Microsoft Israel country general manager Shelly Landsman knew nothing about computers until she was 27 (she is now 47). "I was a major in the army, and I didn't even type emails or Word documents," she tells "Globes." "I got a document from my clerks with the letter I wanted to send, and I used a pen to mark what I wanted to change. I had no technological experience, and I was sure that I was going to develop my life in the army. That was my career."
Her career in the military was initially rather ordinary. She served as a non-commissioned officer and a trainer in officers' course, but then moved to the IDF public relations department working in liaison with other armies and transfers of information from one agency to another. She did well there, but when she had already attained the rank of major and fully intended to continue her military career ("I really liked the army"), Landsman received an offer that changed everything.
"It was in 1997, when I got an offer to do marketing for Microsoft. First I asked, 'What does the company do?'," she laughs. "They told me, 'You remember something called Word? That's what the company does.' I think that the reason why I chose the company was because of how promising it was then. Bill Gates said that he would bring the computer to every table in the world, and that gave me the feeling that they were going to be at the head of something big. The second reason was that as soon as I came to interviews at the company, I felt something special, that people believed in your potential, regardless of what you did before that. In retrospect, it fitted in with the company's vision, which was then defined as 'realizing potential'." The offer captivated Landsman, and she notified her commanders that she wanted early release. "In one day, I left the IDF, which had no technology, for the most technological company in the world, and I'm in the best company to this day."
It is exactly 20 years since Landsman intertwined her fate with the software giant, whose current market cap is $500 billion, and built an impressive career there. She moved from one position to another, learned about the company from every possible angle, even though she had no technological background. Six months ago, she was appointed to head the company's Israeli branch in the footsteps of two predecessors who spent many years in the job. "I'm very studious and curious; whatever field you tell me about, I'll go to learn something about it," she says. "I've always been like that. When I was in the army, I worked with different sections of the army, and I always knew the material in depth, so I immediately connected with what Microsoft was doing and its mission, and I ran."
Looking back, it could be said that Landsman went from service in the permanent army to civilian permanent service. She worked several years in the Microsoft Israel marketing department, switched to managing the marketing communications group, and then made a career change by moving to sales. "I went to manage security at Microsoft, and that was natural, because I was familiar with the customer's outlook and how he thinks, and I managed that aspect for many years," she says. "Then I managed a sales group that was responsible for finance, health, and industry."
In 2011, Landsman ("the same woman who never wrote a word of code in her life") was appointed VP services. She led several of the largest projects in Israel, managing 240 people - all technology specialists. After her first VP position in the company, Landsman was appointed VP public sector affairs. She says that she was especially attracted to this job, because she got to wear two hats: on the one hand, her success was measured by normal business criteria - the penetration rate of Microsoft's products in companies and public sector offices. On the other hand, she sensed that her position had a national dimension: "The person in this position is responsible for how the Ministry of Education promotes technology among children. It is responsible for narrowing digital gaps with the Ministry of Economy and Industry. This endeavor makes you feel that you're really having an impact."
She also filled other positions, such as VP marketing and VP technologies - a position that made her responsible for connections with startups with which Microsoft was working. In July 2015, she was appointed general manager of Microsoft's local branch, with responsibility for 1,600 employees. "I planned for myself in advance where I wanted to be," she says. "When they knew that they wanted to replace the general manager for whatever reason, and here it happened because Danny (Dan Yamin, who was general manager of Microsoft Israel for 11 years), they started interviewing me for the job.
"This decision wasn't made in Israel; it went up to (Microsoft Corporation CEO) Satya Nadella, and the process took three months, before they told me that I had the job. It made me stressed, because I think it's easier to be interviewed by somebody who doesn't know you, and here it was by people who had worked with you for years. The degree to which you can prepare for an interview is very limited, because everybody knows you. They can ask you about the numbers you did, the results you achieved, what you accomplished, and how you look in public, and I didn't have much room to maneuver. They know everything about you. This is an organization that knows you, and you can't fool them about what you've done up until now.
"And there's another very important thing. There are 192 more like Microsoft Israel in the world, so there's a basis for comparison. You can tell how much what you did is different or unusual in comparison with the others."
No longer the monster from Redmond
Landsman took command of Microsoft's local branch at a very different period than the one in which her predecessors, Dan Yamin and Aryeh Skop, served. Younger readers may not remember it, but in the early years of the 21st century, the mention of Microsoft's name aroused emotions among people. Today, it arouses mostly indifference.
The fact that Microsoft's operating system was installed on almost every computer made it a permanent tenant in millions of homes around the world, and it was known for causing problems. Windows 95, 98, XP, ME, and Vista started by crashing, went on to fail to connect, redefined the ability to not find peripherals, and caused people great frustration. As if that weren't enough, Microsoft was known for its bare knuckles business style. The company used its power to trample competitors, ignored antitrust laws, and absolutely opposed the open code ideology that symbolized everything non-Microsoft at the time.
That, however, was a long time ago. Over the past two decades, Microsoft has missed out on every new technological trend. It failed to detect the rise of the Internet in time, was trounced by Google in the search engine battle, was caught unawares by the emergence of online retailing led by Amazon.com, was left far behind by the stunning growth of Apple Computers, which redefined the mobile sector, and stared open-mouthed at Facebook, which brought the world into the social media era.
