Love affairs, Microsoft style

This was first posted on June 3, 2007 12:53 PM as “Love affairs, Microsoft style” on

When I ran across a magazine article entitled, “A Big Windows Cleanup In Asia,” I was expecting to read something funny. I reckoned it might have something to do with elaborate efforts to scrub off dirt from the windowpanes in pollution- and smog-filled Asian cities. But who am I kidding? I was browsing a May issue of Businessweek Magazine where the stories have more to do with what influence the financial markets rather than whether the movers and shakers have clear views from their swanky corner offices or not.

Anyway, I figured this as soon as I read the lead. It was about a PC buyer who was extolling the benefits of getting a genuine software. Ho-hum. But as I read on, I realized why the writer, Jay Greene, decided to highlight the PC buyer’s sentiment right on. He was talking about China, the home of counterfeits.

Greene says that about three years ago, 92 percent of softwares sold are counterfeits or knocked off copies of Microsoft. Ninety two percent!! In a country that has 1.3 billion population, that’s a whole lot of pirated copies out there. But that was 3 years ago. Fast forward to 2007, that number has slid to 82 percent. What more, Greene wrote that “Beijing now requires all government offices to use legit software. And China’s state-owned TV networks run ads extolling the importance of intellectual-property rights.”

Interesting. What miracles did Microsoft do? Being an (almost) jaded journalist who has written extensively about the corporate baddies in the Philippines, I was waiting to know more about corruption, lobbying, and all kinds and colors of corporate arm-twitching tactics.

Instead, the article credits Microsoft’s corporate social responsibility (CSR) efforts.

I’m no stranger to CSR since I studied this in the UK last year (check out the Chevening Fellows’ video) and has since written about it for Newsbreak and trained local media practitioners how to cover CSR issues. For international publications, I have also contributed articles for Ethical Corporation and has co-authored a part of the 2006 World Review of Corporate Citizenship. Simply put, CSR efforts of companies should go beyond writing-a-check for charities during the Christmas season, but should be part of the company’s business strategy to make sense and to be sustainable.

Big words. But what Microsoft did in China and how it eventually paid off should be instructive.

The Businessweek article notes that “Microsoft has poured more than US$1 billion into research and development in China and building partnerships with universities there.”

That reminded me of a book I read last year. Entitled, “Guanxi,” it gave details of how Bill Gates and his Microsoft gang has patiently and brilliantly conquered the hearts and minds (literally) of the Chinese.

Microsoft was one of the brave early comers in China. It was one of the, or the, first to build a major and designed-to-impress R&D facility where Chinese geeks interacted with the technology biggies in the world who happened to be Microsoft recruits. There must have been a lot of Wow feelings there and I’m sure the word got around. And of course, Microsoft was active in giving support (mostly through PC and other soft technology donations/grants) to universities and to government offices. Sounds familiar?

This was way back in the early 90’s, when China was still struggling with its economy and was not yet the big investment destination that it is now. In other words, as China grew in world prominence, so had Microsoft’s influence in China.

It was the kind of I’ll-be-there-for-you relationship. The sticky kind. The kind that is built through years of nurturing and tested by cultural adversities and perhaps even natural calamities. The kind that lasts.

How I wish men would learn from Microsoft.

I’m digressing, I know. Hmmm… but I write about and analyze CSR for work; I write my personal thoughts here.

Ladies like me don’t dream to be with someone who is perfect. But we would admire someone who tries to learn from us and know when to compromise. In the Guanxi book, there was a funny account about how Bill Gates, used to his legendary jeans-and-shirt plus geek-like hairdo, had to learn to adjust to the formal attires of the Chinese bureaucrats, to be able to get a second meeting with them. Bill tried and compromised. The suit did not make him a lesser man; it just made him more respectable to the other party.

For all of Microsoft’s faults, I find solace in its patience and determination. I could say that perhaps the R&D facility and its donations are well-designed business strategies that are meant to really pay off big time in the future. Perhaps its goal is to eliminate piracy 100 percent in a determinable number of years.

But it takes patience, a good dose of persistence, relentless determination, and a hearty commitment to pursue that goal. And keep it.

I know there are some men who embody that, but most men don’t. They like the chase and the adrenalin rush that, as a male friend said, “keeps him young.” How boring.

If Microsoft is a man, I just might marry him.

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