In her first year as Microsoft’s executive VP of business development, Peggy Johnson has already made quite a splash.
It’s a big shift for Microsoft, which spent much of the last three decades making no bones of its desire to crush all competition between its boot.
But Johnson says that it’s her job to present Microsoft’s newer, friendlier face, even as she works to overcome the company’s popular perception as a monopolistic monster.
“It’s important for me to understand the history of the company, but I don’t want to get steeped in the past,” Johnson told Business Insider, in conversation on Wednesday at Ignition.
Johnson credits Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella and his vision for changing the game at Microsoft. Thanks to Nadella’s concept of “one Microsoft,” Johnson says, she can go out to would-be partners and offer them a whole set of potential benefits. And it’s working.
“That is something I hear more and more often, this is a great time to engage with Microsoft,” Johnson says.
It’s not that Microsoft doesn’t want to compete — quite the opposite, Johnson says. It’s just that her team looks for chances to partner with those competitors in places where it makes sense for mutual customers.
“We are now focusing on the collaborative side of these engagements,” Johnson says.
For instance, Johnson says, having Salesforce data in the Microsoft Office 365 cloud productivity suite is a big win for customers, she says. Similarly, a Microsoft/Uber partnership makes sense, since the ability to call a car to your next meeting can “bring a few extra minutes to our joint customers,” she says.
Of course, Johnson says, there’s always the possibility that Microsoft is going to compete with one of these partners. After all, Microsoft is a big company with a lot going on, and it’s almost inevitable. But being a good partner means that Microsoft can get the benefit of the doubt when it’s go time.
“If you hit times where you have to have a difficult conversation, it helps to come from a healthy base,” Johnson says.
That said, Microsoft has also been acquisition-happy in the last year, too, snapping up apps like Acompli, Sunrise, and Wunderlist as it looks to boost Microsoft Office with new features. It’s a matter of figuring out where it makes sense to partner, when to build its own solution, and when to just buy an app.
“Buying is a bigger undertaking, and building is another undertaking,” Johnson says. “There’s no set recipe.”
As for whether Microsoft is considering buying tech giants like Salesforce, which it was rumoured to have been in talks to buy, Johnson says “nothing is off the table.”