REDMOND, Wash. – March 3, 2009 – For Stephen Elop, president of the Microsoft Business Division, there’s one piece of technology he’d loathe giving up.
“It’s my Windows Mobile-powered phone,” he says, sitting at a table in his corner office in one of the Microsoft Redmond campus’s central buildings, low clouds obscuring what often is a spectacular view of the Cascade mountain range. “Sure, you can do e-mail at the desk, but I’m in meetings all the time and those 10 minutes walking from one building to another can really be productive time.”
Stephen Elop, president, Microsoft Business Division.
For Elop, it’s all about finding software tools that help make him, Microsoft employees, and Microsoft customers more productive and more in tune with their own customers. He oversees a division that takes in nearly US$19 billion a year through business groups such as the Information Worker and Microsoft Business Solutions, and products such as Microsoft SharePoint, Microsoft Unified Communications, Microsoft Office and Microsoft Dynamics.
Elop’s division also includes increasingly prominent online services. One of the biggest milestones in Elop’s tenure came on March 2, when Microsoft announced that its Business Productivity Online Suite – which gives businesses access to online versions of Microsoft Exchange, Microsoft SharePoint, Office Communications and other services – would be available for trial in 19 countries. The Microsoft Business Division helped drive that service expansion, along with the company’s Server and Tools Division.
Elop joined Microsoft Jan. 2008, after a career that saw him in roles such as chief operating officer for Juniper Networks and president of worldwide field operations for Adobe Systems Inc. Under his leadership the Business Division is working to expand Software-plus-Services offerings, create and develop new markets for its products, and extend the business value advantage provided to customers using Microsoft Business products.
“Stephen has really shown he understands our business and what customers want,” says Steve Ballmer, Microsoft’s CEO. “He has been a great addition to our team and we really are looking to him to lead us into a new era of business innovation.”
Elop is increasing his profile outside Microsoft as well. On Feb. 27, for instance, he gave the keynote address at the Wharton Business Technology Conference, where he outlined his vision for the future of business technology.
Elop is an energetic 45-year old who favors rimless glasses, close-cropped hair and a bit more formal air than most at Microsoft (while at Macromedia he was reportedly known as “The Commander” for his buttoned-down look amidst the more casual engineers). Along with his energy, he brings a wealth of experience working with business customers to give them the software tools to make them more effective.
Microsoft has given him an especially big platform to achieve that goal. His division’s products include SharePoint, that helps people collaborate more productively; Microsoft Dynamics to put businesses in closer touch with their customers; Microsoft Unified Communications to knit widespread work groups together while reducing the need for costly travel, and much more. “I was just at our EPG (Enterprise and Partner Group) meeting, and saw example after example of how we’ve helped customers save money – in the case of a large customer $100 million in savings,” says Elop. “And it’s not just a case of turning the computers off for three hours a day. Something like Unified Communications lets a business do something they couldn’t do before and it saves them money. That’s a home run.”
During his first-year plus at Microsoft, Elop has gained several insights into his new employer, a company against which he competed fiercely during his years at Macromedia, Adobe, and Juniper. He continues to be impressed by the sheer scope of Microsoft’s business portfolio. “Unified Communications does multiple billions of dollars in business,” he says, gesturing for emphasis. Anywhere else on the planet it would be an entire company, and here it’s just one part of the division.
The intensity of the company’s focus also has made an impression. “I just went through our mid-year review, where we look at every aspect of the company. It’s intense – and humbling,” he says.
Beyond that, he sees Microsoft’s huge reach within the technology industry as what really gives it strength. “We have people thinking about everything from gaming platforms through business productivity to operating system platforms to new business models like search,” Elop says. “When you have that breadth of surface area, there is so much opportunity to deliver something to your customers that’s better than what anyone else could deliver.”
That said, he also sees Microsoft as a place where the employees still share a strong sense of community even as it has grown. The Business Division, for instance, recently mourned the death of a young colleague. “The outpouring of support from the team for that employee’s family was incredibly impressive – it really let me see how this company can respond to things,” he says.
Elop sees his own role at Microsoft as bringing an “outsider” perspective. “I wasn’t ‘born and raised’ at Microsoft,” he says. “So
Steve (Ballmer) is always intensely interested in how I would have dealt with something when I was at a different company, or how I would have thought about such and such.”
Elop also sees his role as helping Microsoft through a period of great change, both within the current economic turmoil and as the company shifts much of its effort to Software-plus-Services. And he’s working to build more links between different Microsoft business groups to encourage greater collaboration. That’s important as the company works to get through the difficult economy and invest where it needs to. “Microsoft hasn’t always had to make tough choices,” he says. “But now we do.”
Elop says another challenge is simply making the case to customers about the value of investment in technology. “I am constantly surprised by how little we are able to get into our customers’ minds about what we’re capable of helping them do,” he says. “I’ll say, ‘Hey, let me show you unified communications.’ They’ve heard about it, they’ve read something, but it’s amazing how there’s so much more that they can learn.”
Elop is working hard to help Microsoft customers see the power in today’s software, as well as show them what is around the corner. In his Wharton Business Technology Conference keynote, he outlined a vision for business software that connects people regardless of their location and puts at their disposal the information they need to make decisions, be more productive and perform work on their own terms.
A short video that accompanied his speech offered a glimpse of that world – where a business person found a coworker at a crowded airport through GPS and mobile phone technology; an architect developed plans for a “green” building while working at his home, with all the information he needs at his fingertips; and students in to countries work on a joint project without worrying about differences in location or language.
That vision speaks to three things, Elop told the Wharton audience. First, it showed how content information can be created in simple but compelling ways, even across cultural and skill barriers. Secondly, that information will be relayed seamlessly and securely. And lastly, the information people need will be delivered to them within context, with computers that understand what a person needs to complete a task.
To accomplish that, they’ll use tools such as wall-size transparent touch screens that allow easier collaboration; software that integrates a wide range of information in easy-to-use formats; and natural user interfaces that make working with computers easier and more productive.
And this isn’t science fiction, Elop insists. “All of this is within reach,” he says. “This all is stuff that people at Microsoft are working on right now,” he says. “In some cases it isn’t quite as slim or as sexy (as in the video). But it’s real.”