Achievements unlocked: Anderson has feet on the ground, head in the cloud
A tuxedo-wearing hero driving an Aston Martin in a high-speed car chase.
A tattooed super-villain, crumbling before his steely-eyed stare.
Thousands of onlookers, shaken and stirred.
These are just a few scenes from the tech thriller Live and Let Cloud or, if you’re Brad Anderson, a Monday.
[Adjust cufflinks, cue theme music.]
Anderson leads a team helping businesses all over the world find the best, most affordable, most secure ways to embrace the cloud. In September, he was invited to be the first-ever Microsoft executive to give a keynote address at Oracle Open World. For the less tech-savvy out there, we’re talking Tesla going to dinner at Edison’s house; a Coke executive speaking at a Pepsi convention; James Bond and Dr. Julius No. You get the idea.
Microsoft and Oracle have, historically, been spirited competitors (to put it lightly). But earlier this year, at the request of their joint customers, the companies announced a partnership to provide a fully supported experience running Oracle workloads in the Microsoft clouds. One of the first byproducts of this alliance? For Anderson to prepare a high-stakes speech and like any leader (or actor) he needed to deliver a stand-out performance.
Early the morning of his speech Anderson was, not surprisingly, in the hotel gym (he typically gets up at 4:30 every morning to hit the gym before heading to work). That day he ran on the treadmill for over an hour, almost hypnotically, flipping through key points of his speech in his head.
“There are 2.4 quintillion bytes of data being created every day.”
“By 2020, we’ll have 40 zetabytes of data we’re going to be dealing with.”
“We believe organizations want and need a consistent and single cloud environment that spans private, hosted, and public cloud.”
Anderson is a casual guy, but on this day donned a suit (strongly suggested for Open World speakers) and a bright green tie.
Anderson stepped out into the bright lights in front of several thousand people, many of them competitors.
[Adjust cufflinks again, cue montage to fill in the blanks of this mysterious, well-dressed man.]
Anderson is an Eagle Scout. Not just any Eagle Scout, but the type Bond himself might have been.
Earning the highest rank offered by the Boy Scouts of America takes all the qualities one might expect: Trustworthy. Cheerful. Thrifty. Brave. It also takes merit badges: First aid. Camping. Lifesaving. Swimming. Good citizenship.
In all, a scout needs 21 merit badges to become an Eagle. The teenaged Anderson earned 70. If the merit badge count would have continued throughout his life, that number would be much higher – starting with merit badge #71: The Overachiever.
Anderson laughed. “Yeah, overachieving is kind of a theme with me,” he said. “I had to learn to manage it, because you can become too much of a perfectionist, and it can negatively impact your personal and professional life.”
How did he learn to manage it?
“We had five children,” said Anderson, Microsoft’s corporate vice president in the Cloud and Enterprise group.
When he speaks about his family, he leans forward and smiles broadly.
“Having children has really tempered me and helped me to learn patience. I’m still learning. And I have a wife who understands how to smell the roses and enjoy the journey,” Anderson said. “As a family, we used to go on vacation and get up with an agenda each day to see all that we could. Now, I think my favorite thing is sitting in a beach chair by the pool and reading.”
Marry Someone Great merit badge, check; Have a Big, Tight-Knit Family merit badge, check.
Anderson grew up in Salt Lake City, the youngest of four boys. From the time he was 8 until he turned 15, he delivered 100 newspapers every day. “My parents had me purchasing my own clothes from the time I was 12,” Anderson said.
He had a Commodore VIC-20, largely to play games, but it sparked enough interest that he took a few computer science classes in high school. In one class, he wrote a program to display flags and quiz him on the country of origin. Growing up, he also a knack for numbers.
“I always thought I’d be a CPA (Certified Public Accountant),” Anderson said. “I love numbers and math.”
He even calculated the risk of asking the “very intimidating” football coach’s daughter on a date. Anderson, who also has an impressive memory for dates and details, recalls exactly what he and his wife Kim did on their first date (saw the movie “Pretty in Pink” and ate at Benihana) and remembers exactly what she wore (white pants and a red-and-white rugby shirt).
There’s just a connection that when we’re not together feels like something’s missing.
The two dated during his Freshman year while he started mechanical engineering classes at Brigham Young University (BYU), and put their relationship somewhat on hold while he served a two-year mission to Puerto Rico for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Anderson still speaks fluent Spanish). For two years, they exchanged letters between Utah and Puerto Rico once a week.
“I came home on a Thursday and proposed the following Monday. We were married three months later. Since the first day we went out, I never dated another girl,” Anderson said. “There’s just a connection that when we’re not together feels like something’s missing.”
After graduating with a degree in design engineering technology, Anderson got a job as a mechanical engineer working the laser systems used in surgery. Still, he worried about providing for his family long-term. He sought work as a tester at Novell and was turned down. Undeterred, he spent evenings and weekends reading manuals about the company’s NetWare product, and tried again for a job. He was hired to work on the front lines of technical support – including multiple swing and graveyard shifts each year.
“I wish everyone who works for me could experience six months on the phone taking calls in the middle of the night from panicked IT professionals. Working that closely with customers you develop an incredible appreciation and empathy for what they are going through. And you have to develop confidence when you work the graveyard shift as you are literally the only person worldwide taking customer calls,” Anderson said. “It’s about as modest as you can get, but I loved what I was doing.”
