Meet Microsoft’s MBA Class of 2018

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella

THE PEOPLE MAKE THE DIFFERENCE

This difference starts with the type of employees that Microsoft targets. Forget simply checking boxes, says Sarah Eytinge, MBA University recruiter at Microsoft. In a 2018 interview with P&Q, Eytinge notes that past experience doesn’t drive MBA hiring decisions at Microsoft. Instead, her team charts career growth. More than that, they uncover the reasons why candidates were bold enough to pursue an MBA. At the same time, they are always looking for the traits that make MBAs such strong leaders.

“Each function looks for specific qualities that show MBA students will make an impact,” she explains. “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.”

Angela Wang was quick to notice the difference. “The people I met over the recruiting process and throughout my summer internship exuded a sense of happiness and pride when they talked about their jobs. That was an infectious feeling and something that I wanted for myself.”

A STARTUP MENTALITY

Diego Rejtman and Sarah Eytinge

Bufus Outlaw III grew up loving Microsoft products. Not surprisingly, Xbox was his favorite. While these solutions may have inspired this University of Miami grad to apply, it was the culture – open and responsive and innovative and inclusive – that spurred him to commit to Microsoft values every day.

“Microsoft impressed me the most for having the type of culture that would enable me to learn, make the most of my talents, and take charge of my own career,” he observes. “Microsoft’s culture is “bring your brain”, meaning that the company values your talent and recognizes that talent comes in many different packages. In some companies, things like your dress, who your boss is, how long you’ve been there, and what you look like have an impact on whether you are given opportunities to make a difference. At Microsoft, you can’t tell who’s who in the company by these superficial factors. Everyone is talking about the business opportunities that we can create or the problems we need to solve. You have a voice that is heard, and great ideas get accepted and implemented no matter who brings them up.”

Sounds eerily like a startup – and that entrepreneurial mindset is exactly what Microsoft cultivates. That said, the firm enjoys an advantage that few startups can hope to match. “We have a lot of teams in an innovative culture trying new things and failing fast,” Sarah Eytinge emphasizes. “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.”

CUSTOMER-OBSESSED AND DRIVEN BY EMPOWERMENT AND IMPACT

That is, a big company with a “growth mindset,” one looking to disrupt new domains rather than just protect its existing share. Since Satya Nadella assumed Microsoft’s reins, he has championed being “customer-obsessed,” always placing yourself in the customer’s shoes to make processes faster and simpler and capabilities more robust and less costly. As such, Microsoft has adopted a new mission statement: “To empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more” – a nod to treating customers as individuals and focusing on use and results over access and volume.

Beyond that, Microsoft is a platform, adds Alexis Apostol. Channeling Nadella, she describes Microsoft as a “platform to “derive meaning from work and use work to drive the change we want to see in the world.” That starts, adds Sarah Eytinge, by understanding the utility behind the technology. “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.”

This internal transformation – where top management and front line alike live and breathe its values – made Microsoft the go-to destination for Ryan Bernsmann, a program manager from INSEAD. “There are many reasons why I chose to work at Microsoft, but the two most significant are impact and culture,” he explains.My career coach at business school emphasized the importance of knowing what it was that I wanted to do and finding what was important to me. I thought about which companies have had an impact on my life and had the potential to impact people all over the planet. I found Microsoft’s mission to be both altruistic and far-reaching.”

TEAMWORK SERVES AS “CHECKS-AND-BALANCES”

Microsoft PowerPoint

Achieving that mission, however, takes a team effort. That has been the biggest lesson for the Class of 2018. Take David Ellis. During one rotation, where he was enhancing the Azure portal, change required more than simply inputting changes based on user feedback. Instead, making lasting improvements required him to share ideas across a host of stakeholders – a strategy that eventually led to better ideas and consensus. Ellis wasn’t alone in taking this lesson to heart.

“I’m regularly working alongside my marketing, sales, engineering business partners, and any large decision requires alignment across the various teams,” adds Angela Wang. “As we view the problem from different perspectives, it’s an essential system of checks-and-balances.”

Of course, these transitions have been made easier for the Class of 2018 by their safety nets. Mentorship plays an integral part in the Microsoft experience. These mentors are the role models who transmit the values, instill the confidence, and unveil the possibilities in their reports and peers – no different than what they experienced as new hires. For Bufus Outlaw III, that person is Chris Greenway, a manager who went above-and-beyond to ensure his success.

