REDMOND, WASH. – Dec. 10, 2008 – On Dec. 4, Microsoft announced Qi Lu had been hired as president of the Online Services Group. Lu will lead Microsoft’s efforts to expand and strengthen its search and online advertising efforts.
Lu comes to Microsoft four months after leaving Yahoo!, where he most recently held the position of executive vice president of Engineering for the Search and Advertising Technology Group. During his 10 years at Yahoo, Lu gained a reputation as top-tier technologist and superb manager. Before joining Yahoo! in 1998, Lu was a Research Staff Member at IBM’s Almaden Research Center. He also has worked at Carnegie Mellon University as a Research Associate and at Fudan University in China as a faculty member. Lu holds 20 U.S. patents, and received his Bachelor of Science and Master of Science in computer science from Fudan University in Shanghai, and his Ph.D. in computer science from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pa.
PressPass spoke with Lu shortly after the announcement of his new position.
PressPass: Why Microsoft? What was behind your decision to take this new role?
Dr. Qi Lu speaks to Microsoft employees at a Town Hall event on Dec. 8 in Redmond, Wash. Lu will join Microsoft as president of the Online Services Group effective Jan. 5, 2009.
Lu: For me, the answer is impact. In my professional career the biggest motivating factor for me is always being in a position to have great impact in what I do. I’m always interested in being in a position or in a place to build the technologies, products or businesses that enable our customers, our users, to be able to do more and be more.
I cannot think of a better platform to have an impact than this position at Microsoft, because we have tremendous opportunities ahead to achieve great impact for our users, our customers and our industry. That’s why I’m very excited about this opportunity.
PressPass: When you say you can have an impact through Microsoft, what is it you mean?
Lu: Specifically, it’s the strength of technology and the talent at Microsoft – along with a broad-based online audience, the foundations of its search products and the assets in our advertising platforms. All those things enable our products and our businesses to reach vast numbers of users and customers so we can make a tremendous contribution to our industry as a whole.
PressPass: When you were at Yahoo!, how do you view Microsoft as a competitor?
Lu: I’ve always had a great deal of respect for Microsoft as a company. In my view, Microsoft is one of the most, if not the most, successful companies in terms of value creation, and in terms of producing technology and products that transform society. In my view, Microsoft is a company that really brought computing to every household, and that created a tremendous amount of value to the users and to the overall economy.
As a competitor, you never cut out Microsoft. They keep coming at you. In that way, I’ve always held Microsoft in very high regard.
Also, the people at Microsoft are extraordinary technologists – extremely capable, bright individuals. So, from the standpoint of looking in from the outside, there is tremendous strength in the core talent of Microsoft’s R&D. In my view, this is one of the key foundations of building winning products and winning business in the marketplace.
PressPass: Steve Ballmer recruited you to join Microsoft. How did he make his pitch?
Lu: Steve and I first met last September, in a hotel in San Jose, California. We spent almost half a day talking. We talked about the competitive landscape, about the possibility to really innovate and take the user experience [of Microsoft’s search capabilities] to the next level, and about creating a more competitive space, particularly in the search space. We all believe that it’s better for everybody involved when we have a healthy, more competitive environment.
Two things he said really stood out. First was the level of commitment on investment. Steve made it very clear how he views that as critical for the long-term future of Microsoft, and his strong commitment to invest in R&D resources is very, very important to me.
The other thing Steve said that helped convince me this was the right thing for me to do was his commitment to product quality, because you compete in the marketplace on the strength of the product that you bring to the market. You must have a strong commitment to protect the quality of the user experience in the product that you build.
PressPass: When you look broadly at the search space, what sorts of trends do you see playing out over the next year or two?
Lu: There are tremendous opportunities for product innovation, and there are several key forces that are driving us towards that.
One is the advent of more powerful computing infrastructures, [such as] cloud computing infrastructures that enable R&D teams to go through a vast amount of data and find and fix problems very, very quickly. This enables teams to improve the product quality at a much faster rate, and also will help us better understand user intent when they do a search. And the more we understand user intent, the more we can present better search results and an overall search experience that is dramatically improved from where we are today, whether it’s through better completion of a particular task or the discovery of very useful and interesting information.
Another trend is the Web as a platform for publishing all sorts of content. There is more and more rich and fresh content, and more engaging social content. So, there is a lot more material to work with. If we’re able to understand user intent better, and combine that with the richer content available out there, we will be able to produce a very engaging search experience.
PressPass: Where do you see the opportunities for Microsoft in the search and online space?
Lu: First, I think there is a genuine opportunity to take our search products to the next level. I see that Microsoft’s search product quality is improving at a very, very fast rate, that there are great foundations there. And with the technology base, the talent base, the computing infrastructures, I’m confident that we will be in a position to produce a differentiated and compelling search experience.
The second opportunity is to continue building a very powerful advertising platform. Microsoft has made a series of strategic acquisitions, and also built a bunch of internal technologies and products. The key is to put all those assets together to build powerful, highly scalable advertising platforms. The advertising we see today will be very different in the future because of new platforms for it. Ads will be truly relevant and useful, and the experience will be compelling.
PressPass: Whenever anyone talks about competition in search, the target always is Google. Are they catchable?
Lu: Well, we’re here to win, and my view on this is that to win in the search space, fundamentally you build on the strengths of your product. And we know what it takes to build a compelling user experience and winning product, which is to have a powerful infrastructure, great talent and put great processes in place so that we can out-develop, out-market, out-innovate our competitors.
But make no mistake; I think Google is a very, very powerful company. They are definitely ahead in the search space. There are a lot of challenges ahead. We’ve got our work cut out for us.
PressPass: You begin your new job January 5. What will be your first priority?
Lu: I would say hit the gym first. That’s actually literally what I do first. Usually I get up reasonably early and try to hit the gym.
But seriously, I’m very much looking forward to hit the ground running. I will try to meet with lots of people, teams, individuals, and work very closely with my directs, my staff and their direct staff to try to get up to speed as fast as I can. I want to make sure the whole organization is very clear on what we are trying to hit, and is energized about our mission and our goals. We have a clear path from where we are today, to where we need to be, and to reach that next level we need to keep executing and building winning products.