75: Satya Nadella, Microsoft CEO: The Vision for Power in Cloud and AI

 
 Satya Nadella is pushing Microsoft into a future he believes will be led by artificial intelligence platforms.

Satya Nadella is pushing Microsoft into a future he believes will be led by artificial intelligence platforms.

I’ve never had a repeat guest on Fortt Knox in the year and a half I’ve been doing this. That’s not because there’s a rule against it, I just never had a compelling reason to.  

That changes this week.  

A few days ago I flew out to Seattle and then went up to Microsoft’s headquarters in Redmond, and sat down with CEO Satya Nadella. Satya was my guest in October, when his book "Hit Refresh" came out. It was a big deal because Nadella has dramatically changed the perception and trajectory of one of the world's most iconic companies, and most people had no clue who he is. "Hit Refresh" was his big moment of public definition, both for his vision for Microsoft and for himself as a leader. 

Satya wasn't new to me, though. We first met about seven years ago, before he was CEO, on one of his trips to Silicon Valley. I was CNBC's tech correspondent, he was in charge of Microsoft's Server and Tools division, which at the time most people outside of the tech industry thought was a boring backwater. The bright spotlight was on phones, PCs, Xbox, even search. Little did the masses know that the future was in cloud, and Satya Nadella's division would keep Microsoft relevant. 

So – fast forward to today, May 2018. Microsoft has its Build developer conference in Seattle, and Satya took some time ahead of it to talk about his vision for the company's platforms; his chief rivals in the cloud, Amazon and Google; his views on data privacy after Facebook's Cambridge Analytica scandal; his view on U.S. trade tensions with China, and a lot more.  

A quick correction – when I'm ribbing him in the beginning about his book tour, I say he was in Better Homes and Gardens. It was actually Good Housekeeping. Go figure. 

74: A Multi-Billion-Dollar Midlife Crisis: Vlad Shmunis, RingCentral founder and CEO

 
 Vlad Shmunis was doing well as an engineer in the tech industry when he decided he was bored, and needed to start his own thing.

Vlad Shmunis was doing well as an engineer in the tech industry when he decided he was bored, and needed to start his own thing.

Vlad Shmunis just wasn't an enthusiastic employee. Didn't like following directions. And he had ideas – lots of ideas. Eventually, something had to give. So the entrepreneurial engineer took a leap, even though family members said he was nuts. 

How'd that work out? Well today, Vlad Shmunis is the founder and CEO of RingCentral, a Silicon Valley company at the intersection of communication and cloud. The company went public just under five years ago. Today it's worth more than $5 billion. 

If you're a long-time Fortt Knox listener, you're going to sense a pattern. Vlad is the third CEO I've had on who grew up in the former Soviet Union and eventually found his way to the U.S. There was Citrix CEO Kirill Tatarinov, Coupa CEO Rob Bernshteyn, and now Vlad. Their stories are all pretty different in key details, but similar in some important core ways, when it comes to education, values and … please listen for this one … the family's approach to risk. 

If you or someone you know is thinking about taking a leap to start your own thing, but you're not quite sure, listen to Vlad's story.

71: Tim Ryan, PwC U.S. Chairman: Tech is Reshaping the Dynamics of Global Business

 
 PwC U.S. Chairman Tim Ryan grew up in working class Boston before launching into a career in accounting.

PwC U.S. Chairman Tim Ryan grew up in working class Boston before launching into a career in accounting.

Tim Ryan grew up in a working-class family in Boston, where his early jobs included a paper route and a job at a grocery. He’s now the U.S. chairman of PriceWaterhouseCoopers, the global accounting firm known as one of the big 4 auditors. In 2016 it was ranked as the fifth largest private employer in America.  

Whether it’s the changing political landscape, the headaches companies face over protecting data, or getting the right envelopes at the Oscars, PwC handles issues large and small – and a lot of it crosses Ryan’s desk.  

I sat down with Tim Ryan at PwC’s office on Madison Avenue in Manhattan to talk about the challenges facing global business, and his own rise from blue-collar roots to the top level of a company that touches many of the world’s most powerful companies.

