Bill Gates' Legacy - MSFT CIO Tony Scott

Many CIOs move among companies in the same sector or in ones with similar business models. How has that experience helped you plot your strategy through the recession?

Scott: People don't often see a thread between pharma, automotive, etc. The common thread is that each of those industries went through its own wave of huge reform of the business model and digitization of the business processes that underlie the core of the business.

It's ironic that the tech industry is one of the later ones to digitize, as was media and entertainment. Just before I came to Microsoft, everything was going from analog to digital in the media and entertainment business. Whether it was in television or film--even in the theme park business--many of the experiences were relying more and more on digital technologies, from the way you plan a vacation to some of the experiences in the park.

Oddly, we're going through that same wave at Microsoft. There may be a day where everything is a digital download; you may not buy a product in stores anymore. But the way we make products, test them, review them and share them with partners--that business process is digitizing at a very rapid rate.

For me, it feels like a continuum on the journey: I can take all of the lessons I learned in all those other industries and begin to apply them in Microsoft's terms.

When you're trying to communicate your strategy, how do you find it when there's a tech-heavy executive team?

Scott: Overall, it's a big advantage. It's not something I'd ever complain about--considering the alternative, it's a strong benefit.

An experienced CIO adds to the discussion more around enterprise strategy for IT. Where you may have people who are very strong from a technology perspective, where the pieces link together into coherent enterprise strategy isn't something that's covered in most software engineering programs or the classic backgrounds that some of our folks might come from. We have a balance of strong tech focus, but I can bring an understanding of how to manage a large IT organization supporting all of Microsoft. We're in a bunch of different businesses, but they have a lot of things in common. An enterprise strategy for IT has to knit all those things together.

Was there any sort of cultural shift when Bill Gates left his day-to-day duties in August 2008?

Scott: There was a tremendous sense of gratitude and recognition of the role he played in the company, and that was amazing to watch. There's a lot of folklore built up around the founder, and you sometimes don't know whether it's true or untrue, especially coming from outside the company.

One of the most interesting questions Bill was asked was how big he thought the company would ever be, from when it was very small to when it was very big. He said that at any given point, he thought the biggest we would ever become is two times what we were at that time, and that was in his wildest imagination. Of course, Microsoft did "two times" any number of times. It showed you a lot about the way Bill thought about the company: When he was contemplating the next organization, set of products, etc., he thought ahead, asking, "What if we doubled? How would we manage things?"

As a management paradigm, that seemed to be an interesting model. When you run a large organization, you have to ask yourself not only, "What would we do if we had to double?" but "What would we do if we were half the size we are now?"

If you work within those boundaries and frame your thinking that way, you can do some interesting things. And Bill did.

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This article was originally published on 04-13-2009
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