, Gates said.
Nadella seemed to agree, saying Microsoft’s role as a global company was to invest for the long term in the places where it does business.
“If you’re participating in countries and all you do is extract rent, that’s not sustainable,” he said. You also have to “create opportunity.”