For a technology giant like Microsoft that works with partners all around the world, partner success is ingrained in the organizational DNA. Partnerships and alliances become critical to accelerate the digital transformation agenda. How does one make the most out of a partnership? How has The Great Reshuffle impacted the GSI world? What makes a good leader during these challenging times?
In this episode, Eduardo Kassner, Chief Technology Officer, Partner Success Organization at Microsoft, in conversation with Praveen Bhadada, Managing Partner, Zinnov, answers these questions, and more, along with partnership strategies, alliances, and the best practices that helped them navigate recent turbulent times.
Praveen Bhadada: For a technology behemoth like Microsoft that works with numerous partners around the world partner success becomes ingrained in the organization’s DNA. Partnerships and alliances become critical to accelerate the digital transformation agenda. I am Praveen Bhadada, Managing Partner at Zinnov and today we have with us Eduardo Kassner, who is the Chief Technology Officer, Partner Success Organization at Microsoft.
Eduardo has been a part of Microsoft for over a decade and a half now, and has worked in various profiles in the organization. He currently leads teams that accelerate Microsoft partners’ capabilities to grow their businesses on the Microsoft platform through aligned execution with Microsoft Customer Success, Global Partner Solution, and Microsoft engineering teams.
Welcome to the Zinnov podcast Business Resilience Series, Eduardo. It’s really great to have you today with us on the platform. Thank you for joining in.
Eduardo Kassner: Thank you so much, Praveen. It’s an absolute pleasure to be here. We’ve been partners together with you and with Zinnov for quite a while. Done a lot of good research and we deeply appreciate the partnership.
Praveen Bhadada: Thank you so much, Eduardo. So let’s just get started with today’s episode and hear more about your journey and the last few years of the transformation that you’ve seen as an industry veteran. So you’ve had a long career in tech spanning over several transformation cycles. You’ve been in business for more than 25, 30 years now. It’d be really great to get started by learning about the major turning points and career highlights in this period Eduardo, if you don’t mind.
Eduardo Kassner: Thank you so much. Let me start by appreciating you and all of the listeners. It’s been a really tough last two years, I guess we would all say. And I just want to really thank you and thank our listeners, because it’s taken all of us in our efforts to not only be able to navigate through this very difficult times, but I can tell you that I haven’t gone through anything like the last two years.
And thank you for saying it. I don’t know if it’s been 23 or 25 years now in the industry, but yeah, so I would say that I’ve had pretty much a four or five big turning points. The first one was at the beginning of the career, because I did a lot of, very few people know this, but I did a lot of development for network protocol design. And it was very early days for satellite design. And it was very interesting because it was very research oriented. In there I did a lot of research and patents and very complex, deep, networking stuff. Then I decided to make a major shift. And I guess that, that would be my first advice is don’t be afraid to make major shifts.
And so I made a major shift and I went back home because this was the… My first job was in Boston. And I went back to Mexico, my home country. And I started working for a company called EDS which was one of the largest outsourcers back in the day. And ended up managing about 126 uutsourcings and that was incredible because it was managing all the manufacturing for motors, trucks, and cars for GM, a ton of the processing for Diners Club in American express, printing receipts for American Express, printing all the manuals for two of the major automotive groups worldwide. You know, you end up managing different industries and it becomes interesting. We have the three largest insurance groups of the country, plus some international ones. We had two major airlines of the country. So you started learning about all this industries and it was fascinating because that’s when I learned. On the first job it was research. But in this job, it was about social responsibility and how you cannot see a server as a server, or an application as an application. When in that application, somebody goes in, authorizes a payment and that authorizes somebody in a hospital to get a lifesaving operation or surgery, or a server that you just see it as a server, but it’s actually driving all the load balancing or the authorizations to take-off for every airplane in the country. You stop seeing the server as a server. You start understanding the social responsibility of the incredible job that all of us have in IT. And I’m using the term IT as an old school. And then what happened was I got very excited and I got invited to participate at Dell. And I learned the world of hardware, because I led the businesses of server, storage, and networking. And it was fascinating to see the world of hardware and there I got infused and involved into the world of Sales, because everything before it was operations or research. And I got fascinated with Sales, but I got fascinated with Technical Sales and Architecture.
