Microsoft mid-market business manager Elizabeth Kirby takes time out from juggling work and family to talk to Amanda Sachtleben.
What’s your employment background?
I’ve been at Microsoft for 11 years. Prior to that I had three years travelling — doing my OE. Before that I was at IBM for four years. About 1992 I left IBM and during my OE the real money-making venture was working in banks, but the more exciting thing was working on a ski-field, making sandwiches and skiing my heart out.
At Microsoft I came in doing account management in some of the larger accounts and some partner account management roles. I moved from there into the small and medium business world and have been there for maybe 7 years. Now we have 9 of us focused on the mid market.
Why did you choose IT?
Coming out of university I had a marketing degree. I was pretty driven and I signed up for a number of interviews with employers. I explored FMCG, IT and banking and was fortunate to have four roles offered to me. IT was more of an unknown, I could see a real opportunity to follow a course that was uncharted. IBM had an outstanding name and it was an opportunity to work in Wellington. They had graduate intakes and there were quite a few of us who came straight out of university. We were put on this incredible learning curve and the training was outstanding. I made lifelong friends and had amazing IT and business skills thrown at me. That was a great start to my career.
Do you feel women are under-represented in IT today?
I would say yes. One of Helen [Microsoft New Zealand head Helen Robinson]’s goals is to do what we can to encourage more women into IT. For me personally there’s probably more women in marketing and in my immediate team I’m more skewed to the female way. I’m an older mother and my kids are three and a half and 21 months and they’re young and it’s tough work. You want to do the best you can for both family and your career and it takes a lot of effort. It very much depends on the role your spouse takes and how available they are to help you. I have a very supportive husband and he works from home. We’ve chosen to go down the nanny route and for us it’s been fantastic because it provides a great deal of stability. I take my hat off to women who have to juggle childcare. The challenge really is retention on the female side of things.
The mid-market is bigger business in New Zealand than a lot of countries, is it given a high priority at Microsoft here?
I’m enjoying a lot of focus and that’s exciting. Small and medium business is getting the recognition that it’s the cornerstone of the New Zealand economy. These businesses stand to gain enormously from technology and the productivity gains associated with that. This is all about the benefit to the New Zealand economy as well. They’re smaller organisations but the gains to them are massive on a New Zealand scale.
You do some of your work at home. Is that difficult?
As my team grows, that challenge requires a fair degree of organisation. There’s more people demands on your time, but I’m making it a priority. I’m a better employee because of it because I’m more connected to my family. Microsoft provides a bunch of tools so I can work just as well from home as I can at work.
Our new offices are very open plan and the mid-market touches just about every part of our organisation so I’m continually having people at my desk. I often choose to work from home just to have that head space and keep my head down.
The flexibility that Microsoft provides me is so long as I’m delivering on the objectives we’ve agreed I have the ability to do certain things. I do encourage that in my own teams. If once a month I can be involved in one of my children’s activities and work a bit later, that’s a win for me. When you talk about women in IT, employers offering that opportunity is really important.
What initiatives is your team working on so partners are ready for technology like Office and Vista?
We’ve got the Shape campaign and the cool thing about that is for small and medium business, the infrastructure is often that critical tipping point. Why I love the campaign is it’s helping with a need our customers have and helping our customers with tools to assess infrastructure needs.
Our mantra in mid-market over the last couple of years has been to better understand the needs of our customers so we’ve embarked on a regular series of focus groups and that forms the basis of our six- and 12-month strategies. It gives us a feel for how Microsoft is doing in New Zealand.
The big thing is to bed down this growing mid-market team which is significant in terms of the investment Microsoft New Zealand has made in this market. Customers wanted us to be more available and I have a couple of sales people, some technical resources and inside sales or telephone-based account managers, and two marketing people.
We’ve invested in our team but the importance of partners is huge. The strategy is to really invest in the partner component and it’s critical for the mid-market customers that we continue to do that. Shape’s a great example of that.
One of the initiatives I have this year is to spend more time in the partner world and I’ve got a great team focusing on the customers and I have to connect the dots between customers and partners a bit more.
Work and family obviously keep you busy, but what are your interests outside of work?
When I’m not at work I invest every minute with my kids and my husband. I also love catching up with my mates now and again for a wine after work. My husband and I are getting back into going out to dinner and going to the theatre and things like that.