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Leading Through Change and Thinking Big

May 06, 2013

When Vahé Torossian, ’10 (EXP-15), moved to Microsoft Corp. headquarters in 2010 after 18 years in the field, he immediately realized one of his first leadership objectives was to push for additional growth opportunities, especially when the numbers look good and people are doing well.

Torossian, corporate vice president, Worldwide Small and Midmarket Solutions and Partners at Microsoft, spoke at the inaugural Corporate Speaker Series event at Gleacher Center on April 2. “As a leader, you have to make bold bets, and help your teams embrace change.” he shared. Specifically, cloud computing was changing the software game, while development of on-premises products and services proceeded on established timetables, and for his group he saw growth opportunities for customers and partners to work with Microsoft on this transformation.

While serving in field leadership positions abroad across Europe and Asia, Torossian frequently encountered customers who required flexible, innovative, affordable and secure solutions that solve their increasingly complex problems. When he took a new role at Microsoft headquarters in Redmond, Washington, he said he immediately looked at opportunities with cloud computing, for example,  and set aspirational growth targets for his group, including a goal to double its already substantial revenue in just four years. Those goals are now in sight.

Torossian’s presentation, “Leadership through Change in the Tech Industry” attracted an audience of more than 100 students, alumni, and guests. The new series organized by Corporate Relations will bring leaders of innovative companies to Booth. Events will be held quarterly at Gleacher.

Torossian’s group serves small to midmarket customers, up to 5,000 employees, and supports a global network of 640,000 partners.

In an era driven by the “change or die” mantra, even Microsoft is seeking ways to reinvent itself and its products and services, trying to supply answers to questions customers have yet to ask, Torossian said. With its business software so ubiquitous in most industries, Microsoft now is trying to attract customers with new cloud services such as Office 365. “Our cloud services offerings are enabling us to reach out a broader set of new customers and give to small and midmarket businesses the most advanced technology that only large enterprises could access in the past,” he said.

“We are pushing ourselves to go outside of our comfort zone,” Torossian said, and that includes “transforming how we sell and provide services and the way we engage with customers, not just developing new products.”

Torossian said another key leadership principle is to have big aspirations. “As a leader, it’s critical to think big and dream. It is always amazing to see how your people will help you land a bold aspiration. If you only think small, there’s no way you can expand your business, somehow you get what you expect,” he said. It is also important to keep the organization informed of management strategy, he said, adding that it is crucial for leaders to quickly set expectations “and always explain ‘the why’, the rationale behind the strategy.”

During a question-and-answer session that followed his talk, Torossian was asked whether Microsoft is trying to be too many things to too many customers. Audience members questioned the value of Microsoft’s $8.5 billion acquisition of Skype in 2011 and its devotion of major resources to Bing, its search engine, in a bid to gain share from Google.

Microsoft sees a future in which the products and services used by consumers and businesses will have more in common, Torossian said. Skype has growth potential as an integrated communication tool for both. Microsoft now offers a Skype app for Windows 8 as well as other platforms, for example.

Torossian said Microsoft faced similar long odds with other competitors in the past, for example: the launch of its Xbox game system. Critics had said it was too late to compete against the established players—Sony’s PlayStation and Nintendo. “Over a decade later, we are now the leader with Xbox”. Bing already is integrated with Facebook, Windows 8, and Xbox, and Microsoft plans to make Bing available in other platforms and applications to expand its capabilities beyond search.  “If we crack the code there, we will suddenly have billions of people using our search (feature),” Torossian said.—Rick Popely