As the general manager for Microsoft’s global real estate and facilities, Michael Ford is responsible for a worldwide portfolio comprised of 38 million square feet and over 800 locations across 110 countries.
Across that massive footprint, Ford directs real estate activities that include planning (portfolio, country, site), acquisitions and dispositions, transaction management, design/construction, and facility and services operations. And along the way his teams are encouraged to use Microsoft technology to innovate solutions that increase operational efficiencies, improve the employee workplace experience and further reduce the company’s environmental impact.
“The biggest challenges in planning and designing the flexible workplaces of today is in providing inspiring work environments that reflect the Microsoft experience, enable employee productivity and create a sense of community,” said Ford, who is GeekWire’s latest Geek of the Week. “As we look at the future of work, our campus update must anticipate the different ways teams will need to work together in the future while providing the flexibility and agility we require.”
A glimpse of that future came last fall, when Microsoft revealed plans to dramatically redevelop its home campus in Redmond, Wash.
“The workplace experience is one of the key elements in attracting and retaining talent,” Ford said. “Our updated campus design reflects our focus on employee health and wellness in a sustainable, connected and accessible environment, features that are important to employees today and into the future.”
Ford first joined Microsoft in 2005 as the director of Shared Services and has since worked in various capacities at the company including senior director of Microsoft’s Internal Audit Group and as the senior controller for Microsoft’s Cloud & Enterprise business.
Prior to Microsoft, he accrued 13 years of business and financial management experience and served as an officer in the U.S. Marine Corps. Ford holds a bachelor’s degree in finance from Alabama A&M University, and a MBA with a concentration in Accounting and International Business. In his spare time, Michael enjoys coaching youth sports, cycling, photography, videography, traveling, and spending time with his wife and three children.
Learn more about this week’s Geek of the Week, Michael Ford:
What do you do, and why do you do it? “As the general manager of Global Real Estate and Facilities at Microsoft, I’m focused on enabling every person and every organization at Microsoft to achieve more through the delivery of workplace environments that foster collaboration, inspiration, productivity, creativity and a growth mindset.
“I’m passionate about this area because at its core, my group is responsible for the employee, partner and customer experience at Microsoft’s global locations. Every day I can see the impact our team is making across our many campuses and office locations. Blending technology and corporate real estate together makes sense and at Microsoft we have the opportunity to experiment, pilot, test and learn. Our senior leadership team has empowered my organization to be the change that ignites the corporate real estate industry and we do this through our internal engineering teams and our strategic partners.”
What’s the single most important thing people should know about your field? “We are helping to transform the corporate real estate industry through Microsoft’s products and services. Incorporating technology in everything we do (artificial Intelligence, machine learning, augmented reality, virtual reality, IoT devices and much more). The digital transformation is changing the way we work and deliver corporate real estate and facilities solutions. We are no longer building and implementing solutions we think our businesses need; instead we are using data to drive our workplace and real estate decisions. We have become a data driven culture.”
What’s the one piece of technology you couldn’t live without, and why? “Technology today helps people in many ways. From transportation to communication to entertainment and more. The cloud is one of the biggest things in technology today. Without cloud computing, my life would be very different. I am able to work anywhere and anytime from any device.”
What’s your workspace like, and why does it work for you? “I work in a team based space environment equipped with conference rooms, focus rooms, phone rooms, community space and with all the technology necessary to be collaborative and productive. The technology includes: a digital wayfinding board, Surface hubs and mobile access to control the indoor climate. In an intelligent cloud and digital edge world, this is the only way to work. Embrace technology or get left behind.”
Your best tip or trick for managing everyday work and life. (Help us out, we need it.) “In my humble opinion, have a plan. That plan may go sideways but you can always course correct to get back on track, at least start with a framework. It is the old adage, ‘Fail to plan, plan to fail.’ Also, the use of productivity tools like OneNote, OneDrive, Microsoft Teams and apps such as Wunderlist will help to keep you organized and measure how you are tracking against your priorities or commitments. Another favorite of mine is ‘What gets measured, gets done.'”
Mac, Windows or Linux? “Windows! It’s in commercial buildings, industrial facilities, as well as home and work computers, it is also very mature and a complete a piece of software. Almost every application, driver or game will work on Windows. With Windows having so many users, you can always find someone (either online or offline) who can help. The platform has a huge quantity of functions. When you get to know Windows well, you’ll find out that there are so many functions that you can do almost anything quite easily and the security features continue to be industry leading.
Kirk, Picard, or Janeway? “I would say Kirk. All the rest had decades more of other people’s experience to build on. Some say Kirk is too emotional, but he is still a legend to me. We get to see Kirk at least twice in scenarios that are quasi-realistic tactical situations; we aren’t just told how great he is, we are actually shown it.”
Transporter, Time Machine or Cloak of Invisibility? “Time Machine. I would love to go back in time and have a conversation with my ancestors. This will give me insights into the lives they led and the wisdom they had to survive through a world without technology and as much occupational and leisure opportunities as we have today. There are best practices there that I would love to learn.”
If someone gave me $1 million to launch a startup, I would … “reinvent the college educational system. Technology and data are reshaping every aspect of our jobs, at an exponential rate. Yet our higher education system still clings to a format created hundreds of years ago: a teacher, in front of a classroom full of students, giving a lecture. We are stuck in neutral and this must change if we are to be ready for the next generation of innovations and cultural advances.”