Over the course of 12 years, Anderson worked his way from 3 a.m. customer support to vice president and general manager of ZENWorks, the company’s No. 2-revenue-producing software - meanwhile returning to BYU to earn an MBA at night, and graduating with honors.
Also during that time, he started receiving monthly recruitment calls from Microsoft. After some significant leadership changes at Novell, when the monthly call came from Microsoft in January 2003, Anderson was ready to talk.
Anderson started work a few months later leading a team of 125 people on Microsoft’s Systems Management Server, a $250-million business. He stepped in during a particularly difficult beta period; it was the first release of the product in five years, and it was limping a bit. Even Steve Ballmer suggested that the business was in “pretty tough shape.” Anderson definitely had his work cut out. But the team worked hard, and by launch in September, the team had built and released a very strong product. The business had grown to $600 million by 2007, when Anderson took over leading all of the System Center efforts. In Microsoft’s most recent fiscal year, System Center crossed over the $2 billion line in revenue.
“We have taken what was a struggling business and really turned it into an asset for the company,” Anderson said. “What we do in infrastructure can be seen as pretty boring. We’re not as flashy as consumer products or gaming, but boy, I think the last 10 years have been so rewarding for myself and the people who have been involved in this.”
Anderson now oversees the program management team responsible for Windows Server and System Center, the largest contributors to Microsoft’s $20-plus-billion Cloud and Enterprise business.
Last year he and his team spearheaded the acquisition of StorSimple, a San Francisco-based business that provides cloud-based storage, backup, archive, and disaster recovery. For Microsoft, this was an acquisition that enabled customers to quickly and easily embrace the public cloud – with a simple yet powerful way to get the benefits of cloud-integrated storage in a hybrid model.
Command the Helm of a Multi-Billion-Dollar Business merit badge, check.
Bottom line, Anderson is a challenge-seeking workaholic.
That said, he genuinely loves spending time with his family and is also devoted to achieving work-life balance.
“Work hard, play hard,” Anderson said. “That’s what I hope to always be able to do.”
Career and Family Sustainability Merit Badge, check.
On-stage at Oracle Open World, Anderson started with an impromptu joke about how the audience was about to experience two firsts: the first Microsoft executive to ever speak there, and the first Microsoft speaker to ever wear a tie. Then, he unleashed Microsoft’s cloud solutions.
“I walked off knowing we’d nailed it. We landed everything we wanted to land,” Anderson said. “The thing I think really differentiates Microsoft is our vision of consistency across clouds, and what we’ve learned from operating Azure and 200-plus cloud services. It gives us a very unique perspective. Cloud computing isn’t something you can bluff your way into. When you are purchasing and deploying hundreds of thousands of servers every year you have to relentlessly pursue automation at all levels, look for ways to reduce costs and create efficiencies. We have to do this to survive.”
Tweets from attendees and those watching live online included cracks about “hell freezing over” and “double takes” about seeing Microsoft on its competitor’s stage. But people also reacted with tweets using words like “positive energy,” “clarity of message” and “innovation,” to describe Anderson’s keynote and Microsoft’s cloud offering.
The experience of being the first Microsoft executive on Oracle’s stage is not one he’ll soon forget.
“We’re just thankful to them for the invitation,” he said. “For us, it’s a partnership we’re trying to get moving after 20 years of Oracle and Microsoft barely being able to say each other’s names.”
Diplomacy and Collaboration merit badges, check and check.
Ben Hawken, Anderson’s communications manager, knows what you’re thinking. So … many … merit badges.
“On paper you look at Brad and think, ‘Well, this can’t all be real,’” Hawken said. “But that’s the thing – the guy is legit.”
This summer, Hawken – who had only been on Anderson’s team for a few months — approached his boss with a unique idea. Anderson was set to give the keynote at the TechEd North America conference in New Orleans, and the speech would highlight customer Aston Martin.
“We should do a video to play before your speech where you play James Bond and have a caper,” Hawken began. He hadn’t finished his first sentence before Anderson said yes.
The rest went as follows:
Hawken: “We’re probably going to need you to drive one.”
Anderson: “Well, yeah.”
Hawken: “And would you pretend to fight some bad guys? It’ll be classy, don’t worry.”
“There are maybe one out of 100 executives who would have gone for that. Where some would see risk, Brad saw opportunity,” Hawken said. “He has this great sense of the moments in time when you can make a lasting impression on customers or a definitive statement about your business.”
In the video, Anderson – dressed in a tuxedo – speeds through downtown Seattle in an Aston Martin after bad guys to recover stolen valuables (Anderson says he can check driving an Aston Martin 80mph through the streets of Seattle of his bucket list). Near the end of the video, Anderson pushes a button on his Windows Phone and his tuxedo tears away to reveal what else, a polo shirt and slacks.
Turns out the secret to a tear-away tuxedo is ultra-fine fishing line sewn into key seams. Though the video features a car chase and computer-generated freight train, the tuxedo scene was easily the most complex to shoot, Hawken said.
“Brad gets all the credit in the world because he kept his arm up and the phone in his hand, set his feet, and kept a straight face,” Hawken said. “He doesn’t even flinch as the two sweet old ladies, the seamstresses, standing just inches out of the frame pull the line and rip the tuxedo right off of him.”
Don’t be surprised to see more like this from Anderson, who in his own way is both shaking and stirring the cloud computing landscape.
Plus, he does his own stunts (just put that badge in the pile with the rest).Follow Brad Anderson on Twitter Follow @inthecloudmsftPhotos by Brian Smale / © Microsoft