And then one of the things I learned which has been very important for my career is how do you do technical sales. Not only completely ethically, because a lot of people, you say the word Sales and it breaks them off. They go like, ‘Ooh, I don’t want to be part of that. That sounds like a dirty job’. And I see Sales as an incredibly fascinating opportunity for you to do the right thing, right at the beginning and get an amazing, amazing solution in the hands of somebody that needs it and then drive it home and make it operational ready and make it excellent. And so that’s what I learned.
And then I moved to Microsoft and I went through my last two transitions. One was leading the Cloud Architect role and defining that role for the whole company. And hiring the first thousands and all the effort that was transforming people that were very successful with On-prem and developing an On-prem to now think of what is the cloud mindset and not On-prem mindset. And so that was fascinating.
And then this last term of my career which was every company can do great things by themselves, but there’s one thing that trumps all cards, which is the old African saying of ‘If you want to go fast, go alone. But if you want to go far, go with others.’ And so what happens if you actually create a partner ecosystem? If you foster it, if you develop it, if you invest in it, if you have true honest partnerships, if you have true delivery of value across the chain, and that chain links to the different pieces to provide at the end a more comprehensive and inclusive solution for the customer. And it’s been my pleasure to participate and grow the partner ecosystem at Microsoft for the last five years in many ways. And so as you said, it’s been a very enlightening and rich career and I feel very fortunate.
Praveen Bhadada: Amazing. I love the way you broke it down into five phases of – don’t be afraid, think of it as a social responsibility, transition from Ops to Sales, pick up a completely new area in Cloud and then do it together with the ecosystem and partners – as amazing sets of five turning points that you highlighted Eduardo.
So let’s talk a little bit about the last turning point which is really in terms of working with the ecosystem, trying to build this whole partner community. What are, within that world, within the global system integrator world, as someone who’s responsible for partner success, talk to our audience a little bit about the key paradigm shifts that you observed in that world? Because that itself has evolved significantly in the last several years. What are some of the key observations you have made in that that segment?
Eduardo Kassner: You know, maybe now, because of the pandemic and the last two years, this is going to resonate even more and we may all say, ‘Yeah, yeah, this makes sense.’ Two years ago we were still pretty much stuck on certain ideas. So I’ll explain the transition with the following sense. Think about it this way. If you’re very successful, helping others operate their environments with excellence, you’re not really a transformation agent. You’re being brought in to be a stabilizing agent. And those are very different motions.
One is to say, how do you stabilize my operations? If I outsource with you, or if I operate with you, or if you deploy my workload, or you develop my workload, how do you do it in a way that is more a cohesive, inclusive, but more important stable on-time, on-budget, on delivery on requirements, right?
And so some people would say that you have customer truths and you have product truths. It’s how do you align the product with the customer? How do you align the, what do you need to build with what the requirement is and how do you deliver it? But then there’s also operational truth, right? How do you operate this?
Everybody’s a genius the first time. If you tell me, ‘Hey, can you go catch a fish?’ I can get one, like anybody else. Can you get fishes for the next five years in a sustainable fashion? Not the same thing. And so everybody can run a major outsourcing operation the first few months, anybody can optimize it.
Can you run it sustainably, optimize it and manage it in a way that is propositive for five years? That takes a lot of gumption. Like I said, it’s very different to do it consistently five years running, and I didn’t say 10. And most outsourcing contracts are very long. And so I think that the world of Information Technology or the world of the CIO before the pandemic was, how do I innovate and include some of these themes that my board is asking me, Artificial Intelligence, Cloud, Kubernetes, Containers, Agility, Blockchain, Payments, this that, you know, digital, digital, digital, you know, whether you want to say Digital Marketing, Digital Twins…again all this with a very stable operation that continues to charge Credit Cards, continues to report invoices, continues to be compliant across 75 countries or 35 countries, whatever the company is, continues to be a completely stable with an SLA of 99 and a 100 9s behind them. You know, how do you do that? And it was a challenge and then COVID hit and then all of a sudden you have everybody there.
