“To be a leader means to be authentic and dedicated to learning ” Milan Gospić on his beginnings and national IT potential

He has worked in international companies and led global teams for over a decade, and today, he is at the forefront of one of the largest businesses in the world. Milan Gospić, director of Microsoft Serbia, is in charge of the company’s strategic development and close cooperation with national clients and partners. He also strongly supports digital transformation as one of the top corporate priorities in the local market. Milan Gospić walked us through his beginnings at Microsoft and gave us an insight into what’s it like to be at the top of one of the largest companies in the world, how to get a job there, what it means to be a leader, and the potential of IT market here.

When did you start working at Microsoft? Tell us something about your career path.

I came to Microsoft at the beginning of 2021. This is a company with an incredible corporate culture that nurtures diversity and inclusion; therefore, the very start in the company was quite natural as the next step in my career path and a part of my continuous learning. Working here brings both many challenges and great satisfaction. Managing a team of dedicated professionals in the largest company in the world, I strongly believe in its vision to enable all people and organizations to achieve more. To add, I have a twenty-year career in ICT and more than ten years of work in management positions worldwide – from sales to operations, direct relationship with clients or internal corporate affairs, leading teams, or as a professional associate, but always with the focus on users or customers.

Many would agree that Microsoft is not just a company; it’s an institution. What’s it like to be at the forefront of one of the largest companies in the world?  

It’s my pleasure to be a part of the Microsoft team. The company has been present in Serbia for 20 years, which carries significant responsibility. Our goal is to bring experience, trends, and practices from other markets into our local community and the country and help grow digital development in Serbia. We support startup community through cooperation with our partners, as this represents a direct investment into the digitalization which strongly impacts the country’s overall development. To give you an example, national startups can apply for support via Microsoft for Startups Founders Hub, which brings together technology, expert leadership, and support to get to the next stage of development; we offer the possibility to build or improve your business and sell your solution through Microsoft channels and services for market entry with Azure credits amounting to 150,000 USD. Besides that, we support the digitalization of state administration, education, health system, and culture, and we have HoloLens as the mixed-reality product which has found its use in the latter two fields. We are incredibly proud when our technology is used in practice through the projects initiated by our users, as is the case with the project run by the Gallery of Matica Srpska. From now on, the exhibitions will be guided with the help of the HoloLens 2 headset so that every visitor will have a new dimension of digitalized multi-media experience in art collections thanks to the mixed reality.

What was your vision when you came to the company, and have you achieved it?

I believe success lies in devotion, passion with which you perform your job, and the added value you create. This is where my purpose matches the company’s one. I can see Serbia on the right path to becoming an innovative center of the region. Microsoft is the critical support on that path – through the digitalization of trade, society, public services, people and talents, both technical and entrepreneurial. Serbia has been achieving significant improvement in digitalization and opening and support to innovations. The good news is that Serbia has excellent results in terms of talents, has an above-average score in export of IT services, and the number of women employed in the IT industry. All these findings come from the Digital Futures Index, our research that shows the digitalization level of 16 European countries, including Serbia. To be successful in the local market, that market needs to be mature enough to accept new technologies and innovative trends. This implies knowledge and skills to be acquired by the people to use those new technologies. Within our Global Initiative for the free acquisition of digital knowledge on LinkedIn Learning, Microsoft Learn, and GitHub Learning Lab platforms, more than 60,000 people from Serbia used this opportunity, placing Serbia at the very top of the Central and Eastern European region.

How much have you changed Microsoft, and how much has it changed you?

To be a leader means to be authentic and ready to be dedicated to learning throughout all your working life; it means you need to be at disposal and at service to your team. I am sure that successful leaders inspire their teams in the right way through their own personal qualities, expertise, and integrity, and that means you need to invest in new knowledge to follow trends. My example speaks for itself because I have learned a lot in a very short time. Actually, Microsoft has so much to offer that you learn something new every day, especially technically speaking, because the corporate portfolio is wholesome and abundant, but also in the sense of managing systems such as Microsoft. Since I have a B2B background, I find that focusing on clients is extremely important, and I insist on that.

What did you have to adapt to in accordance with the position you hold?

