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The general manager who ditched the corner office

The general manager of Microsoft does not have a big office, a desk or a parking space. A GM has to lead the way and embody the visible changes she wants to see in others, believes Marianne Dahl Steensen.

Microsoft is in the process of implementing its most wide-ranging change process ever. In future, Microsoft’s general manager in Denmark Marianne Dahl Steensen will be measured on how many people are using the IT giant’s products. Not how many products she sells. This requires major restructuring of the whole group.
Photo: Sif Meincke

Publiceret: 12.08.2016
Af Karen Witt Olsen mail

When she is not in meetings, general manager Marianne Dahl Steensen is in ‘the hub’, Microsoft’s common area, talking to developers, designers, salespeople, marketing employees and all the other 850 people working for the IT giant at its new headquarters in Lyngby.

- From a survey that we ourselves conducted, we know that 82% of all good ideas come from activity and casual meetings – and only 18% arise when you are at your desk or in a meeting. Microsoft is in the process of implementing great change and we need to think differently and act differently in order to move forward. It’s my job to lead and show that this is the right thing to do. Not just talk about it, but actually do it, she says.

Marianne Dahl Steensen backs this up with the information that despite – or rather because of – her position as the general manager of Microsoft Denmark she does not have and never will have a big office, a parking space or even a permanent desk anywhere in the building.

- I have to embody the change I want to see in our business model, the organisation and the employees, she explains.

More noticeable than measurable

It is very much all change at the global IT giant. After 40 years, Microsoft is in the process of implementing its most wide-ranging change process ever.

It was launched by Global CEO Satya Nadella who joined the company in 2014 and executed in Denmark by Marianne Dahl Steensen who became new general manager in 2015.

- From being a company whoes mission was to ‘put a PC on every desk’, we now want to ‘make all people and organisations on the planet able to achieve more’, she says.

Microsoft’s revenue has decreased globally in recent years. According to Marianne Dahl Steensen, the reason that the IT giant’s share price and value have increased, it is because the market has confidence in Microsoft being able to achieve the aims of its change process.

The changes mean that the company will in future to a much higher degree be earning its money on subscription-based services and cloud solutions.

An important success criterion of this business model will also be to look at the degree to which products are used.

- Google and Facebook have changed the business model of the IT industry forever by giving software away for free and instead earning their money on advertising and data. Our future business model is slightly different, but it is based on the same principle of offering services instead of selling another operating system or server, she says.

Marianne Dahl Steensen describes it as going from measuring how many products are being sold to looking at the degree to which customers use Microsoft products.

‘Can you please give me a hand?’

According to Microsoft’s general manager, this digital restructuring and its many opportunities mean that it is important that everyone can and wants to learn new things. And that people dare to admit that they do not know everything – in order to acquire knowledge and move in new directions.

Marianne Dahl Steensen explains about the day she – in the middle of an important client meeting on a major contract – called a colleague:

- There is something I don’t know. Would you be able to give me some answers? she asked.

She did get those answers. The story about the new general manager who had the courage to admit her ignorance is an important part of the narrative about the direction in which Marianne Dahl Steensen wants Microsoft employees to go in order to ensure the company’s success.

- Change is very much about having courage. To dare to show your vulnerability and as a manager believe that you do not lose authority by revealing your ignorance. When Microsoft believes that skills are more important than roles, I also have to lead the way, she says.

Children to learn algorithms

Digitisation of all aspects of society is another development that takes up much of the general manager’s time.

She has participated in the meetings about digitisation at Marienborg that the Danish prime minister has organised and Marianne Dahl Steensen has talked about the skills shortage in this area.

- The IT industry is crying out for employees. We will be 6,000 specialists short in the period to 2020. But this is just the tip of the iceberg. IT is increasingly becoming a part of all industries so we need IT at all levels. For example, I would prefer children to learn about algorithms and coding rather than woodwork and sewing in Danish schools. Algorithms and coding will be of far more use, she says.

At secondary school, IT should be taught at a high level just as it should be an underlying skill across all subjects at university level.

Microsoft recruits across the globe. In its software development division, the company recruits more than 50% of the workforce abroad. This means that currently more than 40 different nationalities work together at Microsoft headquarters in Lyngby.

Marianne Dahl Steensen

Aged 41

2015 – General Manager/Microsoft Denmark & Iceland
2011 – 2015 Private Director, Codan Forsikring
2004 – 2011 Business Development Manager, Vice President and then Senior Vice President, TDC
1999 – 2004 Consultant, Accenture
1999 Graduated in Economics from Aarhus University


- I have to embody the change I want to see in our business model, the organisation and the employees.
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PUBLISHED: 8/12/2016 LAST MODIFIED: 2/4/2017