Nov 29, 2008

Business - Q&A;Chairman,Europe - Microsoft Corp

Narayani Ganesh

Jan Muehlfeit, chairman Europe, Microsoft Corporation, is responsible for engaging with European governments and policy makers, academics and other societal stakeholders in Brussels and across EU member states. He believes that the current global financial crisis of recession is essentially a crisis of governance. It is now more than ever important to take our corporate social responsibilities seriously, he said at the international business and leadership symposium on business and ethics at the EU capital convened by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s International Association for Human Values:

Hemmed in by global recession, how can businesses be talked to today about the need to be more socially responsible?

Doing business is not only about making money; it is also about creating value and connecting people. Adam Smith wrote 200 years ago in his Wealth of Nations that the first thing people do is to take care of themselves. I believe profit and care should go together. Profit gives only money. Emotional connection with others gives more value. Technology in the next ten years will play an unprecedented role in society and will even more dramatically influence further globalisation.

People, organisations and states will mainly compete through their ability to use technology in innovation, creativity and design. It is our ability and potential to balance profit with care — and the way we use technology to do that — that will really count as a long-term competitive advantage for individuals, companies and countries. What Bill Gates is doing through his Foundation is creating a good balance between success and happiness.

Gates is able to do this now because earlier he routed competition to make Microsoft the undisputed software leader.
Gates is competitive because we’re in a competitive industry but we have also gone through a learning process. In Davos recently Gates talked of creative capitalism and how to make it work for large numbers of people.

He talked of the benefits of micro-financing that helps people at the bottom of the pyramid to move up. Technology is helping people do this in Africa with greater telephonic connectivity where none existed earlier. India and China in the 21st century are going to be very successful. Africa too should be part of inclusive globalisation.

Education is important for jobs. A study conducted in Europe revealed that 97% of children in kindergarten said they would like to be entrepreneurs when they grow up. The percentage dropped to 17% when they reached university and plunged to 4% after that. So we need to unlock human potential and talent not through encouraging memorisation and mnemonic learning but through appreciation of innovative and creative ideas.

How can technology help businesses ride out the recession?

All budgets — of corporations and countries — are under severe pressure today. Technology can help by showing us how to save money and be more productive. Technology helps in saving travel budgets by making possible video-conferencing, for example.

Similarly, as far as social problems are concerned, technology can help us find solutions. When you use your credit card anywhere in the world, your credit details are available on tap. Why cannot we use technology to place on tap health details to promote healthcare around the world? E-health has immense potential. Technology is also being helpful as one of the most important solutions to the global environment crisis we’re faced with by helping us to make production and consumption less polluting.

E-waste, a big challenge, is the outcome of technological advancement, isn’t it? So too cyber crime, child safety and phising.

Microsoft doesn’t produce computers (hardware) so it doesn’t generate e-waste. However, we do make software better so that you don’t have to change computers often. Some banks in the US and Germany replace their computers every two years. They can be used in emerging economies provided, of course, those sending it take the responsibility to upgrade them with better microprocessors, etc.

Governments and individuals need to cooperate to tackle cyber crime through vigilance and enforcement agencies. When your child goes to play in a park, you supervise, don’t you? You know who he is playing with or talking to. The same safety measures need to be exercised in cyberspace, in e-chats and so on. As for phising, it cost the world $3 billion in 2007. These problems have to be dealt with.