Hitting on what became something of a mini-theme at Techonomy NYC today, Microsoft President Brad Smith told the audience that “all of us in technology have to be a responsibility business, which is exciting, but how do we put that into action?”
Smith answered his own question in his discussion with Techonomy’s founder David Kirkpatrick by explaining that “it all comes down to trust, economic opportunity, and societal challenges — that’s how the tech world can address it.”
“What really matters is how you conduct business,” he said, “and are you willing to leave short-term dollars on the table for another goal that might have long-term effects.”
Smith has become a voice for responsible business and Microsoft has come a long way from its reputation in the ‘90s as the bully of the tech industry.
“We all make mistakes, and Microsoft has made its share,” Smith said, “but we’ve really learned from them, and they’ve left us stronger and more mature in the end. In the tech business, you either mature or you die. You have to be resilient, and, in the tech sector, there is no greater strength than humility.”
Smith advocated an approach to co-creation with its customers, rather than simply selling solutions.
“One thing we decided to do — based on what our customers told us they wanted — was to make it clear that we could not compete with them in their business. The patent and design rights to whatever we created together would be theirs, and we could license it, if that was what was called for. This was an effort to differentiate us from some cloud competitors as well as address our customers wants.”
Clearly something Smith is passionate about is the effects of jobs becoming more digitized and technical, which puts a premium on people with digital skills. Smith said: “There are four parts to this: gender, racial, economic, and geographic. The fact is, the odds are tilted towards white, male, affluent, and urban.
“What states, perhaps, can do to help close this divide is help ensure there is rural broadband, that there’s more public education around coding and computer science, and that the social contract — the one that was created during the first half of the 20th century — is revamped and based on the way people work today.”
We are “on the cusp of a new era of enhanced productivity,” concluded Smith. “And at Microsoft, we use our principles to make decisions. In the end, I am OK with being a loser, but not being a liar.”