BISMARCK - The head of the world's 23rd-biggest public company believes his former boss is fit to lead the nation's 39th state.
With billionaire Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates already contributing nearly $107,000 to Fargo entrepreneur Doug Burgum's gubernatorial campaign, the company's chief executive officer now also has endorsed Burgum, calling him "an enlightened business leader" who can be an effective governor of North Dakota.
"He's been a real inspiration for me," CEO Satya Nadella said Friday in an interview with Forum News Service.
Nadella also has shown his support financially, giving $10,000 to Burgum's campaign on Tuesday.
Burgum has raised more than $1 million and spent an undisclosed amount of his considerable personal wealth in an expensive campaign for the Republican nomination against the party's endorsed candidate, Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem, who has reported more than $800,000 in contributions. Voters will decide in the June 14 primary which candidate to send to the November general election.
Nadella worked under and with Burgum for 5½ years after Microsoft acquired Fargo-based Great Plains Software for $1.1 billion in 2001 and Burgum became head of the Microsoft Business Solutions group.
Nadella succeeded Burgum after he left Microsoft in June 2007. Nadella was executive vice president of the company's Cloud and Enterprise group before being named CEO in February 2014.
Nadella said Burgum influenced his own view of leadership as "a leader who thinks about all the constituents, whether it be employees, the customers, the investors, the broader community. I always go back to the lessons I learned from just observing him."
Unlike his predecessor, Steve Ballmer, who contributed heavily to federal candidates, Nadella hasn't focused on political candidates, making just one contribution, according to Federal Election Commission filings. He gave $2,600 in October 2014 to Rohit Khanna, a Democrat who ran unsuccessfully for the California House of Representatives.
"With Doug, to me, he's more of someone whom I worked with, worked for, and someone whom I admire, and I do believe that what he has done in business is something that he will bring to the governor's office in North Dakota," Nadella said.
A native of Hyderabad, India, Nadella considers himself an independent, saying, "I'm more about people versus parties." He said his endorsement of Burgum isn't an endorsement of Burgum's political positions, which include his support for Donald Trump for president and his staunch opposition to the Affordable Care Act.
"I only sort of share one view, that is my respect for Doug Burgum," Nadella said. "I definitely do not support, or I've not looked at, all his positions. ... When I worked for him, I would have probably not agreed with him on a lot of things that he stood for. But what I really endorse here is the character of Doug Burgum, who he is as a human being and what he is capable of doing for other humans and other organizations."
Asked about Nadella's endorsement of Burgum, Stenehjem said he believes what's important is that most of his own contributions have come from within the state.
The winner of the GOP primary will face Democratic state Rep. Marvin Nelson of Rolla and Libertarian candidate Marty Riske of Fargo in November. Bismarck oilfield consultant Paul Sorum also is seeking the GOP nomination.
Forbes ranked Microsoft as the world's 23rd-biggest public company last month, with a market value of $407 billion, sales of $86.6 billion and 180,000 employees.