My coming into the company coincided with the already familiar situation all the world has encountered, business arena included, so this type of adaptation to the new circumstances and hybrid work were the greatest challenge. The nature of this position implies frequent contact with a large number of people. When you meet your associates “online” with whom you are to create further or follow the existing corporate visions, that is not an advantage but rather a more challenging task in a hybrid environment, nonetheless achievable with mutual respect and open two-way communication. Today, hybrid work is commonplace for many; leaders nowadays have to reevaluate work models, corporate culture, and its values, as this is the key to creating attractive and quality teams.

Data show that interest in the IT industry in the last several years has been on the rise, and it seems that the current crisis does not interfere with this trend. Do you agree? How many people are employed in Microsoft Serbia – both from Serbia and abroad?   

IT industry is the critical element and a prerequisite for digital transformation; thus, it directly impacts the economy, sustainability, and efficiency. The demand for experts is great, bearing in mind this is a quick-growing industry that evolves constantly. According to some estimates, the number of IT employees in our country could triple in the next three years. Microsoft Development Center Serbia hires new staff all the time, and the positions are often open within our sales teams. The total number of new people we hired only in the last year is over a hundred. We employ the best talents from the country and the region and thus close the circle from talent development to the country’s digitalization. For example, Microsoft Development Center Serbia was comprised of only several people in the beginning; now, there are more than 600 employees. We also work on hiring people from abroad actively and constantly, as we value the exchange of experience, new knowledge, and perceptions. At the moment, there are more than 60 people from a dozen foreign countries. We continue to invest in our industry and the development of experts.

What makes the experts apply for a job in your company: high salary, work environment? What attracts foreigners to be ready to relocate to work in Microsoft?   

Microsoft sets trends in the digital world thanks to the innovativeness of its employees. There is plenty of room for ideas as well as place for learning and professional and personal development, but the business environment is the key to making ideas become innovations. That attracts many young people who have the opportunity to improve their knowledge with us and also to learn how a multi-national business operates. The work in a multi-cultural and multi-national environment enables knowledge to grow and teams to improve. Besides that, approach to diversity and inclusion in Microsoft is much valued; here, everyone can be their true, authentic selves. Due to the application and usage of digital tools in everyday work, such as Microsoft Viva or Teams, we successfully balance work and free time and have the necessary flexibility in performing tasks. The combination of corporate culture and digital tools is essential in this segment. In Microsoft, no one feels like a foreigner, and physical location most often does not count at all because the corporate culture is the same everywhere, and I am positive that our hospitality is a plus. Also, the ICT industry in Serbia is evolving rapidly, so the local market has become competitive with other markets, attracting people from different countries and our people wanting to return from abroad to contribute to the country’s general development.

Which characteristics do you value more: who is the person applying for the job, that is, the experience they have, or what they might become?  

Being open to new things, people, and ideas, curiosity, growth, and development orientation are just some of the critical values. Formal education and employee experience are not essential factors in the hiring process. It is also crucial that an individual’s personal values coincide with the values of the company, which is socially responsible and whose priority is that your work actually contributes to society.

What are the most wanted positions in your company?  

Our Development Center most often hires software engineers of different profiles. However, there are also positions for product managers, data scientists, product designers, and site reliability engineers. By joining our team in Serbia, you will be developing some of the top and most innovative Microsoft products. You will be the link between abstract concepts and solutions, and you will become someone who understands the user, solves problems, and develops applications that make a difference. On the other hand, Microsoft Serbia also hires marketing and sales people for regional positions, so you can get a job in Belgrade, but you can also cover other markets – your location is not important; your quality is.

What would you say to young talents dreaming of working in Microsoft one day?

As years go by, the skills we own will not have the same worth; their shelf-life is limited. For example, in five years, a person’s current skillset will value less than today. Today, knowledge is the end currency, and skills are the basic tool for career development, improvement, and achievement of wanted business results. The workforce with more qualifications contributes more to economic growth and competitiveness. Regardless of age and experience, we should continuously and constantly improve ourselves and learn.

Source: “BITI LIDER ZNAČI BITI AUTENTIČAN I POSVEĆEN UČENJU” Milan Gospić za “Blic Biznis” o svojim počecima i potencijalu domaćeg IT tržišta

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