70: Tony Xu, DoorDash CEO: It's About Data, Not Just Food or Delivery

 
 Tony Xu, cofounder and CEO of DoorDash, plans to expand operations from 600 cities to 1,600 over the next 12 months.

Tony Xu, cofounder and CEO of DoorDash, plans to expand operations from 600 cities to 1,600 over the next 12 months.

Tony Xu just raised more than half a billion dollars to build out his business at DoorDash. 

There’s this idea out there that today’s consumers are lazy, and that’s why we're getting stuff delivered all the time. The thing is, I don’t know about you – but the reason why I’m ordering so much delivery is because I’m so busy.  

That’s where DoorDash comes in. The company was cooked up by four students at Stanford four and a half years ago. One of the four, Xu, is the company's 33-year-old CEO. 

Xu was in New York recently after raising a monster round of funding – $535 million. I sat down with him at the Nasdaq MarketSite in Times Square to find out what he's really building, and why he thinks he can beat Grubhub, Amazon, Google, and a lot more rivals lining up to take him on. 

69: Danny Govberg, Watchbox CEO: Tech Didn't Kill the Luxury Watch Business After All

 
 Watchbox CEO Danny Govberg had a watch face custom painted with his family on it. It took the artist 400 hours.

Watchbox CEO Danny Govberg had a watch face custom painted with his family on it. It took the artist 400 hours.

Everybody loves a David and Goliath story. The problem is, in business these days, the David is usually a family business, and the Goliath is some technology-juicing giant. Goliath is usually winning. 

So here's a story that returns to classic form: Danny Govberg is the CEO of Govberg Jewelers in Philadelphia – and he's also the CEO of Watchbox, an app and website that's shaking up the world of luxury watches. By Govberg's count, he's selling at a rate of $200 million worth of watches this year between the two businesses, much of it in brands like Rolex, Patek Phillipe and Omega – brands that run in the thousands and tens of thousands of dollars per watch. And he says he's growing more than 30% a year. 

All of this is happening while the popular narrative is stacked against him. Supposedly hardly anyone wears watches anymore, and for those that do, the Apple Watch and Samsung Watch are running roughshod over the market. Well? That's not the whole story. 

I met Danny Govberg at the Breitling Boutique on Madison Avenue in Manhattan – you'll hear the sounds of the store and some construction next door. We talked about how the business evolved from his immigrant grandfather's beginnings as a watchmaker, and why technology is growing his old family business while it's killing others.

68: Abe Ankumah, Nyansa cofounder & CEO: Building on a Legacy of Entrepreneurship

 
 Abe Ankumah got introduced to computers at CalTech and is now CEO and cofounder of Nyansa.

Abe Ankumah got introduced to computers at CalTech and is now CEO and cofounder of Nyansa.

Abe Ankumah had never touched a computer before he arrived at Caltech in 1997, but quickly became captivated and decided to major in computer science. Now he’s the cofounder and CEO of Nyansa, a Silicon Valley startup that monitors the health of wireless networks.

An immigrant from Ghana, raised by hopeful entrepreneurs, he has the kind of story that has fueled Silicon Valley for decades.

I met Abe at the Nasdaq MarketSite in Times Square and talked to him about his journey, and the experiences that paved the way for what he's working on now.

67: Oren Jacob, founder and CEO of PullString: Teaching Alexa to Be a Better Conversationalist

 

Oren Jacob saw Star Wars as a kid, and fell in love with the idea of bringing together technology and storytelling to create something entirely new.  

Today, he’s the cofounder and CEO of PullString, a tech startup that teaches software how to have conversation. That could mean helping companies build an Alexa skill for Amazon’s Echo, or allowing Hello Barbie to talk.

I caught up with Oren at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, where he spoke to leaders in the tech world about laying the groundwork for the future of voice interaction with computers.  

He told me how his early fascination with Star Wars led him to an internship and first career at Pixar – before he decided to start his own thing.

66: Matt Meeker, Bark co-founder & CEO: Super-Serving the Pet Economy

 
 Matt Meeker was trying to do something nice for his Great Dane when he and a friend came up with BarkBox.

Matt Meeker was trying to do something nice for his Great Dane when he and a friend came up with BarkBox.

