REDMOND, Wash., Feb. 15, 2001 — As a young engineering student at Cambridge University in 1976, Pieter Knook had his first brush with computers while programming an IBM 360 with punch cards that needed to be hand-fed into the hulking mainframe.
“I was fairly frustrated,”
Knook recalls, as he reclines in his office overlooking a tree-lined walkway on Microsofts main campus.
“I mean, at one stage I lost all my cards and I had to re-enter the entire program from scratch.”
“youd drop all your cards on the floor and theyd be all out of sequence, and you had to go stand in line at a special machine that re-orders them. It was just so unsophisticated.”
Despite his early battles with that old mainframe, Knook, 42, ended up making computers his profession for the next 25 years. After a colorful career that has taken him around the world, Knook now begins his latest role as vice president of Microsofts Network Service Providers (NSP) group, a division that is creating opportunities for customers that were unimaginable in 1976.
He oversees a 400-person division focused on helping companies such as Internet and application service providers, telecommunications companies and network equipment providers deploy network services based on Microsoft platforms for their customers. The NSP group also leads a variety of Microsoft partnerships and investments aimed at furthering the development of such technologies as broadband networks and next-generation computing services.
Knook began leading the NSP group this month after 3 1/2 years as vice president of the Microsoft Asia region, which includes 3,400 people in 12 subsidiaries from Japan to India. Michael Rawding, who previously managed the Greater China subsidiary for Microsoft, is the regions new vice president.
Knook says one of the most exciting prospects of working with this group of technologies and companies is their key roles in carrying out the Microsoft .NET initiative, which in part calls for providing software applications as a service to customers through a wide range of devices that collaborate more intelligently with each other.
“One of my core values is impact — the notion that your daily work should make a difference in peoples lives, that you leave something good behind,”
“In my new position working with network service providers, I see great potential for Microsoft to have a positive impact on their business and increase our revenue as well.”
Service Providers See Promise of .NET
Under Knooks leadership, the Asia region became the fastest growth area for Microsoft for several consecutive years. He also oversaw the development of numerous new partnerships, investments and technology initiatives aimed at promoting more widespread adoption of broadband and wireless technologies in the region. Returning to Redmond from Tokyo meant not only trading a cosmopolitan lifestyle for more suburban environs, but also shifting his focus from managing a large segment of Microsofts overall business to concentrating on the emerging market that network service providers represent for the company.
“This is an area where Microsoft is still trying to establish a competitive position, but we have a lot of great projects and a lot of people working very hard,”
“I think our job is to create a more cohesive force and a clearer set of priorities against which we can be highly successful.”
One key to that success is ensuring that service providers are successful in offering next-generation network services. By providing the high reliability and scalability of the Windows 2000 platform — a centerpiece of the .NET technology — Microsoft enables service providers to offer newer, better, faster and more reliable services. Microsofts .NET vision, outlined last June, is a key point of engagement for service providers, and Microsoft is talking with network solutions and services companies about the opportunities.
“They want to understand what Microsoft is trying to do with .NET,”
“Theyre saying, It sounds like what were trying to do in our own company. Tell us more.”
Many of the providers also want to know how they can partner with Microsoft to deliver .NET software services, and Knook views those relationships as valuable learning opportunities as well as areas of potential revenue.
“Service providers already know how to be successful in the kind of business model that Microsoft .NET entails,”
“Microsoft .NET relies a lot on making pieces of software operate as a service and establishing high reliability as we scale these software services to hundreds of millions of users. Well, many of these service providers have already learned those lessons. Microsofts current strategy is clearly more service-oriented, and so we will be looking for ways to promote the .NET environment with our existing partners as well as new ones.”
Time in Asia Yields Insights into Diversity of Network Service Markets
His colleagues at Microsoft point to Knooks recent experience running the Asia region, which is home to many of the worlds foremost telecommunications and wireless networking companies, as a strong resource for the NSP group.
“Pieter has already established strong relationships with many of these companies and understands how Microsoft solutions can play a leading role in advancing their technology,”
says Orlando Ayala, Microsoft group vice president of Worldwide Sales, Marketing and Support, which includes the NSP organization.