A percentage of the population of your people that just can’t go to the office and they don’t have a laptop. So when that’s a Call Center, think of the drama that I just said, let’s say you have a Call Center of a 100 people, 1000 people, 10,000 people. Actually, we have partners who called us said, I have literally 30,000 people and none of them have laptops and I got to operate tomorrow. How do I do it from their home? Wow! So all of a sudden it’s no more how to keep the environment stable. It’s no more how to keep TCO and ROI, Return on Investment. It’s no longer how do you keep your SLA? It’s ‘how do I operate? How do I even start?’ So sadly, incredibly sadly, the pandemic brought together a massive amount of innovation.
And so the question was, ‘how do I open new digital spaces, new digital markets, new digital secure environments? How do I make my people productive remotely? How do I give them the same environment and still be compliant?’ The question just stopped being a Why, and it became a How.
And so GSI is more than anybody else, as in Global System integrators had to figure it out for themselves on existing contracts and help the world figure it out to achieve it.
Praveen Bhadada: Absolutely. And if we just break down the entire pandemic period, so of course there was this phase when everyone had to work remote and we are slowly coming back to offices, so hybrid is becoming the new normal now. And as hybrid is becoming the new normal, the other trends that shaping up is this whole phenomenal grade resignation or grade reshuffle as the LinkedIn CEO calls it. People are just hopping jobs. They are moonlighting. There are a lot of models, creative ones that are emerging. So given this whole dynamics of, you know, things have to be hybrid and that’s the nature going forward and great resignation is a current reality. How our partners, your partners navigating these two very critical scenarios at the moment. What are the best practices that you’ve come across in these two segments?
Eduardo Kassner: So, I’m going to quote Henry Ford here. This is a quote that’s wrong because he never said it. Somebody attributed it to him. And that I realized that it was wrong, but it says ‘I’d rather train my people and then leave, than not train them and they stay.’ And so my belief has always been a provider… So I’ll answer your question in a second, but I want to give you the principles that I’ve seen that work. And I’ve had to apply these in my own teams and in teams that I’ve collaborated in that I’ve consulted on. First act with tremendous integrity and have very defined values that span trust, that span diversity, that span inclusion.
When you achieve this, invest in your people overall. Because the more you invest in them, the more they not only provide more value to your environment, the more they want to create a career. I think, the great resignation is, and it is happening as we all know, or the great reshuffle, it’s happening because there are a lot of environments that perhaps were not as fostering as everything I just said.
And I believe that some of the larger System Integrators are doing massive investments on helping their people get skilled, get to train, get certified in helping them find ways to support at home and providing better benefits so they feel appreciated and embraced.
So I believe that the companies that have invested in and you can see examples across the GSI world. Again the really large System Integrators is a better way to say it, whether they’re advisories or integrators or companies, the ones that have fostered that type of environments have not only been able to retain talent, but have been able to grow talent.
And the ones that haven’t are going through a pinch right now, because there are suffering from this great reshuffle, great resignation. There’s a topic you didn’t ask that I want to add and concatenate to your question if you allow me, which is the great need for further talent is what we’re not addressing.
So it’s not just people reshuffling or leaving or changing, et cetera. There’s an increased need for specific talent that we haven’t yet created because of all of this innovation required. And so, hence I would say the only way to solve for this need is a great re-skilling. So you would say there’s a great need…I think the great reskilling should be what answers that. So helping our teams, our people invest in their technical acumen on the new technologies, helping them learn, not only get certified, but also learn best practices, best patterns, and do enough hackathons, participate in enough open learning environments, super critical for this pressure to be resolved.
Praveen Bhadada: Absolutely. And I love the point on great reskilling.That’s important at this point than it ever was in the past. I’m hopeful that the GSI world and the larger ecosystem would be able to navigate through some of the best practices that we talked about, both the hybrid work scenario, as well as the great reshuffle scenario and augment that with a great reskilling scenario.
I’m going to ask you one last question, Eduardo, and this is a little bit more on the personal leadership side. And you have been a seasoned leader. You’ve worked in multicultural organizations. I’d love to get your opinion on your definition of a good leader. What are some of the qualities that are non-negotiable, specifically given the times that we are all living in. We’ve all heard Satya Nadella talk about this Model, Coach, Care framework, which is amazing. And I would also love to get your opinion in terms of how some of that is at play specifically with respect to the leaders at Microsoft, but more importantly, you as an individual, what is your thesis around leadership given the current context that we are all living in?