Boutique treats and toys for dogs, it turns out, are a big business. Bark was co-founded by Matt Meeker, who's now its CEO. It's the seller of the subscription BarkBox. And it expects to do a quarter billion dollars in sales in 2018. 

Americans spend about $70 billion a year on their pets; that’s part of the reason why General Mills just announced that it plans to pay $8 billion for pet food maker Blue Buffalo. And it’s part of the reason why I went to see Matt Meeker at Bark’s headquarters in New York City’s Chinatown, and learn how he saw this pet-pampering mega-trend coming six years ago.  

When you’re pursuing a big idea, it’s important to keep refining it, and questioning your assumptions. That’s one of the things I took away from Matt’s story.

65: Rob Bernshteyn, Coupa CEO: Saving Your Way to Success

 
 Coupa founder and CEO Rob Bernshteyn became a master at using one small success to fuel his next big effort.

Coupa founder and CEO Rob Bernshteyn became a master at using one small success to fuel his next big effort.

Frugality is baked into Rob Bernshteyn’s life experience. His family immigrated from Russia when he was a kid, and he used savings from a paper route to start a baseball card business … which helped pay for his college education. In his mid-30s, after an executive role at SuccessFactors, a tech company that went public, Rob’s entrepreneurial itch became overwhelming, and he used his modest IPO windfall to launch Coupa. 

Coupa’s mission? What else — help businesses save money through smart software. 

Rob and I met at the Nasdaq Marketsite in Times Square to talk about how far Coupa’s come — it’s now a public company worth $2 billion — and how he got there. 

64: Ron Shaich, Panera founder: Raise the Minimum Wage, Build for the Long Term, and Other Heresies

 
 Panera founder Ron Shaich got started in business when he opened up a convenience store in college, as an act of protest.

Panera founder Ron Shaich got started in business when he opened up a convenience store in college, as an act of protest.

Who doesn't like to eat? Maybe my seven-year-old … he'd rather talk at the table … but the rest of us, when we're hungry, want something right now, and something that's not going to induce a lot of guilt. 

That, in a nutshell, is what has given birth to the fast casual movement over the past 20-plus years, and this week, I want you to join me for my conversation with the father of fast casual, Ron Shaich. Before there was Chipotle or Dig Inn, there was Panera Bread. Founded in Missouri in 1987, it now boasts more than two thousand locations. But Shaich, one of the founders, was selling cookies when he first got into the restaurant business. And he's got some insights to share about the journey.

I got some time with Ron Shaich to talk technology, and quality, and wages, and more. We had half of this conversation on Fortt Knox Live, which you can catch Wednesdays at 2 pm, and see by the way on YouTube, and the CNBC app on Apple TV and Amazon Fire TV. Also, Ron and I kept the conversation going exclusively for this podcast, so there are parts that are new here, even if you watched live. 

63: He Started in Music and Gaming, then Rose to the Top of Sony: Kaz Hirai, Sony CEO

 
 Sony CEO Kaz Hirai showed off the new version of the Aibo robot dog at the Consumer Electronics Show.

Sony CEO Kaz Hirai showed off the new version of the Aibo robot dog at the Consumer Electronics Show.

Kaz Hirai has been the CEO of Sony for six years, and the company just announced that he'll be stepping aside and taking the title of Chairman in April. 

That means he's been the CEO at Sony for much of time that I've been at CNBC. And in that span I've sat down with him most every year at the Consumer Electronics Show, a sprawling event in Las Vegas where the world's gadget giants gather every year. 

Funny thing about Kaz – he stepped in to take the reins at Sony at a moment when the sky was falling in on the company. Apple's iPod and iTunes had snatched the digital music mantle away from the Japanese giant, and Samsung had seized Sony’s crown in TVs. Hirai leaves the CEO seat with the company pretty clearly better off than when he started. 

I sat down as usual with Hirai at the Consumer Electronics Show in January, but this time, for both CNBC live and for the Fortt Knox podcast. We discussed Sony's latest products in phones, TV, and the return of that robot dog, Aibo – but I also talked to him about the multicultural life experience that prepared him to be CEO in this turbulent era.

