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Box CEO Aaron Levie
Box CEO Aaron Levie

Box CEO Aaron Levie has a unique perspective on Microsoft, growing up just down the road from the company in Mercer Island, Wash., before competing with Microsoft as the co-founder of the enterprise cloud storage company. But even he has been struck by the degree of change at Microsoft under CEO Satya Nadella.

“I don’t know how to overstate how much the culture has changed,” Levie said in a recent interview with GeekWire. It’s immeasurably different in terms of that permission from the top down to go outside of Redmond and go outside of Microsoft to drive value and drive innovation for customers.”

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella speaks at the company's annual shareholder meeting. (GeekWire File Photo)
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella speaks at the company’s annual shareholder meeting. (GeekWire File Photo)

In another sign of the change, Microsoft yesterday announced plans to release a version of SQL Server database management program for the open-source Linux operating system — something that would have been almost unthinkable several years ago.

Box has witnessed the change at Microsoft first-hand, partnering with Microsoft to integrate its cloud storage solutions with Office, Outlook.com and other Microsoft products. He says it’s an example of how enterprise technology companies need to open themselves up to work with partners and competing platforms.

Here’s part what Levie had to say about the Redmond company’s evolution.

Really in the 90s and the 2000s, Microsoft was really a competition-first kind of company. Almost partner-never unless you’re an OEM type of organization. Today, they have moved to being a partner-first company and competition second. That’s a pretty fundamental change when you think about it from a leadership standpoint. That means that individual teams at Microsoft — whether it’s the Office team or the Windows team or the Azure team or the security group — they have permission to go partner with anyone and everyone from a company standpoint that’s going to drive value for their product line. Even if that means partnering with a solution that’s going to be competitive to a different product line at Microsoft. That’s a tremendous amount of change.

Previously, the Office team would have to think about the implications of working with Android and working with iPhone if they were trying to make Surface successful. The Windows team would have to think about the implications of working with, let’s say, Evernote, because of the Office implications. When you open up the entire organization and say — “listen, we are going to build for customers first, which is going to inevitably mean that we have to partner with a tremendous amount of companies that we used to compete with” — that sends a ripple down the organization.

I think a great testament to the Microsoft culture is how quickly the organization adapted. There’s no harboring competitive vibes just because we were competitors for the first eight years of our existence. In general we are seeing tremendous amount of openness and sort of open arms around partnering with them. I think that’s a great testament to the Microsoft culture of how resilient it is and how adaptable it is to the times. Satya has just driven an amazing amount of change throughout the organization around that.

All of these positive feelings between Box and Microsoft lead to the natural question: When will Microsoft acquire Box? Levie laughed when we asked him.

“All I can say is we are incredibly excited about being a public company, being an independent company,” he said. “We think we are driving a lot of innovation in what we’re doing. … Yes I think we’re going to have consolidation at different times, at different periods in this industry, but I think this is going to be a landscape where you see way more partner-centric approaches.”

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