Microsoft's international man a mystery no more

Jean-Philippe Courtois, who recently took over responsibility for Microsoft's international operation, shares his thoughts on open source, software licensing, and development

Jean-Philippe Courtois was named this week as the new president of Microsoft's International division, with responsibility for operations in Japan, China, the Asia Pacific region, Latin America in addition to France, Germany, the United Kingdom and the rest of the EMEA region.

Courtois was previously European chief executive, and has served as co-chair of the World Economic Forum’s Global Digital Divide Initiative Task Force and is a member of the South African International Advisory Council on Information Society and Development.

As Courtois begins to settle into his new role, which will be critical to Microsoft's future growth, ZDNet UK caught up with him.

Q: What are your priorities coming into this role?
A: I have four key aspirations in mind. The first is growth — growing the business and accelerating the growth of the business.

Second is to engage more deeply with the pubic sector worldwide. We need to look at how we deliver technology solutions to the local IT industry, and how we can improve that.

Third is emerging markets. I was tasked nine months ago with producing a report on this and I have been involved in shaping a long term strategy for Microsoft. I am very passionate about this.

The last priority is leadership. At the moment we have 15,000 people on the ground in 86 subsidiaries, working in sales and marketing and services and working in research and development in India, China and Europe. I want to make sure I can do a great job leading them.

You served as co-chair of the World Economic Forum's Global Digital Divide Initiative Task Force and are a member of the South African International Advisory Council on Information Society and Development. Emerging markets clearly interest you. Can you provide more detail on what you want to do there?
I had the great opportunity of being engaged in a number of countries with that work, and I can relate what we did in places like Romania and Argentina; for instance, what it takes to create a long-lasting relationship together. One thing we need is a five-year view of what we want to accomplish together. It is not just about selling software, but about building real solutions with governments and businesses.

But the thing we need to focus on as a company is to create a sustainable environment. For every $1 spent on Microsoft products, $7 is spent in the local community for locally-provided software and services. To develop this ecosystem of small companies we need to enable ICT.

We all understand how important the digital divide is. We opened up a refurbishment centre in Namibia, and that is just one piece of an end-to-end initiative where we collect PCs and refurbish them. This particular initiative was set up to install free version of Windows and deploy that into schools.

And what about the challenge presented by open source software in emerging markets?
At the end of the day open source software is a reality. But if we end up delivering more value for the local economy, I am confident people will see that value.

Microsoft launched its refurbisher programme only after intense criticism for the way it treated Australian charity PCs for Kids. How do you tackle perceptions that this was a wholly reactive strategy?
We created our Authorised Refurbisher Programme two years ago and we have seen a great response to this initiative. In Europe, because of the environmental directive that means companies now have to recycle, there is a need for agencies to recycle in a proper way. It is a fantastic opportunity for them to help.

Overall I feel pretty good. The key thing is to make it sustainable, to have people learning in a professional manner. We do some training in developing countries already. This provides access to affordable to technology. So what we do is provide access to software at low cost to schools. We have also put in place a structure of training products for teachers. The third build block is providing tools to connect the teacher community and build digital content. We have 62 agreements in Europe and Africa now. In the past couple of years 270,000 students have benefited from this training.

So what now?
I plan to visit 20 countries in the next few months, to start learning and immersing myself in some Asian countries such as Japan and China. I will also do a tour of Latin America — there is an interesting culture and some great interest in technology there.

In China our company has made number of forays, not just as a market to sell but also as a market with great skills and competencies. We recently announced a joint venture in China, so you can expect us to really invest there and still have some issues as you would expect in terms of intellectual property and so on.

How can you realistically tackle the issue of unlicensed software in emerging markets?
Our experience is that it takes time for different societies to tackle or realise what intellectual property is all about. It is not like you can have one approach that works everywhere. As you deepen your relationship with governments, they have to decide wither intellectual property will be important. If they want to be serious they have to put a stake in the ground and say 'we will not use unlicensed software in government'.

We are looking at news ways for legal users to get extra stuff, in terms of software and services, by virtue of being legal. The experience of using legal versions of the software is actually much better and richer, and it is a place where I would expect to see local strategies. You will see many more initiatives on this front to come in the autumn.