62: Build A Career With Smart Adjustments: Adena Friedman, Nasdaq CEO

 
 Nasdaq CEO Adena Friedman once had to make the case that she be allowed to work remotely.

Nasdaq CEO Adena Friedman once had to make the case that she be allowed to work remotely.

You don’t have to be playing the markets every day to know that stocks have been doing very well lately – and not just lately, for about nine years now.  

That means you might be hearing a bit more about stock exchanges. Which brings us to my next guest. Adena Friedman is the first woman to lead a global stock exchange. She’s the CEO of Nasdaq, a job she’s held for a year.  

To get there, she’s had to chart a path where there was none. For example, it meant choosing what was right for her family over what seemed like the more obvious career decision – and making it all work anyway.  

I sat down with Adena Friedman – where else? At the Nasdaq, in New York’s Times Square. We talked about the roads not taken, and the new landscape for female entrepreneurs.

61: Career Shifts, Bitcoin, and the Future of Money: Al Kelly, CEO, Visa

 
 Visa CEO Al Kelly spent 23 years at American Express, and eventually joined the Visa board.

Visa CEO Al Kelly spent 23 years at American Express, and eventually joined the Visa board.

Imagine you've worked 23 years at a company, up to the top. You're being groomed to be the next CEO. And then the current CEO tells you – actually, he's not leaving anytime soon. 

That's the position Al Kelly was in nine years ago at American Express. What happened next is a textbook case in how to handle career curveballs. Today Kelly is the CEO of Visa, and has great things to say about Ken Chenault, who’s retiring as CEO of American Express. Kelly also has great insight into what's happening in the world of money, from Bitcoin to Apple Pay. 

I sat down with Kelly recently at the National Retail Federation conference in New York. Visa is a big company, worth more than a quarter trillion dollars, and its technology touches a staggering number of the payment transactions happening around the world. We talk about that – plus his career, which has taken him around some interesting corners.

60: From FUBU to Shark Tank: Daymond John on How He Stays in the Game

 
 Daymond John started an urban clothing brand, and now is an investor, speaker, and a star of TV's Shark Tank.

Daymond John started an urban clothing brand, and now is an investor, speaker, and a star of TV's Shark Tank.

Daymond John grew up in Queens, New York. He wasn’t the best student – he would later be diagnosed with dyslexia – but he did have an eye for fashion and a talent for connecting with people. 

Today, you’ll know him as one of the sharks on Shark Tank – a popular show on ABC and CNBC where entrepreneurs pitch their companies to a superstar panel of investors. That show is in its ninth season. Contestants want not just his money, but perhaps more important, Daymond John’s advice and unique connections. 

John is also out with a new book this month, Rise and Grind, analyzing the key habits of successful people. He sat down with me to tell how he rose from sewing clothes in his mother’s house, to becoming an investor and TV star, and what he’s learning now.

57: Inventing an Engine for the Subscription Economy: Tien Tzuo, CEO, Zuora

 
 Tien Tzuo worked at Salesforce before he started his own company to fuel the subscription economy. Photo: Zuora

Tien Tzuo worked at Salesforce before he started his own company to fuel the subscription economy. Photo: Zuora

We used to buy things. Remember that? Hard drives, hit singles, our favorite movies. But for now at least, the hot trend is subscriptions.  

Instead of buying hard drives, we subscribe to cloud storage from Amazon, Google, Microsoft or Dropbox. For music there’s Spotify. For movies there’s Netflix. And it seems a new subscription service is born every minute.  

They say that during a gold rush, the surest way to strike it rich is to sell picks and shovels. That’s what Tien Tzuo is doing in this new subscription economy. His company, Zuora, is the engine that powers the subscription process for companies like Box, SurveyMonkey and TripAdvisor.  

I talked to Tien Tzuo about how he founded Zuora, and grew it into a company that’s raised nearly a quarter of a billion dollars and is pushing for more growth. He’s got some unique ideas about managing people, and stepping out on your own.  

56: Can We Save Young America from Financial Ruin? Justin Dent, co-founder, GenFKD

 
 Justin Dent is co-founder and executive director of GenFKD, a non-profit helping millennials avoid getting financially screwed.

