Tools put Microsoft's Taylor in charge

Tools put Microsoft's Taylor in charge

With online software services on the horizon and constant product advances designed to improve worker productivity, life shows no sign of slowing down for Anne Taylor, the head of Microsoft’s information worker group.

It’s just as well, then, that she’s as fully immersed in her company’s technology at home as she is at work.

The communication and collaboration tools don’t fuel stress for Taylor; rather, she believes they put her in greater control of her life, of which her two young boys are a large part.

“Because I use the tools I’m incredibly productive. I don’t have massive guilt or a fight between work and spending time with the kids.

“I’m not sure if you ever get work/life balance, but I call it harmonisation. The technology enables me to work the way that I want to work.”

The technologies that fall into Microsoft’s Information Worker group include Outlook, Office, Sharepoint, Office Communicator, PerformancePoint Server, Exchange Server, Groove and OneNote. They’re all about working smarter and collaborating effectively.

As Taylor points out, she can use presence in Communicator to let people know when she’s unavailable, and the phone can always be switched off. The technologies also allow her to leave work at quarter to three to pick up her children and make dinner, along with doing more work from home as required.

“People talk about being always on 24/7, and always connected, but you’ve got control of that and there are benefits to being connected when you want to be.”

However, it helps that she’s smart about organising her schedule, is efficient and not one to procrastinate.

Taylor has been at Microsoft New Zealand for seven years, having started as retail channel manager in 2001.

This was prior to the launch of Xbox, so at the time she oversaw hardware, Windows, Office, Encarta and PC games. She also headed up relationships with the three key retailers of the time and with the two major distributors.

During her Microsoft career, she has been through three iterations of Office – XP, 2003 and 2007. In fact, it was her proposal for promotion of the earliest of these that first saw her secure the retail channel role.

Interviewer Alex Morcom (who headed the software giant’s mid-size division in the early and mid 2000s) gave her only half an hour to prepare a marketing plan for Office XP.

However, a senior role in a big IT organisation wasn’t something Taylor had planned earlier in her career.

Her working life in New Zealand got off to a delayed start when she met an Irishman at age 18, and followed him back to the UK. This trip turned into a three-year OE.

“My gap year was three years instead of one, is the way I like to look at it,” she says.

A return to New Zealand at age 21 was also supposed to be temporary.

However, Taylor stayed on in her home city, Auckland, to complete a Bachelor of Commerce majoring in marketing but including accounting papers.

At the end of her studies in 1992, she beat tough competition to win one of three places on a graduate scheme offered by homeware retailer Levenes, now owned by Freedom Furniture.

“It was one of the best things I ever did – it got me into a retail environment, which made me realise how important it is to deal with customers, understand what they want, and to learn to sell,” says Taylor.

The role also brought her into contact with her first mentor – owner David Levene.

“[He] taught me what hard work’s about, he has the most amazing strategic vision and is a really clever businessman. He taught me to be successful in life you have to do the hard yards, not just in your early days.”

Taylor spent six years with Levenes until 1996, with the latter part spent managing its Wairau Park store in Auckland.

However, she tired of working weekends and through a university contact, landed a North Shore-based role managing a team of personal and mobile bankers for the Bank of New Zealand.

After two years in this role she had her first son, William, now aged ten. On return from maternity leave, Taylor moved into project marketing for the bank.

It was then that her skills in explaining the practical use of technology came to the fore, something she would later put to extensive use at Microsoft.

“I was the person in between the IT department and the front line business managers. We needed to get some technical projects onto the front line so I would liaise with IT and then couch that to the business people so it wasn’t too scary,” Taylor says.

Only two months after returning to work following the birth of second son Nicholas, she saw the Microsoft retail channel manager role advertised, and couldn’t pass it up.

“I had the IT and corporate experience from BNZ and the retail experience from Levenes, so there couldn’t have been a job that was more made for me. I thought, 'that job has my name written all over it', even though the timing wasn’t amazing.”

Her mentor at the bank, business manager John White, also assured her she should take the job in spite of the short time she’d been back at work.

“[White] had a huge strategic vision, but he could also operationalise it. There are very few people who can have that big picture, but then say, ‘this is how it’s going to work in reality’.”

As the Information Worker group has grown, along with the technologies within it, Taylor’s role involves more business management, strategy and analysis of markets and the competitive landscape.

As you’d expect from the software she works with, she’s a member of many ‘virtual teams’ comprising Microsoft staff from different countries. Such teams make frequent use of LiveMeeting and roundtable multidirectional webcams to save travel costs and be more sustainable.

Taylor says the biggest and most complex virtual team she has been part of worked on Maori language customisation for Office 2003 and XP. Developers were based in Ireland and Russia, contractors at Microsoft’s US headquarters and herself and a Maori Language Commission representative in New Zealand.

“I’ve never met these people, but we have great relationships with them.”

One of the benefits of her flexible, remote working is being able to watch her sons play cricket.

“My friend said to me, ‘why would you want to sit and watch cricket for that long?’ I couldn’t think of anything better – it’s five hours of reading the paper, interacting with the kids and doing nothing. And I love cricket so it’s the best of everything.”

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