An EVP at Microsoft gives his take on the technologies that will shape the world

  • We recently caught up with Microsoft Executive VP, Jean Philipe Courtouis, at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
  • Courtois said the biggest challenge for Microsoft as a company beyond delivering shareholder return is inspiring entities like startups and schools to do great things and enable them to become digital organisations.
  • “You combine AI and cloud, you can do some amazing things not just for the business, for the economy, but for society as well,” Courtois said.

Business Insider’s Sara Silverstein recently spoke with Jean Phillipe Courtois, Executive VP at Microsoft, at the Davos World Economic Forum. The following is a lightly edited transcript of the interview.

Sara Silverstein:We’re here at the World Economic Forum outside the Microsoft Cafe. I’m thrilled to be here with Jean-Philippe Courtois, the Executive Vice President and president of global sales, marketing and operations for Microsoft.

Jean-Philippe Courtois:Thank you for having me.

Silverstein:So you have a very, very principle driven role at Microsoft, and you’re very focused on changing the world, and Microsoft is very well known for that. Can you talk to me a little bit about some of the issues that big companies face as far as having one of these missions to serve a lot of people, not just shareholders, and what gets in the way of that sometimes?

Courtois:You know, I think what’s exciting and impactful is when you start with a strong sense of purpose as a company, which is the case of Microsoft. Years back, we redefined our 40-years-old mission into a new one. We picked a few words: empowering every person and every organisation on the planet to achieve more. That’s a big deal. And it can be applied in a broad way, but also specifically. I think in our case what we are trying to do is do good and great things, but also enabling all those people one by one. Every day, we have a chance to actually enable enterprise startups, academia, schools, and others to become digital organisations. That’s a big deal. So as an example in terms of water management, we will work with a large company, which is connecting with sensors, with AI and cloud technology to come to a position where we have a net-zero consumption of water. At a time where there would be actually an excess of demand versus supply of water, it’s a big deal.

Another example is the work we do with NGOs in the world. And it’s something I’m actually quite passionate about, and I’m meeting with many of them here. We’re enabling and powering 100,000 NGOs now, using a cloud services platform to do more. And you see some amazing things. Last night we met a global shaper from Vietnam, and she’s been building some medical device to prevent new babies’ deaths. And she’sbeen saving the lives of several thousand people, using some of the services and technology. And the third aspect of what we do is the way you can influence the right policies. So those are the three core tenets of the way I think we can make great impact as a company.

Silverstein:And when you look at some of the technologies that will shape the world in the future – like AI, augmented reality, blockchain – what which one of those, do you think, will have the best, the greatest impact on humanity.

Courtois:Actually I think you have to combine a few. I mean the cloud scalability is just amazing. So if you are, as an example, an NGO, a social enterprise, if you really want to scale the world, the cloud is just amazing. If you add some AI, you do what we’ve been doing, as an example, with Andhra Pradesh in India, a pretty big state with fifty million people. And one of their big issues is actually kids are dropping from schools, which actually is the same issue in the US, in Europe. And what we did with some AI and machine learning, we could actually understand the root causes. And by doing that, we’ve been able to help the policymakers to apply the money in the right place. And they have been reducing drastically the number of kids dropping from school. So you combine AI and cloud you can do some amazing things not just for the business, for the economy, but for society as well.

Silverstein:And Microsoft is definitely not a nonprofit organisation. So how do you balance that purpose with what your responsibilities are to shareholders?

Courtois:You know, it starts with the mission, the purpose of what we do. And I think the passion of our people – 110,000 employees, which I love to meet everywhere in the world I go to. I travel to many places in the world and they are driven by the mission of the company. Their dream is not just in the business – they do their day-to-day job, but many of them participate in a lot of community work as well, because the company is matching the money they give, to put some more on top, but they’re also actually applying their skills and expertise. To have some of those NGOs we were talking about do more. So I think people have to find a way to have a strong alignment between their values and what the company does every day.

Silverstein:And do you think that that helps with recruiting people to Microsoft?

Courtois: Oh big time, big time, because not only are people passionate about technology, but more importantly, they are passionate about what technology can do for people. So that those people can actually achieve more. And that’s what our people people get excited about every day.

Silverstein:A lot of people here are very excited about the blockchain. Can you tell me a way that the blockchain can be used for good?

Courtois:Yeah, you know, blockchain is really exciting technology because it’s actually providing both transparency, but also agility in a contractual relationship that any organisation should have. A great example of that is an initiative we just announced, we’ve been working on it for many months, actually in partnership with UNHCR and also Accenture, which is called ID 2020, where we’ve been using that technology with biometric technologies such as iris scanners, fingerprints, to actually restore the lost identity of refugees, which is a big deal. So it basically means we are able now to help up to 1 billion people on the planet, not just refugees, but woman, children, who don’t have the physical proof of evidence of who they are. And with that you can open the door to all kinds of healthcare, you know, educational services. So that’s a cool example of blockchain in action for society.

Silverstein:And you’ve been with Microsoft for thirty years. So is there anything from – that you’ve learned from Bill Gates as far as better capitalism or how to make the world a better place.

Courtois:Oh, yeah, I mean very early on working with Bill so many years back. He was so passionate about, you know, first start with the mission of the company. Putting a PC on every desk. It was all about democratizing information for people, which is empowering. And then of course the work he has done for the foundation, which has been amazing. So the passion, the determination to understand deeply the causes and the way you can apply technology and, of course, an ecosystem of partnerships to crack the code in a good way for society. Amazing learning lessons from Bill still today actually.

Silverstein:And finally I know you’re really passionate about social entrepreneurship. Do you have any advice for people that want to find success in a way that contributes positively to the world?

Courtois:I think what I would communicate to people – if you are really keen in helping the world, you could spend so much quality time in terms of coaching, learning, providing great energy to the social entrepreneurs. Social entrepreneurs are people who have amazing passion to do good. They just need some help. And I think we are privileged to have such an impact in our jobs, so sharing a little bit of time and energy, money as well, to get them going, that’s a great thing to do.

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