Justin Dent is co-founder and executive director of GenFKD, a non-profit helping millennials avoid getting financially screwed.

Justin Dent is the co-founder and executive director of GenFKD, a non-profit dedicated to getting Millennials smarter about their finances before it’s too late. He’s a Millennial himself – he graduated from the University of Maryland just a couple of years ago.  

Dent didn’t come from money, and neither did I – we’re both African Americans, though from different generations, who grew up on the East Coast and had to fight the odds to get into a better financial position.  

With the tax changes that are wending their way through Congress and the questions about who they’ll help or hurt, it’s worth having a bit of an American family meeting. We should think about just how we got into this sorry state, and how we get out. Dent is taking a bold step at a young age, toward doing exactly that.

55: The Father of the Cloud: Amazon Web Services CEO Andy Jassy

 
 Andy Jassy joined Amazon straight out of grad school in 1997, the year the company went public. Later he dreamed up AWS.

Andy Jassy joined Amazon straight out of grad school in 1997, the year the company went public. Later he dreamed up AWS.

About 13 years ago, Andy Jassy had a big, big idea. What if you could rent computing power and storage over the Internet instead of having to buy a whole bunch of equipment?  

Jassy worked for Amazon.com at the time, as the technical assistant to one Jeff Bezos – the founder and CEO of Amazon. He told Jeff about the idea. They decided to do it. And now, more than a decade later, Andy Jassy has not only built a business that brings in 16 billion dollars a year. He and his team also essentially invented the business of cloud computing, and upended the tech world in the process. 

I flew out to Las Vegas this week to have a chat with Andy Jassy, the CEO of Amazon Web Services. The company was having its annual re:Invent conference, where software programmers from around the world gather to hear the latest cloud tools Amazon is looking to put in their hands.  

I wanted to hear from him about how he got started at Amazon; how he worked with his boss, Jeff Bezos, to launch a business that has turned out to be Amazon's biggest profit-maker; what his strategy is now, and just how massive he thinks it all can get.

Saying No to Jeff Bezos

Part of the reason Jassy was in a great position to suggest Amazon launch the first large-scale cloud computing business was proximity to Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos. He had been serving as Bezos's technical adviser for about a year when he came up with the idea. Interestingly, he initially turned down Bezos's offer of the role.

"It was a very undefined role," Jassy tells me. "When I talked to Jeff about it, I said, 'Well, what's the goal of the role?' He said, 'Well, the goal is for me to get to know you better, and for you to get to know me better, and to build some trust.' And I thought, Well that's interesting, but it doesn't sound like a mission."

Things came together because Bezos was willing to let Jassy craft the role into something more like a chief of staff to the CEO – and that made a lot more sense to Jassy.

The Wrong Way to Think About Being Right

Jassy says that kind of flexibility is a key to healthy leadership. Too many leaders, he says, misunderstand the real point of being correct.

"They think that being right a lot means that the idea has to come from you," he says, "and you dig in on your idea and you have to win the argument. The job for all of us as leaders is to make the right decisions."

How Big Amazon's Cloud Can Get

Jassy, Bezos and Amazon's senior leadership team certainly were right about the potential of the cloud computing business. But how big can it get? I asked him if he thinks Amazon Web Services could become the biggest enterprise cloud company on the planet.

"I do think it's possible," he says. "It has the chance, I think, to be a really large business. And I think that if we are able to accomplish the right type of customer experience and continue to build what customers ask us over time, as the market moves more and more toward cloud, I think we have the chance to be the largest enterprise company in the world."

We'll have to wait and see if he's right about that.

54: An American Brand In A New Generation: Black Enterprise CEO Earl "Butch" Graves, Jr.

 
 Earl "Butch" Graves, Jr., CEO of Black Enterprise, is transforming the media company his father founded as a magazine.

Earl "Butch" Graves, Jr., CEO of Black Enterprise, is transforming the media company his father founded as a magazine.

Growing up in the black community in Brooklyn and Washington, D.C. in the ‘70s and ‘80s, there were a few things you'd take for granted: 

We learned Lift Ev'ry Voice and Sing, also known as the Negro National Anthem, in school. We learned there was practically nothing George Washington Carver couldn’t do with a soybean. And a middle class black family was likely to have at least four magazines in the house: Ebony and Jet, of course. And if they were a little fancy, Essence and Black Enterprise.  

