Microsoft Business Development EVP Peggy Johnson speaks at the Foster School

Microsoft EVP Peggy Johnson with Foster students
Since joining Microsoft as EVP of Business Development in September 2014, Peggy Johnson has been busy engaging entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, and other key industry partners on a host of innovative business deals and technologies. Recently, she sat down with Foster Management Professor Suresh Kotha for a lunchtime discussion on all things biz dev and tech. Read highlights below:

What are you looking for during acquisitions?
When considering whether to buy a company, Johnson always first asks, “Is this company solving a problem?” She points to her company’s recent acquisition of MileIQ as an example of problem-solving technology, streamlining the oft-tortuous expense reporting process. Much like the popular dating app Tinder, Johnson jokes, MileIQ (which will likely be integrated into Office 365 at some point in the future) lets users swipe right for personal mileage and left for business. Another required characteristic of a company is nimbleness. “Many times,” notes Johnson, “you find value outside the original reason you buy [the company].”

What do you look for in a Microsoft new hire?
Quoting Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, Johnson says that it is “More important to be a learner than the smartest person in the room.” If you are interested in Microsoft or business development, says Johnson, “be open to wearing different hats. Move around the company and find out where you want to plug in.”

What are some development priorities for Microsoft?
Johnson lists the following technologies as Microsoft priorities:

  • The Cloud—Johnson maintains cybersecurity is particularly vital to business operating in the cloud, noting how hard industries are working to prevent attacks and data breaches.
  • Cortana—Natural language processing is a new frontier for many tech companies. “Conversation…is the next app paradigm,” says Johnson. “We’re just scratching the surface.”
  • Augmented Reality via HoloLens—Due to the necessity of processing of both physical and virtual information simultaneously, Johnson argues that creating augmented reality is “harder than virtual reality.” However, the uses will be endless. Johnson shared a few examples including Boeing engineers collaborating while thousands of miles apart and medical students using AR (in the place of cadavers) to learn about the human body.

Can you talk about the importance of diversity in the tech space?
Johnson answered the question by first reflecting on the beginnings of her career as an electrical engineer. “I was often the only woman in the room,” she says. And as an already quiet person, it was hard to be heard among her male peers. She felt pressured to accept that either that was “just the way it is” or become a different person. Now Johnson maintains, “[I know that] it’s okay to be quiet. I don’t have to change. You don’t have to be a certain way.”  Respecting difference is also good for the bottom line. “The more diverse our staff is,” Johnson says, “the better our products.”