“He also brings a global perspective and an appreciation for cultural diversity, both of which are vital to Microsofts effectiveness as an international company.”
Knook says he sees many parallels between the opportunities for Microsoft in the Asian markets and those in the network services industries.
“Very few of our subsidiaries in Asia have anything in common with each other, so you encounter a great diversity of business challenges in working with the companies in each country,”
Knook explains. Similarly,
“the traditional telecommunications carriers, the new wireless carriers, application hosters and other service providers all have completely different models and are working with completely different technologies. The forces that are shaping the future of these companies are very different.”
In both Asia and the network solutions space, however, Knook believes those economic and competitive forces work to reveal the value of Microsofts offerings.
Within two weeks of his arrival in Asia in 1997, the region plunged into a devastating economic crisis that caused many businesses to seriously cut back or delay technology purchases.
“When the shock hit, people started saying, Wait a minute — could this be a good time to re-evaluate whether we should continue running these expensive Unix boxes or mainframes?”
“It was a great opportunity for Microsoft to go into these companies and suggest that they consider PC-based systems running on Windows as a more cost-effective alternative.”
He sees similar changes at work within the network solutions industry as the value of dot-com stocks has plummeted in recent months, compelling technology companies to re-think their business models with a renewed emphasis on lasting profitability. Gartner Group Inc., an industry research firm, predicted last August that 60 percent of the 480 retail application service providers operating today would vanish by the end of this year. Analysts say the providers that survive will be those that can offer customers a full range of business services and applications in one package through partnerships with hardware vendors, network service providers and other integrators.
“The new revenue streams that service providers need are really driven by software, especially among wireless carriers and other companies that are trying to get a return on the huge investment theyve made in higher-bandwidth-capable networks,”
“With Windows 2000, Microsoft has a strong position in this area, and its clear that what we are saying about our .NET initiative really resonates with these companies. Now our job is to execute well to make this happen.”
Rather than trying to pursue every potential opportunity and lose effectiveness, Knook wants to focus the NSP organization on
“the right areas where we can make the most impact with these customers.”
He says these include providing key pieces of the operational infrastructure for service providers, such as the Operations Support Systems — a collection of software applications that automate important operations, administration and customer management tasks for service providers day-to-day operations — that are integral to Web-enabled services.
“Our technology is well-suited to many of the applications that customers want to run,”
“My biggest job is really to figure out which of the application areas represent opportunities for Microsoft to make the biggest impact on our service provider customers in terms of enhancing the types of services they can offer their own customers. Once we win in those areas, then we can grow and expand from there.”
Early Dreams of Flying Career Yield to Buzz of Computer Trade
Born in Rotterdam, The Netherlands, Knook traveled throughout Europe with his parents as a child. The family settled in France when he was 4 and moved to England when he was 8.
“I was very clear on what I wanted to be when I grew up: an airline pilot,”
Knook says in his crisp British accent.
“I wore a little KLM (the Dutch airline) badge on my lapel. Now I just sit in the back of the plane — but I probably fly about as much as I would have if Id become a pilot,”
he adds, laughing.
After earning his engineering degree from Cambridge in 1980,
“I realized that the notion of working for an engineering company was not terribly exciting,”
“When I left the university, the PC revolution was just starting. I began looking around at some of the start-up computer companies in London at the time, and they were doing the exciting projects. Just the buzz around those companies is what got me involved.”
Knook went to work as a programmer for a software systems company and, in 1986, returned to Cambridge to help start a company called Torus, which specialized in building local area network systems. Despite creating
“a very cool”
and well-regarded product, he says, Torus had trouble entering the U.S. market and ran into other competitive hurdles that eventually led Knook and his partners to sell the company in 1990.
“It was a great experience,”
he says of creating the start-up business.
“Its quite different when its your own ideals that youre bringing to life — your own blood, sweat and tears.”