I once waited in line for … “I wouldn’t typically wait in line for more than 30 minutes for anything but I did at Disney World for my kids several times. Disney is very adept in building lasting experiences, well worth the wait.”
Your role models (And why?): “This is easy: my parents, Mack and Ruby Ford. Our family motto or equation: Faith + Family + Education + Hard work = A good life. This has been the formula for my success, from New Market, Ala., to Redmond, Wash.
“My dad started as a drywall apprentice in the 1950’s to owning and running his own company for years, Mack Ford Construction. And he is still going at 80 years old. Building small commercial and residential homes in Alabama and Tennessee. My mom is still his business manager. Mom also retired from the State of Alabama as a senior accountant. My parents have been a testament to the American Dream. Although my parents started a business in the deep South in the middle of the Civil Rights movement which was difficult, they kept the faith though many hard times. This has always been an inspiration and a driving force to me personally.
“I started in the family business at a very young age, learning the end to end construction process (surveying, foundation, carpentry, concrete, brick & block laying, roofing, and much more). My parents instilled in me the value of honesty, commitment, finishing what you start, perseverance and the importance of relationships — both personal and professional. When I’m back home in Alabama and people approach me and say, ‘You’re Mack and Ruby’s boy, right?” I smile because I’m so proud of my parents. They always wanted a better life for me and my sister.
“With the strong support of my parents after high school I attended Alabama A&M University (finance major) close to home so that I could continue working in the family business, but my parents made it very clear completing my degree was the priority. After my freshman year I joined the U.S. Marine Corps Reserves to help pay for my education and upon graduation I was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant. I later earned an MBA degree.
“Without the foundation laid by my parents, I wouldn’t be where I am today. Other roles models include my uncles and aunts, my high school football coach and other co-workers throughout the years. It takes a village!
Greatest game in history: “I could answer this question many ways.The greatest board game in my opinion is “Monopoly” or the greatest video arcade game is “Pac-Man.” Or when I think of sports, the 1980 Olympics, USA vs. Soviet Union, dubbed the “Miracle on Ice” comes to mind — the game everyone said the U.S. could not win. More recently, I would say Alabama vs. Georgia in the College Football Championship game this past January. Alabama won after a stunning, come-from-behind victory, led by backup freshman quarterback, Tua Tagovailoa from Hawaii. I must confess, I’m an Alabama football fan … Roll Tide!
“The aforementioned games were all great but for me, however, the greatest game I have ever watched was called “The Game No One Should Have Lost.” The 1982 NFL Playoffs, San Diego Chargers vs. Miami Dolphins. The game was played on Saturday night, Jan. 2, 1982, in Miami’s Orange Bowl. Why is the game so special? Because I watched it with my grandmother and to my knowledge she knew nothing about football and didn’t understand the game. She sat in her rocking chair and watched me jump up and down and cheer both teams without saying a word the entire game.
“San Diego eventually won and both teams were emotionally and physically drained after that game. Heck, even 36 years later, I can clearly remember the emotional rollercoaster just watching the game and feeling exhausted at the end of the nearly 74 minutes of some of the most intensely competitive football I’ve ever seen. Then shortly after the game my grandmother look at me and said, ‘Grandboy, that was a great game” and then she smiled. I will remember this the rest of my life. RIP Grandma, I’m still watching football. :)”
Best gadget ever: “The Walkman, back in the day. The ability to listen to music from a small portable device was incredible.”
First computer: “If I can remember, it was a Commodore 64 but I also had a Tandy Computer as well. The first computer I purchased on my own was a Hewlett Packard in the early 90s.”
Current phone: “iPhone 6S.”
Favorite app: “For me the calendar app keeps me on track and on schedule, and I can’t do without it. I also love news and sports apps.”
Favorite cause: “I don’t have a favorite, because I support many causes: Camp Kory (a camp for kids with a terminal illness); Questers Community Fund (scholarship fund for underprivileged youth in south Florida); NAMI (the National Alliance on Mental Illness); and I support the eradication of all terminal illness and diseases.”
Most Important Technology from last year: “I think about technology in decades or periods. In the last period, I would say the emergence of cloud computing (ISSA, PAAS and SAAS).”
Most Important technology of the coming year: “For the coming year or years, I would say artificial intelligence, robotics, autonomous vehicles and blockchain.”
Final words of advice for your fellow geeks: “Don’t cheat yourself, treat yourself. Hard-work pays off. As my parents say, ‘Faith, Family, Education + Hard work = a good life.’ Here are actions that have worked for me throughout my career: 1) The relationships you cultivate are key to a successful career — and a successful life; 2) Problems and challenges will always arise; it’s how you deal with them that matters; 3) Be true to who you are and what you want to do, and don’t be easily discouraged or let others lead you astray; 4) Run your career like you would run a company. Create your own personal board of directors and protect your brand; 5) It’s not about how people feel about you the day you start at a company; it’s about how they feel the day you leave; 6) You have to push yourself to be uncomfortable in order to learn and develop; 7) Take your work seriously, but not yourself; never lose your sense of humor; 8) Great ideas and advice can come from anyone, and listening will help you move forward.”
LinkedIn: Michael Ford