For Microsoft, the positive side of what happened was that mass hatred was focused on Google founders Page and Brin, Apple CEOs Jobs and Cook, and then Zuckerberg. Once regarded as the great demon and subjected to a public attack with cream pies, Bill Gates over the years became a beloved grandfather and warmhearted philanthropist. The negative side of all these changes is that the public has simply lost interest in Microsoft. Since its operating system no longer crashes as it once did, few people are angry at the company. On the other hand, few people will tell you that the company's products are exciting.
According to Microsoft, the company is concentrating on cloud computing – the unlimited storage center made of digital mist that enables us to do whatever we want to on the Internet, without anyone being sufficiently bored to take an interest in what really makes it work. Microsoft is still selling innumerable operating systems and office packages and Xbox consoles, but most of its business comes from an area the public regards as remote.
How did Microsoft employees feel during these years, in which they saw how other companies were creating new markets and controlling them? Were they frustrated? Did they feel that their star had faded? "It's always depressing when you're not number one," Landsman admits. "The question is what you do about it. The first thing is how to be relevant and create the next new thing, and you realize that you have to run fast. There's obviously frustration, but during my 20 years at Microsoft, I learned that even if we don't get to everything first, but only second, when we get on board the train, we're in the locomotive and leading everyone. When you don't come in first, and you realize that you have to get on the train, and want to be in the locomotive, what do you do? You run faster. It's when you're dominant that you get a feeling of comfort that slows your pulse rate."
"Globes": Is that what happened to Microsoft?
Landsman: "I think that what happened to it was that it sometimes chooses where to be, and doesn't always realize things soon enough, and then it compensates. But I take my hat off to the company - the correction was immediate and the best around, and I think that that Microsoft reached some of those places because it though there was another way. You're talking about social networks, and I tell you that Microsoft was active on social networks even before people knew what a social network was, but it chose to focus on enterprises. Our infrastructure manages an enterprise's entire social network; we're the leaders in that. You're right to say that there are also outside social networks, and it's a fact – we have outside social networks, and also LinkedIn, which we acquired, because we believe that it complements us well in this kind of content."
Are we no longer in a period in which Microsoft gets left behind?
"Absolutely not. We're the leader in all facets of cloud computing, whether it's productivity with Office 365, Skype, CRM, or Azure cloud computing."
The first in cloud computing in 2020?
Landsman may not admit it, but it looks as though she is aware of Microsoft's somewhat plodding image, and that its products have not created a buzz for many years. She knows that the company's products don't touch our daily lives as much as they once did, and says clearly that most of them are designed for the enterprise market. I assume that she is also knows that no one cares what the Azure cloud is, and that few know what cloud CRM is, but it does not really matter. In contrast to the past, today's Microsoft is no longer trying to be cool, and that is not necessarily bad. "Microsoft's business base is cloud services, and we're spending all our time, effort, and development on this," she says.
In order to emphasize the point, Landsman points to the sign on the wall of her office. It commits Microsoft to being "the first in the cloud in 2020," with employees' signatures below it. "It's a very competitive world, and a declaration of the mission is needed to define where we want to be," she explains.
"Microsoft Corporation underwent a very big change when Satya (Nadella) came in," Landsman says in saying where the company is headed. "It began to lead several major trends with a very big impact on our entire ecosystem. The first is the focus on the cloud, the second is that Microsoft was once a company that developed in its own development environment, using our servers, and analyzing the information - all of it with Microsoft's technology. You can do it today, too, but Satya brought us the realization that it doesn't have to be that way. Before, if there was open code, it had no interface with Microsoft. They were two parallel worlds."
And they were in a fight to the death.
"You could say that. It was like a religion. When you choose a religion, you follow it to the end. It's no longer a religion now, and that means that you can include it. Satya said, 'There are very exciting worlds outside, and if we're not a part of them, we'll lose much more,' so a lot more open code than Windows is running on our cloud now. Our ability to work with databases that aren't only ours is the change."
"Many visits by senior executives"
"If we're mapping Microsoft's assets in Israel, cyberspace is obvious. The Internet of Things (IoT) is very significant, and you see this in mobile, cities, cars, advertising technologies, and analytics. We're also strong in health. Our software is in advanced medical devices, and we're also investing money in companies here," Landsman points out.
When I ask her what she brings with her to the job, and how she wants to change things, she says that a change in approach from above made Microsoft open up to startups. "All of a sudden," Landsman says, "we have more to talk about than we did before. As they innovate, they can't just choose one religion. They need the advantage of being in every kind of content, so what we offer now is the most impressive, because we're able to be there for them on the technology side, while on the business side, we help them get where they want to be.
"I'm very interested in helping startups and bringing them value. On the average, we meet 20 startups a week, and as a result of this, I think that we've changed the composition of our employees. We have a lot more technology workers and many more young workers, so that they can make us learn and be relevant to the developing market."
Another emphasis that Landsman brings with her to the job is promoting women. "It's important for Microsoft to have equal representation of men and women," she says, citing numbers: "In my management now, 74% are women. That's my deliberate intent. Diversity is important in an enterprise, so that its thinking won't be dyed-in-the-wool. In order to do this, you need young and older people, men and women, religious and non-religious. You need it to create an enterprise culture that generates different thinking."
For herself, she says that she never felt a stranger in high tech because she was a woman in a very masculine sector, and because she became a senior executive in a technology company without being a technology expert herself. "I always felt good, even though I used to enter meetings and see that I was the only woman in the room. It never made me feel uncomfortable. In technology, I don't know how many people think I'm not a software engineer, because I ask very deep questions and give very technologically profound solutions," she concludes with a smile.
Published by Globes [online], Israel Business News - www.globes-online.com - on March 13, 2017
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