These days, magazines aren’t what they used to be. (See Meredith Corp.'s purchase of Time Inc.) Like many digital publishers, Black Enterprise is undergoing a reinvention, becoming less a publication and more a live events business. Back in October I interviewed Intel's CEO at a Black Enterprise tech event outside San Francisco – an event that showcased the brand's push to evolve beyond the printed page. 

Earl Graves, Jr. – he's known as "Butch" – is the son of the founder of Black Enterprise. Now he's the CEO. I sat down with him to talk about how the brand was born, how it's trying to evolve in a digital world, and what the future looks like for minority entrepreneurs.

53: Fixing the Shopping Experience with Tech: Katrina Lake, founder and CEO, Stitch Fix

 
 Katrina Lake is the founder and CEO of Stitch Fix. At 34, she is the youngest woman ever to take her company public.

Katrina Lake is the founder and CEO of Stitch Fix. At 34, she is the youngest woman ever to take her company public.

Katrina Lake is the founder and CEO of Stitch Fix. And as of today, at 34 years old, she is the youngest woman to take her company public – ever.  

Stitch Fix is a San Francisco company that combines data-crunching computers with human stylists on a mission to send you the perfect outfit. On Friday the company went public on the Nasdaq stock market at a market value of more than $1 billion, and I was there for CNBC, covering the remarkable story. 

Lake sat down with me at the Nasdaq in Times Square minutes after shares of Stitch Fix started trading for the first time – you can hear the buzz of Stitch Fix employees and customers in the background as we talk. The first part of our conversation was live on CNBC's Squawk Alley, which I co-anchor weekdays on the network. She took some time after that portion to talk more about how she developed the idea for the company, why she still works as a stylist on the platform, and why the story of how she overcame sexual harassment from an investor is especially resonant today. 

Some highlights:

On why she started Stitch Fix:

"I love retail – it's a huge, meaningful category – it's like a $350 billion category that's growing. And yet only 15% of that is bought online. So I looked around and I was like, however people are going to buy clothes 15 years from now, I want to be at that company. And I looked around, and I just didn't feel like I saw that."

On where the entrepreneurial itch came from:

"I wasn't the kid that had a lemonade stand growing up. My mom is a public school teacher – she just retired, she was a public school teacher. My dad is a doctor in the public system. We didn't have a super-capitalist household. I always imagined that maybe I'd be a doctor. For me, it just ended up being this opportunity. I want to work at the retailer of the future. When I didn't see it, I realized that I could start it myself."

On the sexual harassment she had to deal with from an investor while building her company:

"My path as an entrepreneur hasn't always been easy. I've learned a lot through that. My hope is that now that there's such a broader conversation about the challenges of many people in many industries beyond tech, my hope is that the conversation moves things forward."

She had more to say about that – and a lot of other topics – on the podcast. Have a listen.

52: From Marine to Tech IPO Founder: Bringing a Sense of Mission to Leadership: Bandwidth CEO David Morken

 
 David Morken started Bandwidth when he was leaving the Marine Corps 18 years ago, and just took it public on the Nasdaq.

David Morken started Bandwidth when he was leaving the Marine Corps 18 years ago, and just took it public on the Nasdaq.

Hot technology companies tend to be based in Silicon Valley. They tend to be founded by eager undergrads or Harvard or Stanford business school alums. And these days, their leadership tends to lean strongly to the left politically. 

Bandwidth is different.  

Bandwidth is a business communication software company based in Raleigh, North Carolina. Co-founder and CEO David Morken served in the Marine Corps and went to law school. And he doesn't hide his Christian faith – while he says he also encourages his employees who have different belief systems to be authentic at work, too. 

Bandwidth had its IPO on the Nasdaq on November 10, the day before Veterans Day and birthday of the Marine Corps. Morken timed it intentionally. The company is worth more than 300 million dollars, and Morken is determined to keep it independent and based in North Carolina. We talked about how the Marines prepared him to be an entrepreneur, why he believes student debt is a drag on the country's future, and how he handles today's divisive culture wars.