Eduardo Kassner: So first the there’s no order in what I’m going to say right now. So if you say, ‘Oh, he said inclusion, or he said a… you know, a.’ There’s no order on this. Integrity for me is the first word that comes in. There’s nothing that can replace integrity. Integrity builds trust. And that’d be the second one.
When you have integrity, when you have trust, you lay a very strong foundation for a very long future. When you don’t have integrity and trust, you’re sitting on mud and you can, you know, it’s slippery slide all the time. So I think integrity and trust are non-negotiable for me.
The second one is, which is also super critical is a, it’s a keyword that we’ve heard many times, but I’ll explain why it’s so important. For me, it’s diversity and inclusion. And if you want that, those are two aspects. Fine. If you want to combine them into one aspect fine too. For me, you do not get enough innovation and you do not get enough diversity of opinion, you don’t get challenged enough if you only listened to yourself or people that are exactly. So you need people that have different character, different experiences, different gender, different race, different backgrounds, different upbringings, different religion. The more you can surround yourself with a diverse environment, the more inclusive you have to become.
And so you change your posture to say, ‘I have to listen to that too and I have to learn how to respond to it.’ And so it enriches the conversation. It make it more agile. It makes it better quality. It makes it just better. And you know what, for me, innovation and fun…I love to shake things up. I love to say what if we think differently, not for it to shake itself, but is there a way to make it better? Is there a way to leave things better than we found them? Not for the sake of changes, but for the sake of providing a better quality and better service.
And the last one is fun. It’s got to be fun. Somebody taught me this statement many, many years ago and you know what, it’s stuck in my brain and I can’t let it go. It said, is it a pleasure to work with you? And if you can’t answer that question, then there’s something I apologize, I don’t want to criticize anybody… Some people say, ‘Nope, my job does not allow for that.’ And I respect it, but I think that if it’s not a pleasure to work with you, there’s perhaps something wrong there. It’s a really hard and good look in the mirror. And so for me, it’s got to be a pleasure. You can do things with humility. You can do things with kindness. You can treat people with respect. You can treat people with dignity and still get to the commitment, still deliver on time. Still be tough when you’ve got to be tough and be kind when you’re got to be kind, but it doesn’t mean that you have to be uncivilized about the process.
And so I give you a lot of the attributes. I consider the most important one that we’re all human. Nobody leaves themselves hanging at the door and just bring the business persona, and work all day and then leave. That doesn’t work. You bring your whole self. And so understanding that people bring their whole selves to work and respecting that and supporting that, I think it’s also critical.
So those would be the ones that I would categorize as critical in order to be a good leader or to be a leader in now-a-days even more so, because people have needed, all of us, myself included, have needed these things to be applied to us. We’ve all had hardships. So we’d all respect more. And I’ll tell you one more thing.
You always remember somebody that helped you when you’re down. When you’re up and somebody helps you, you may remember. Not all of us do want everything, but when you’re down, you’ll never forget. So those are the moments that really matter. Those are the moments for our customers, for a partner, for an employee, for a boss, for anybody, for an organization. And so I think that those are really human attributes, not even leadership attributes that we should deeply consider in this really hard time.
Praveen Bhadada: Amazing. I usually ask this question and I typically get very standard response, Eduardo. Yours has been super different and I think it’s very personalized,feels like you’ve gone through all of these experiences and that’s coming out. So, it was really lovely chatting with you, Eduardo. And thank you for breaking down the entire 25 year journey and the turning points. Amazing insights in terms of what was the one nugget you picked up in each part of that journey and how you leveraged all of those to transform the way you evolve as a leader, you do business, you work with partners and so on.
So a terrific amount of learnings, Eduardo, and thank you for being very generous with your time and with your insights that I’m sure our audiences are really going to benefit from. So, really thank you so much for taking all the time today.
Eduardo Kassner: I really appreciate the opportunity and invitation. Thank you.
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