Microsoft, which was among the companies that had initially considered buying Torus, offered Knook the opportunity to create a consulting division in the United Kingdom. The prospect of starting a new line of business within an established company like Microsoft appealed to Knooks sense of adventure.
“When I went to friends and said, Im going to Microsoft, they said, Who?”
Knook recalls, grinning.
“But it was an incredible opportunity.”
Starting as the lone UK Microsoft Consulting Services representative in 1990, Knook expanded the business to 50 consultants in three years.
In 1994, Knook moved to Redmond to manage Microsofts enterprise customer marketing division. He moved on to become general manager of business customer marketing until 1997, when Steve Ballmer — then head of Worldwide Sales and Support and now Microsofts chief executive officer — recruited Knook for yet another foray into new territory for the company.
“He wanted me to take charge of his pet project, which at the time was the microsoft.com Web site, and really use it as a vehicle to engage customers,”
Knook says. Established two years earlier in tandem with the launch of Windows 95, www.microsoft.com had about 50 servers and was expanding fast: During 1996, the number of pages viewed jumped from 118 million in January to over 2 billion in December, and traffic on the site increased 90 percent in the last six months of the year.
“The pivotal moments in the life of microsoft.com were the launches of different versions of Internet Explorer: Every time we launched a new version, our traffic would just go through the roof with people downloading it,”
“At some stages, we represented something like 20 or 25 percent of the entire Internet traffic.”
Knook called upon his early technical background to help shepherd microsoft.com through the challenges of growing 15 percent to 20 percent every month and trying to maintain high availability of the site, which quickly mushroomed to more than 100 servers. Looking back, he is proud to have helped the Web site mature into a rich source of knowledge for customers.
“Our customers can help themselves to information instead of always having to call somebody for support,”
When Ballmer asked him to become vice president of Microsoft Asia in fall 1997, Knook at first worried that moving to Tokyo would be too hard for his wife and two young children. But after an initial period of culture shock, Knook and his family pronounced their three-year stay
“a fantastic experience,”
“Any time youre an expatriate anywhere, it unites a family in a way that you dont get otherwise,”
“Doing the simplest things like grocery shopping — making sure youre buying toothpaste instead of shoe polish, when they both come in the same packaging — those are fun because you go through them together.”
No Missed Opportunities
As Knook describes his past and present roles within Microsoft, one topic that sparks the most enthusiasm is customer satisfaction.
“Another of my core values is integrity, which is what you need to commit to if youre going to work with customers,”
“Its as simple as, if you make a commitment to come back to somebody with a response to an issue, you make sure they get an answer. Its not closed until then.”
Testaments to Knooks rapport with customers abound in his Redmond office. A bookcase along the wall bears several plaques and certificates of appreciation from Asian government and business leaders in recognition of the economic contributions that Microsoft made to the region under Knooks leadership. Tucked inside an ornately decorated folder is a certificate honoring Knook as an economic development advisor to the governor of Guangdong province in China, along with a photo of the two men.
“I had those kinds of opportunities because Im a representative of Microsoft, and Microsoft has an impact with these leaders, so they want to hear what we have to say,”
“My ambition is that the NSP group can build the same level of trust with some of these service providers.”
Theres also a battered, regulation-sized bowling pin propped beside the door.
“One of the guys who used to work with me on Microsoft.com used to keep five of these bowling pins in his office,”
“and when hed get really upset, hed get out a ball and try to knock them down.”
Upon leaving Microsoft several years ago, Knooks colleague entrusted him and four other co-workers with the bowling pins
“as a reminder of how to stay relaxed.”
Relaxation time for Knook includes skiing at nearby Snoqualmie Pass, listening to music and taking his family on outdoor excursions. He says another key to maintaining inner peace is
“living life with the notion that it can be taken away from you at any point, so you should have your affairs in order and basically be satisfied with the state youve achieved. If theres some burning thing that you want to do next year, why not do it now and get it done?”
For motivation and inspiration,
“I just come back to my values,”
“Provided I see some level of impact in what I do, and provided I have a chance to exercise some creativity in solving a customers problems — those are the things that really make a difference.”