Microsoft's Burgum Looks Back, Foward

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There were 15 employees at Great Plains Computers, an Apple computer store in downtown Fargo, N.D., when Doug Burgum joined the operation in March 1983. The two owners wanted to get out of the hardware business and Burgum wrote the business plan and made the first outside investment. He later assumed the presidency of Great Plains Software. Along the way, the company was named as one of the "100 Best Places to Work in America" more than once.

He changed the course of mid-marketing accounting software in 2000 by purchasing Solomon Software and then having Great Plains acquired by Microsoft in 2001. Burgum joined Microsoft as president of Microsoft Business Solutions and was there as it built the unit into a powerhouse with the acquisition of Navision.

The group he is preparing to leave employs nearly 4,000 people. In this conversation, Burgum shares some comments on the past and on his plans.

Partner Insights

After all these years, why did you decide it's time to leave?

The business is much stronger than a year ago when we announced the search for my replacement. I feel the "Why now" is a function of timing and the timing is related to my sense of respect and duty to the business.

What is your next career move going to be?

I have nine months to consider what I might do next. Those possibilities could include a CEO role in a software company or a completely different industry, coaching junior high basketball, politics, or philanthropy.

There has been speculation that you might run for governor of North Dakota or for the position of United States Senator. What is your response to that?

If there's a possibility of improving people's lives through a political role, I certainly wouldn't rule that out. The Gates Foundation is also doing some very interesting things that will have an impact, given all the money coming in from Warren Buffet. But that requires being based in Redmond, Wash. [Microsoft's headquarters]. I am choosing not to move because I have my three children half the time. I also feel that the job of leading MBS must be done full time from Redmond.

Are you interested in continuing in the software industry?

I feel very positive about the software business. There are few areas that have more possibilities to extend human potential than software. It's not something I would walk away from lightly.

What are the accomplishments you are proudest of?

One of the obvious areas is our channel partnership and our ability to overcome barriers. We thought there was economic value that could be created via the partner model. We were told, "You can't scale it. You can't take the company public." The underlying belief in the company's approach is something I feel very positive about.

How easy will the transition be for Nadella?

He is someone that I have worked with directly for the last five years. I have had the opportunity to travel everywhere form Russia to India with Satya. He has the depth and knowledge and history that become a huge asset. He has hundreds of people working for him in Fargo and hundreds working directly with him in Copenhagen. He has done dozens of presentation at the senior level, as have the other members of our leadership team. I created space so that they could do that. Satya has been exposed to all of the decision-making that a president or CEO needs for decision-making.

What is the biggest competitive threat Microsoft faces?

The biggest challenge for Microsoft is the diversification of the business model. Today, the majority of the revenue comes from traditional license model. We need to have more revenue come from our other sources, including the ad-funded business model.

How great is the potential for change in software?

This industry could all be starting over again. There is an opportunity to do things that are very exciting.

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