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Mary Olges, ’00, is managing director of strategic partnerships teams at Redmond, Washington-based Microsoft Corporation, where she leads a select team that gathers the diversity of expertise within the company to deepen long-standing relationships with Microsoft customers. In her 10 years at Microsoft, Olges has learned how to find an optimal balance between travel, work, and family life through her passion and drive.

At Microsoft, we empower every organization to achieve more. We provide a technology platform for customers to scale, innovate, and accelerate business outcomes. Our CEO, Satya Nadella, ’97, espouses a “learn it all” culture. Listening is key. For example: Land O’Lakes is a dairy consortium with 150 million acres in its network. One problem we had to address for them was internet access in rural areas. Now, with improved access, farmers in that consortium use Microsoft tools that cull data to mitigate plant stress, maximize yield, and lower the carbon footprint.

I think of myself as a storyteller. Data tells a story: I analyze the data and put it into a narrative. Sometimes there’s a vast array of data and insights. It’s my job to synthesize that information so we can use our technology and resources for customer transformation—to spur innovation, to accelerate outcomes. We tease out the data. We listen. We connect that data to KPIs. It’s a win-win partnership.

In my current role, I direct a small but growing team that works with engineering, marketing, and communications to bring unique opportunities to our largest and most complex partnerships, which go back decades. Microsoft is in most Fortune 500 companies. My job is to deepen and expand those partnerships.

We’ve always been officeless at Microsoft. Our work takes us everywhere, and we work from anywhere. So when the pandemic shut down offices in March 2020, customers looked to us to learn how to do it. We put our resources together to get our customers running at a much quicker pace. We created platforms for telehealth and virtual visits; we took their capabilities from zero to 100. That was the fun part: We shared best practices. We did a lot of training with customers. As a result, we see lasting change at organizations. They’re looking at future tech—modernizing, accelerating the end-to-end supply chain.

During the pandemic, we paused to check in with each other within Microsoft. We took a breath. We’d always been meeting via video conference. But now more than ever, people were joining from home. We saw dogs and kids. We got to see where people live. We got a little window into each other’s lives. There was a personal element you’d never get in a conference room. We’re all people. It brought us closer. It leveled the playing field in an unexpected way.

“I grew up with noise, chaos, fun, and competition. It shaped me. I’m a mediator. I bring people together.”

— Mary Olges

Mentoring, coaching, and sharing feedback are constants between myself and my own teenagers, my friends, and my colleagues. I learn and give back to people. I know that flexibility is key. I advise professional women to create support groups centered around a big theme, to think about the difference between mentorship and sponsorship. I tell them to ask. You must ask. Recently, I asked a close customer if I could be one of his mentees. You have to be willing to take that step and reach out.

There’s a warm place in my heart for Gleacher Center and Timothy O’Toole’s Pub around the corner, where we students would gather after class. I came to Booth after moving from marketing at an advertising agency to finance at IBM. I needed to build my analytical skills and get a solid business foundation. Like my dad, John Suehr, ’81 (XP-45), I worked during the day and took courses in the evening and on weekends. It was a fantastic experience! The first course I took was accounting, taught by Roman Weil [the V. Duane Rath Professor of Accounting Emeritus]. My father took the same course, taught by the same professor—a connection I love.

I didn’t get the degree and walk away. I have stayed engaged with my network and with Booth. Mike Rocco, ’00, now founder and CEO of 3Cloud, recruited me to Microsoft in 2012. Recently, I went back to Booth for Strategic Thinking through Turbulent Times, a four-week course. I mentor. In class and through mentorship, I learned as much from the class of 2020 as they did from me.

I’m Midwestern through and through. I’m the second of seven children. I grew up with noise, chaos, fun, and competition. It shaped me. I’m a mediator. I bring people together. I say, “Let’s figure this out.” By the age of 13, I had moved seven times, always in the Midwest. Being the new kid time after time taught me that first impressions matter, and gave me a confidence and comfort in new settings.

When I decide to do something, I’m all in. I often look back and wonder, how did I do it all? My husband, Scott Olges, ’00, and I got engaged and married while enrolled in the Weekend MBA Program together. Our son is diabetic, and I bring my passion and problem-solving to diabetes research as a member of the community leadership board for the American Diabetes Association. How do we bring technology to the table to solve for this disease?

I’m hardwired. It’s hard for me to sit and be still. Before the pandemic, I was on the road two times a week meeting with customers. I miss people, the face-to-face. I miss Microsoft headquarter visits and stopping in at the best Nordstrom in the country. I have a really good support system with my husband and four children, so I could be my best on the road and at home. Microsoft has a partnership with NFL Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll, whose philosophy asks us to be more mindful, to live in the everyday. I’m better at that when I travel and spend time with my family.

As Told to Anne Moore