During his career in the technology industry, wireless pioneer John Stanton has led companies ranging from VoiceStream Wireless to Clearwire Corp. and worked as a top executive at McCaw Cellular, in addition to founding Trilogy Equity Partners, among many other roles. But Stanton has also taken on a new role in the past year-and-a-half — serving as a member of the Microsoft board of directors.
Stanton shared lessons and insights from all of those experiences during a talk at GeekWire Startup Day in Bellevue, Wash., today, talking on stage with PicMonkey CEO and GeekWire Chairman Jonathan Sposato, a former Microsoftie who described Stanton as a mentor.
One of the biggest changes at Microsoft, Stanton said, has been a dramatic shift in the culture under CEO Satya Nadella. The company is striking partnerships with former rivals, releasing apps for competing platforms, and making strategic acquisitions.
In addition, employees the company has been focusing on new growth areas, such as the cloud. Employees are encouraged to work on their own projects at hackathons and other venues, such as the Microsoft Garage incubation lab. And that appears to be leading to a trend of fewer Microsoft employees leaving the company to launch their own startups.
“We see far fewer Microsofties that are starting new businesses today (by leaving the company),” Stanton said on stage today, agreeing with Sposato’s assessment of the trend. “I think that’s a leading indicator. It’s a better place to work. It’s a fun place to work, and I think there are a lot of interesting, engaging things going on there that are a huge positive for the company.”
The topic came up when Sposato noted that there seem to be fewer Microsofties at the Startup Day event this year than in years past, despite the fact that the sold-out event is just down the road from the Redmond company this year.
“I think they’ve demonstrated you can incubate a business within a huge company,” Stanton said of Microsoft. “I think Google is doing a fantastic job with a lot of their innovations. I look at Amazon doing a lot of the same things even though they’re a generation younger. Those companies have to continue to reinvent themselves or they’ll die a slow death.”
The run-up in Microsoft’s share price over the past two years is also a boon for retention, as stock-based compensation becomes more valuable. The trend may be positive for Microsoft, but it’s a double-edged sword for the region, because the ebb and flow of people from the company has historically helped to fuel the region’s startup community.
Stanton noted that his comments about Nadella weren’t meant to cast a shadow on Microsoft’s previous CEOs, Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer, who led the company at very different points in its evolution. But overall, Stanton said, “there’s a tremendous amount of energy” inside the company now.