Andres Ortola, the General Manager of Microsoft Philippines, talks to The Ortus Club’s Neil Pickford about his role as a General Manager, the challenges that he has faced in his career, and marketing trends that he is taking advantage of right now.
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Can you tell us more about your company, Microsoft Philippines?
We are a subsidiary of Microsoft Corporation, one of the largest technology companies in the world. We provide cloud-based solutions to our customers to help them transform. We have been in the country for 25 years and this is our 26th. We have a long history of our transformation with our customers.
Can you describe the role of a General Manager in one word?
I would say “swiss army knife”. It’s three words but actually counts as one concept. The general manager is a person who needs to span across multiple disciplines to be able to be effective in his or her role. I think of the General Management role as a Chief Customer Officer in customer relationships. I need to be out there to make and be the first ambassador in all of my company and in my brand. I have to make sure my company gets recognized.
Secondly, I need to be the Chief Execution Officer where I need to make sure all the execution for product services, marketing, and HR flows in a smooth direction. I also have to be the Chief Transformation Officer. Many transforming companies today know that the CEO is the key driver of that transformation. I also take the role of the Chief People Officer, making sure that engagement is there, attracting the right talent, and retaining the right talent as part of a competitive advantage.
Lastly, a General Manager is also a Chief Trust Officer or Integrity and Trust Officer. Our customers make businesses more often now based on trust. As we walk into the digital world, more and more digital businesses will be driven in and trust will be the differentiator for many businesses.
What current challenges are General Managers facing right now?
I would say every general manager now has at least four main challenges, four main lanes of challenges if you will. The first is employee engagement. How do I look at employee engagement in a different way? The 8-5 or 8-6 jobs no longer exist so how do I measure engagement? How do I measure performance? How do I factor well-being in that equation? How do I make sure I have a holistic view of my employees and keep them engaged?
Similarly, we have customer engagement. The way I engage with my customers has changed. It has changed for everyone. There’s a lot more digital interactions than before so how do I reach those customers? How do I engage with them at scale with a good quality level? And then with that, how do I optimize my operations? How do I make sure I execute in this new normal and then the normal to come while I improve my products and services? As new disruptions are coming to any market, any CEO is thinking, how do I improve my services? How do I keep myself competitive in marketing?
Can you identify a solution?
The most important thing is perhaps understanding the role of technology in this whole chain of problems and solutions. As you walk into the digital world, the adoption of technology is no longer an option or something that the CEO can lead to the IT folks or someone else. It has to be part of your business.
If you look at the major disruptors in the market, any sort of business nowadays, data actually makes technology a center piece of their approach. Most of the disrupted industries whether its banks, hotels, you name it, have had to adapt themselves into new ways of operating in places that were strange to them. They were not in their own usual business turf so it’s super important to be always looking at the role of technology and the role of innovation in your company driven from the business perspective.
How do you explain the success you’ve had in your career?
I’ve been lucky enough to be able to work in South America, in Europe, Middle East, Africa, and Asia right now and I think I became a lifelong learner. It is very important for any executive nowadays to be able to connect, to be able to learn, to be able to keep him or herself on his toes, to always be attentive to what our customers demand and where partners demand. I think that’s probably the one thing that keeps me going. At the same time, becoming addicted to learning and diversity has been a life-changer.
Can you tell us about a time you took a major risk in your career?
I worked at Microsoft in two parts. I was living in Spain, but in between I actually decided to move to the Middle East. I decided to change my company, country, environment, and everything. That was a big risk because I’ve put behind all the capital I built and took the chance to go and be an absolute learner.
Many times, I found myself thinking, what have I done? What did I do well that can serve me today? I learned that experience is not something you can bring as a whole. You need to use different pockets of it and adapt it to the situation. So I found myself starting a new company in the Middle East – a great experience and a lot of learning. I would say, the bigger the risk, of course the bigger the return and the learnings in this case.
“Many times, I found myself thinking, what have I done? What did I do well that can serve me today? I learned that experience is not something you can bring as a whole. You need to use different pockets of it and adapt it to the situation.”
How can you see your role evolving in the next two to three years?
I think there is no CEO right now that is not thinking about transforming his or her company in the way of business and in customer approach. In the next couple of years, I see myself reinventing not only my role and making use of this and adapting to new ways of doing business, but also making sure I create the org of the future. How do I build a team today that is going to serve me in the next 10 years or so? What do I think about the new roles that are going to come and try to build an organisation that is flexible enough to tackle it? What other roles are going to come and what other capabilities are the things that will keep us busy for the foreseeable future.
What marketing/business trends are you taking advantage of right now?
There are plenty of things that are happening in the marketplace that we definitely need to pay attention to. If you think about everything that’s happening around artificial intelligence and how it can help complement and enhance human capabilities- it’s a fascinating opportunity. It’s going to become mainstream. I don’t think there’s any industry that won’t be touched by something like this.
Think about trends like security. We’ve seen a massive increase of cyber risks. There are attacks everywhere. I think at Microsoft, we look at 3 billion signals per day of attacks, malware, security, emails, all sort of attacks around the world – that’s not gonna stop. As a CEO, I need to look at how I can build those layers of that organization to be able to fit into those elements. It’s a threat but it’s an opportunity as well.
I earlier touched on trust and how trust can be a business tool. If you think about Grab for example, Grab is a business based on trust. You don’t know the driver, the driver doesn’t know you. You actually don’t know who’s gonna pay you or who’s going to pay the driver, and yet, the transaction does happen in a trusted environment that someone created – Uber, Grab, you name it. That itself is a business opportunity that if we think about, “how do i take this into my industry?” Well, there’s a lot of new things that can come out there. The future is gonna be fascinating if you ask me. It’s going to keep everybody moving for sure.
What career advice would you like to share with General Managers?
First I would say, you are a general manager today of whatever you do. You are a general manager today as long as you look at what’s adjacent to your practice. If you’re a CMO today and you’re not looking at what’s happening to people, you’re missing a part. If you’re not looking at what happened to Finance, you’re missing a part. So you can be a CEO today, of whichever practice, and that mindset will take you eventually to general management leadership because you need to build that breadth in depth at your business. Sometimes kneeling in companies, we tend to have this inward structure. Any leader needs to be setting his/her mindset outside those boundaries, outside his own company. That’s gonna set him or her up for success in the future.