Chatting for Change with Rogers Weed

BGI at Pinchot had the privilege of hosting Rogers Weed, former director of the Washington State Department of Commerce and Microsoft executive, as a Change Agent in Residence (CAIR) lecturer at the March Intensive of our MBA in Sustainable Systems program on Bainbridge Island.

A native of South Carolina, Weed received a computer science degree from Duke University, which was followed by a three year stretch at Bain and Company in Boston. After completing his MBA at Wharton, he joined Microsoft, where he remained for 16 years, before assuming his role as director of commerce in Washington.

Not one to sit idle, he now divides his time between advising 1Energy Systems, a software startup working in cleantech and Ada Developers Academy an intensive software developer training school for women.

Rogers was gracious enough to sit down with BGI at Pinchot MBA in Sustainable Systems student John Chiles for a chat, during which he shared insights about working for Microsoft, work/life balance and why every student should consider public service. Here are excerpts from the interview:

What did you learn at business school that was valuable to you? What was the most valuable thing you learned at Microsoft?

Business school gave me confidence by filling in gaps in my knowledge of different business topics, and it demystified the disparate areas of business.

A similar thing happened in my corporate career. When you work for a large company like Microsoft, you get behind the curtain and see how systems actually work. There is value in working for a startup, but working for a large corporation you learn all about the scale, structure and systemization necessary to grow. As a product manager for Microsoft, I had the benefit of being a generalist, which gave me a broad and systemic perspective on what the company did for and with customers and partners.

What surprised you as Washington State Director of Commerce?

A lot of business people instinctively run away from the public sector. Don’t — we need people who can bridge the gap between the public and private, particularly business people with an interest in understanding policy. I was particularly struck by the quality of people I met in the public sector, who were as sharp as the folks I’d worked with in my private career. Additionally, lots of the skills you learn in the public sector have cross application to your private careers. Much like working for Microsoft, you gain lots of perspective “behind the curtain” of public service.

Additionally, I have a tremendous amount of respect for people who work with the legislature, which was by far the most difficult thing I had to deal with [in my public service time]. I now know why lobbyists are so well-paid!

What advice do you have for students on work/life balance?

When I started at Microsoft in 1990, I immersed myself in work, and my focus was to climb the ladder and be successful, working the hours necessary to do that. After five years of this I recognized that it was not a sustainable or happy lifestyle. After Windows 95 shipped, I had the financial freedom to take a work sabbatical. This was a clean break from Microsoft — at the time I did not know if I would come back and work for Microsoft.

A year-long sabbatical changed my perspective on work. When I came back, I drew a line in the sand and made work/life balance a priority and communicated these boundaries to my co-workers and managers. I thought that this trade-off would undermine my ability to be successful in the corporate world. This turned out to be untrue. What I learned from this is that when you communicate your values clearly in business, people will respect them.

What kind of advice do you have for BGI grads?

Pick a trend that compels you. Go for an industry, job or company that aligns with your mission. My dad was fairly incredulous of my decision to leave Bain to work for this startup called Microsoft in 1990, but I was compelled by the challenge and wanted to try it.

Also, if you want to break into a field, it’s good to know people, and it pays to be persistent. Microsoft came to Wharton during my first year of business school. They were not recruiting for my major, but I sought out the recruiter anyway and wrangled an interview, which led to a job.

Overall, remember to read, listen and embrace a bias towards action. Make decisions, and when necessary, make adjustments.

About the Author

John Chiles is a 2nd year MBA in Sustainable Systems student at BGI at Pinchot. A recent Seattle transplant, he likes learning about people, building community and creating simple things that work.

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  1. […] this week: Rogers Weed, former head of the state Department of Commerce. (Here’s a recent Pinchot University interview with […]

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