Is Microsoft Interested In Original Branded Content? Chairman John Thompson Talks About It At TechConneXt Summit

Written by Dana Sanchez

As the chairman of the Microsoft board of directors, John Wendell Thompson, 68, is one of the most powerful African Americans in Silicon Valley, but he hates it when people say that. He has famously insisted that he won’t be that poster child.

In addition to Microsoft, Thompson is CEO of the privately held Virtual Instruments, former VP at IBM and former CEO of Symantec. He led the search for Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella.

“It’s obvious to everyone that I’m black. What’s not obvious to everyone is what I know,” Thompson said as he addressed a crowd at the Black Enterprise TechConneXt Summit 2017 in San Francisco earlier in October. “And I better let that be the shining light as opposed to ‘I’m black and I’m here to tell you that.’ My performance on the job? That should be what matters.”

Other topics Thompson addressed at TechConneXt included Microsoft’s music business, whatever happened to tech apprenticeships and how intermingled tech and politics have become.

John Thompson on tech and politics

“Given the way tech is changing the global landscape of jobs, the impact on tech on the global economy does suggest that we need to spend more time on public policy, not less,” Thompson said. “Many people think tech is blue, not red. That’s probably more right than not. But tech employees represent the diversity of political opinions that everyone else in this country has. So tech companies have to reflect not only what their leaders may believe in, but what their company needs to do to be successful.”

On Microsoft’s music business

Is Microsoft interested in original branded content?

“We’re already too late to be in that market,” Thompson said. “Netflix is clearly one of the leaders. I don’t see Microsoft saying, ‘Here’s a new market opportunity we should rush into and we’re late.’ We’ve done that a few times and not had the kind of outcome we hoped for. We just announced last week that we’re going to get out of our music business because we just haven’t had the kind of success we want to have. Just because a market is hot doesn’t mean everyone should stream in, no pun intended. In this particular case, it’s too late for us. There are too many people further along.

John Thompson

On whatever happened to apprenticeship programs in Silicon Valley

An audience member asked Thompson what happened to IBM’s apprenticeship program: “I run a sales team for software companies here in the valley and I struggle to find candidates with that experience level. We don’t have that type of apprentice program anymore. Is there a push to get something like that going again?

“I would say it’s a dead art, not a not a dying art,” Thompson said. “The investment that companies like IBM used to make, not only in salespeople but in engineering as well, was significantly different than today. Today, companies expect that you’ll come in with a certain set of skills that they’ll then mold into what they want you to be. They’ll teach you a few basics about sales training, engineering, whatever the job area might need, but an 18-month program like the one I went through when I joined IBM some 40-something years ago? They don’t exist anymore and I don’t think we should ever expect them to exist (again). The reality of educational training today is (that) more of it has gone online than is done in the classroom. Much of what I was taught was in a classroom, not online. The issue for all our prospects and employees is what things will we give them to go study and learn, and how do we evaluate their progress to evaluate whether they have learned more than they knew before they joined the company?”