MENTORS TRANSMIT KNOWLEDGE AND EMBODY VALUES

“[He] is a great leader,” Outlaw asserts. “Chris assessed both my strengths and what I most needed to learn. He created a development plan that included responsibilities and projects that would enable me to hone the skills that I needed to better cultivate. If I’m ever facing a problem, Chris is readily available as a thought partner to help me determine the best next step and how to steer the ship in the right direction.  He is also really good at giving others an opportunity to shine.”

Steve Lipner found a similar champion in Fred Meurgey, a major account technology strategist who has seemingly seen and done it all in the sales and engineering arenas. “Fred has been at Microsoft for 18 years and has such a deep understanding of technology and Microsoft’s specific solutions. When I started in the role, he’d spend hours and hours every day helping me build my foundation and has this ability to explain dense topics in such a simple manner. He spent so much time working with me, I’d forget that my accounts were only half his workload.”

In human resources, where the job is to help peers achieve their goals and fulfill their potential, Alexis Apostol can always turn to Stefani Okamoto, who heads up Microsoft’s global learning and development. Apostol credits her with making her a better employee, leader, and person.

Picture time for Microsoft interns.

“She embodies the values, expectations, behaviors, and actions that allow her teams to feel empowered and be our best. She immediately created a sense of psychological safety, extensive support, and genuine caring that allowed me to take big, bold risks. She gave me full ownership and autonomy over my work and ensured I have a seat at every table…I would not be able to grow, learn, thrive, and challenge the status quo at Microsoft without her.”

AMBIGUITY = OPPORTUNITY

With their first year behind them, the MBA Class of 2018 are now ready to take on mentor roles themselves. What kind of advice would they give to those who follow in their footsteps? Bufus Outlaw III offers a simple piece of advice: “Buckle up and enjoy the ride.”

“There will be lots of opportunity. The organization moves fast and allows you to go at the speed of your capabilities. The culture allows you to make contributions and have impact from the start. You don’t have to wait for someone to give you a chance. Your talent and capabilities create your chance. If you need a lot of rules about what you can and can’t do, then this is not the place for you. At Microsoft, it’s about innovation, an entrepreneurial mindset and a willingness to jump in, learn, and trust your own capabilities.”

In other words, adds Diego Rejtman, don’t just follow the job description. Make the role your own. “Something particular to MBAs is that there are really two parts of the job,” he observes. “One is to do the job they were hired for. The second part is, at some point, I expect them to take ownership. What does this job mean to you? How will you expand the scope? How will you make it more of your own? The people here who are the happiest are the ones who first master their job and then re-define it.”

For future Microsoft MBA hires, the best way for MBAs to make the job their own is to treat bottlenecks, imprecisions, and complaints as opportunities to innovate. “Be curious and bring your best A-game to succeed when facing ambiguity,” says Inge Groth, a Northwestern University MBA grad and Microsoft product manager. “Ambiguity is an opening or opportunity for a change – that’s what will help us make a true impact and to keep up with the evolving world around us.”

DON’T MISS: WHAT MICROSOFT SEEKS IN MBA HIRES

For read in-depth profiles of newly-hired MBAs at Microsoft, including their advice on how to get into the firm, click on the links below. 

MBA NameHometownMBA ProgramRole at Microsoft
Alexis ApostolRidgewood, NJUniversity of Michigan (Ross)Learning and Development Consultant
Ryan BernsmannPerth, AustraliaINSEADBusiness Program Manager
Fabiola BrunyNew York City, NYNorth Carolina (Kenan-Flagler)Solution Sales Specialist
David EllisWellesley, MAUniversity of Michigan (Ross)Product Marketing Manager
Inge GrothWoodbury, MNNorthwestern University (Kellogg)Product Marketing Manager
Steven LipnerLong Island, NYWharton SchoolAccount Executive
Bufus Outlaw IIIMoorestown, NJUniversity of MiamiFinance Manager
Susan SasuAccra, GhanaDuke University (Fuqua)Product Marketing Manager
Aditi ShahCorvallis, ORUniversity of Chicago (Booth)Partner Development Manager
Angela WangWashington, DCColumbia Business SchoolFinance Manager