A few years ago, it was fashionable to bash Microsoft. Critics claimed that Google and Apple had raced ahead of them. The company’s stumbles in wearable tech, smartphones, and streaming music were the stuff of business cases. As the digital age pivoted past Windows and Office, the comparisons between Microsoft and IBM only intensified.
Last month, the Redmond air rippled with the sound of champagne corks popping off. At market close, Microsoft had reached a market cap of $851.36, dethroning Apple as the most valuable company in the world – by a $4 billion dollar margin, no less. It was a comeback for the ages. Over the past five years, Microsoft had pulled the ultimate hat-trick: it had overhauled its business model, regained its dominance, and tripled share value. In the process, the company has transformed itself into the leader of burgeoning fields like cloud-based computing, artificial intelligence, gaming, and cybersecurity.
YOUR MAIN JOB: MAKE OTHER PEOPLE COOL
Call it what you will: Microsoft has been reborn and regained its mojo thanks to its long and risky journey back. With 130,000 employees – not to mention 700 million devices running Windows 10 – Microsoft offers exposure to groundbreaking fields and access to the resources and scale to make a lasting impact.
Microsoft’s core mission is to “empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more.” That requires a special kind of MBA – a mix of humility and creativity – says Diego Rejtman, general manager for Microsoft Global University Recruiting, in a November interview with P&Q.
“At Microsoft, It is not about you being cool, but it’s about you making others cool.”
That means being “customer-obsessed” – a popular term in the Microsoft lexicon. Here, teams are focused on better understanding how customers live and work to make them more successful. In fact, Rejtman notes, Microsoft’s lucrative cloud services business is geared so the company only makes money when customers are using it. That has been part of the transformation ignited by CEO Satya Nadella, whose goal is to digitally transform the world.
AN $850 BILLION DOLLAR STARTUP
Part of that is taking a broad view of who a customer can be, explains Sarah Eytinge, MBA University recruiter at Microsoft. “We don’t want to be a company that just supplied technology solutions to the Fortune 500 companies. We didn’t want to just create a device that only the wealthy could afford. Every person or organization on the planet is someone we want to be helping and empowering.”
To do this, Microsoft has returned to its 1975 roots. The company has increasingly embraced the startup mentality, encouraging experimenting and learning like no other. “We have a lot of teams in an innovative culture trying new things and failing fast,” Eytinge observes. “They have the benefit of working for a large company like Microsoft so we have the resources to make those investments and take those risks. For those MBAs who are interested in entrepreneurship, they are surprised by what they have access to – they thought it was just a big company.”
That isn’t the only benefit of an entrepreneurial culture, adds Rejtman. “Many MBAs are also surprised by how much empowerment they receive so early on. I have people who tell me, ‘I just closed a $30 million dollar contract and I’m only six months into the company.’ As soon as you get in, you can have an impact.”
MORE INTERESTED IN WHERE MBAs ARE GOING THAN WHERE THEY’VE BEEN
What types of MBAs excel at Microsoft? In her interview with P&Q, Eytinge clicks off standard fare such as the ability to operate in ambiguous terrain or wielding influence without possessing formal authority. While each business function maintains baseline expectations, Eytinge is careful to note that experience isn’t held against MBA candidates.
“There are peer companies that will only consider candidates for certain roles if they have done them before in the past,” she points out. “We think that is a very short-sighted way of evaluating candidates because most MBA candidates are using the degree use to job change, transform, or make big leaps in their careers.”
Rejtman agrees, noting that he is far more interested in where candidates are going than where they’ve been. That’s why he considers learning to be the top indicator for cultural fit and long-term success at Microsoft.
“When I look for candidates, the #1 thing I look for is, Is this a person who likes to learn? Is this a person who learned how to learn? Is this a curious person? There is a really high value placed on curiosity and wanting to learn all the time at Microsoft. Learning comes from getting outside your comfort zone and taking risks. These things are supported and valued at Microsoft.”
SECRET TO SUCCESS: BE ECLECTIC
“Eclecticism”—in Rejtman’s words – is another virtue that Microsoft prizes. He describes Microsoft as a “platform for us to pursue our passions.” For him, this authenticity, coupled with diverse backgrounds, enables Microsoft team members to deploy innovative solutions while finding joy in their work.
“We value eclectic people – people who learn from a wide range of sources. We have this idea of bringing all of yourself to work, which is something our CEO talks about all the time. Come as you are and do what you love. It is this idea of bringing all of our aspects to work. I came to Microsoft as an engineer and then I moved to HR. I have a different perspective that’s valued.”
What roles are MBA playing at Microsoft? What skills do they see as necessary for the future? What unique benefits does Microsoft offer MBAs? What advice do they offer to prospective MBA candidates? Find the answers to these questions – and many more – in P&Q’s exclusive interview with Diego Rejtman and Sarah Eytinge.
P&Q: What are some of the roles that MBAs play in your organization?
Sarah: We hire MBAs into a variety of functions, in areas like marketing, operations, program management, finance, sales, and even some roles in our engineering organization. There are many different profiles for which we are seeking talent to drive our business and promote good technology.
Although we hire for different functions, each function looks for specific qualities that show MBA students will make an impact. These would include individuals who can work through ambiguity; strong communicators who can simplify complex ideas; the ability to influence without formal authority; and great collaborators. It doesn’t matter where they land or the function where they work. These are the qualities of MBA talent. They are strong leaders and that’s why we bring them to Microsoft.
One example, to dive a little deeper, is sales. Now, sales can be a dirty word for MBA students. At Microsoft, it is a highly consultative role and extremely important to how we’re positioned to help our customer. The sales function at Microsoft is actually our largest demand of MBA talent. Because they’re helping their customers digitally transform, we need individuals who can be trusted advisors. They must come in with a deep understanding of the Microsoft system and then deliver results to customers seeking Microsoft’s assistance with products and services to influence their business.
Diego: Microsoft is going through a transformation. We have a new CEO in Satya Nadella. Part of that transformation is that Microsoft used to sell a packaged product in the past with Office and Windows. We would sell licenses to make money. Whether the customer was using it or not was not the main concern. It was more transactional with sales. We have this new mission, which is to “empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more.” As a result, the sales organization within Microsoft went through a big transformation. Our whole sales model changed. We see the world as digitally transforming. Microsoft, as a platform, is committing to help customers digitally transform. What we sell now is different. When we sell a cloud service, the contracts are such that Microsoft only makes money if the customers are using it – and the customers are only using it if they are successful.
How this translates is that we really need smart people, like MBAs, who will go and get close to customers. We call it “customer obsession” – really figuring out how to make the customer successful. We are putting so much responsibility and empowerment on the sales force. That’s why this is such a great position. I come from an engineering background, but what I’ve seen from our MBAs is they take a lot of pride and meaning in their work. They are helping customers transform their business. They don’t feel they are selling to make some money, but instead digitally transforming the world. The sales role is really elevated at Microsoft.