C-suite career advice: Don Grantham, Microsoft

We ask industry leading C-suite professionals for their expert career advice...

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Don Grantham  

 Company: Microsoft

 Job Title: President, Central and Eastern Europe

 Location: Zurich


What was the most valuable piece of career advice that you received?
To abide by the values of authenticity and civility: always stay true to yourself, and treat others with respect. The first secures honesty and transparency, and the second ensures you listen with an open mind. These are essential to personal growth, promoting constructive dialogue, and being in a learning environment of continuous improvement.

What was the worst piece of business advice that you received?
That potential for growth is defined by one’s background (whether academic or origins-related). This erroneous preconception may unjustly prevent great talent from reaching their true potential. It is proven that individuals with a passion for what they do, determination to achieve goals, and persistence to consistently learn make a difference in organizations large and small. The makings of a great leader do not rely on origins or education. I focus on our people’s genuine desire and hunger for development, hard work and open-mindedness, as indicators for growth potential. This secures a fair chance for all and ultimately benefits the organization.

What advice would you give to someone starting their career in the tech industry?
To maintain an open, inquisitive mind and realize that, in this industry, now is the time! The sky is the limit for technology to empower the world; and for every individual in technology to enjoy hugely impactful careers.

The evolution of Information Technology has, and will continue to change the world. Information Technology has “democratized” opportunities and access for individuals from all walks of life, across the globe. Society, is hugely impacted and enabled by Information Technology – in every aspect of how we live. And the journey continues! The potential for doing great things and affecting people’s lives across the planet is very real, and I am very proud of our company’s commitment to empower every organization and individual to achieve more.

As the world changes and the impact of technological innovation continues to grow, it’s vital that technology companies are comprised of diverse workforces, attuned to the different needs and priorities of all of those who use technology. I am a passionate advocate of diversity; and am particularly proud of a number of local initiatives in the Central and Eastern Europe, where we encourage diversity in our workforce. Recent initiatives such as International Girls in ICT Day and the Hour of Code are examples of this focus, where we work to ensure diverse communities, women, and children have the opportunity to acquire digital skills and explore the benefits of a career in the technology industry.

What tips would you give to someone aiming for a c-level position?
To enjoy every step of the journey; not just the vision of reaching the top. Easy to say, often a challenge to do.

On the way to our end-goal, we meet with challenges and obstacles: these are not limiting factors. They are our best “teachers”, the most valuable opportunities to learn and hone our strength and endurance. It’s all about keeping a growth mindset: remaining authentic and, at the same time, open minded and understanding of the others’ approach, especially if it differs from our own and pushes us to re-evaluate our practices. In his poem  “The Station”, Robert J Hastings beautifully captures this insight of appreciating the gifts that come our way every single day, whether evident or disguised: “…stop pacing the aisles and counting the miles. […] Life must be lived as we go along.  The station will come soon enough”. What words could better convey the importance of the journey?

Are you particularly proud of any career advice that you’ve given or the career route/development of anyone you’ve mentored?
As a leader, the most important responsibility is to identify, recruit, develop, motivate and lead the highest quality team possible – to attain the highest level of performance possible. In simple terms - everything is about the people. Without the right players in your team, and your team behind you, you are nothing as a manager, or as a leader.