Where does Frank Clegg want to go today?

He has become a fixture in Canada’s high-tech scene, but in January, Frank Clegg recently said he will step down as president of Microsoft Canada

to take a nine-month sabbatical with family. He will return to Microsoft in September, 2005 in an undetermined position.

David Hemler, vice-president, central region, small- and mid-market solutions, will replace the outgoing president.

Clegg joined the company in 1990, when it had a staff of about 90 people and revenues of $55 million. Fourteen years later, the Canadian subsidiary has grown to more than 700 employees with $1 billion in annual revenues.

For the past four years, Clegg has been at the helm, responsible for initiatives such as a public education effort to help parents protect their children online and assisting the Toronto Police Service in building the Child Exploitation Tracking System.

Three years ago, Clegg led a fundraising campaign for the Canadian National Institute for the Blind’s “”That All May Read”” campaign, wherein Microsoft Canada built a $33-million digital library for the blind. It was a project that brought together high-tech partners, providing content such as newspapers and magazines and offering $2.5 million in funding and expertise.

In the following interview with Computing Canada editor Patricia MacInnis, Clegg gets personal, and puts his money where his mouth is when is comes to balancing work and family life.

Computing Canada: What are the most significant changes you’ve witnessed inside Microsoft in the past 14 years?

Frank Clegg: Microsoft Canada has changed from a subsidiary that was executing and implementing worldwide plans to being an enterprise within an enterprise that has an opportunity to influence worldwide behaviour.

When I started, we had a warehouse, distribution relationships. We had hardly anybody covering enterprise systems, no consulting team, no community presence.

So we’ve evolved over the 14 years and we1re one of the most respected companies in Canada. We have created a G7 within Microsoft and we have a seat at the table for the G7 on a worldwide basis.

CC: How does this influence manifest itself?

FC: We created a new way way to cover enterprise customers this past year. Chris Stanley, who is the VP of the enterprise team, helped craft that, so when it came out worldwide . . . it’s about moving more toward solution selling. It’s a change from a primarily desktop, Office and Windows team to a more total solution team.

You need to change your coverage model, the skill sets of your team, the relationships with your partners, so those sorts of things had to be determined.

CC: Outside of Microsoft, what advances in the past 14 years have had the biggest impact on you, your company, your customers?

FC: If you think 14 years ago, I remember the first time I went on a plane, I had my laptop doing e-mail. Everyone on the plane was asking me what that was. The thing weighed 14 pounds. Today, everyone is doing e-mail. It isn’t an anomaly. Computing is now part of everyone’s life; it’s integrated into business. Before it was an adjunct. If you did anything technical, you were a unique entity, and sometimes nerdy, whereas today, you can’t live without e-mail.

The other (advance) is handwriting recognition and voice recognition. Fourteen years ago, it was a dream. Now, I sit with my tablet PC, I take notes in meetings, I scribble on PowerPoint slides. The newest one is this whole instant messaging phenomenon.

CC: What is the accomplishment you’re most proud of at Microsoft?

FC: We just had my boss sum it up, and he summed it up incredibly. He said Microsoft Canada has an incredible reputation of being an innovator and a leader and accountable for running its business. That’s not me; that’s the team and I feel blessed to have worked with and created this team of amazing professionals.

CC: What advice will you give to David Hemler as he takes over?

FC: Take your time to get your arms around the business. We’re doing fine; the company is in great shape. Don’t feel you have to come in and do a lot right now. I’d also say to continually balance more customer satisfaction work and partner satisfaction work.

CC: What’s the most important thing you’ve learned about yourself at Microsoft?

FC: I do a pretty good job of getting the team to collaborate and make a team decision. The thing I could have done better is sometimes I could have been tougher. There’s a balance you have of driving people too hard and getting their buy-in.

CC: When you come back to Microsoft in September 2005, in what capacity will that be?

FC: It’s almost a year away when I come back . . . Steve Ballmer was down in January and I’ve had incredible support. He1s been very clear that they want me back. There’s 50,000 jobs in MS. There’s going to be one with my name on it.

CC: Do you think this sabbatical signals any kind of a trend for others who work in high-stress corporate positions?

FC: I got 139 e-mails in my inbox in the last 24 hours. About half are congratulations. There hasn’t been one person yet who said, “”I don’t know; is that the right thing to be doing?””

What I told the team yesterday was that for the first time, I am prioritizing my family over my job and (I got) a standing ovation. I don’t know anyone when they retire who said, “”I wish I’d spent more time at the office.”” We talked about this a couple of months ago as a family — my daughters are 13 and 18 — and at first the girls weren’t sure, but now they’re excited.

CC: What are some of the initiatives you created at Microsoft to support the work/life balance?

FC: When I first joined the company, the second or third thing I talked about was balance. I made people take vacation. Our controller hadn’t taken a vacation in three years. I made him go. It’s about encouraging people to use technology, so if you have to be home . . . I like to be home for dinner, so I go home, we have dinner as a family, as much as we can, then I get back on e-mail. Allowing people to have flex-time in the workplace. If something happens in a family situation, giving them time off. We have a very easy process if something happens to a family member: you just let your manager know and they get to go. They don’t need my permission. We’re a unique company that allows you to take a week off to donate time.

CC: What’s the goal of your sabbatical?

FC: I’ve been talking about family/work life balance since I joined Microsoft and now I get to walk the talk. I want to reconnect with my daughters and my wife. Your relationship pays a price. We’ve had a busy year and we’re in fine shape, but I want to reconnect with them. We’re going to go through these personal profiles as a family.

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