George Randelov, Microsoft Bulgaria Country Manager: Business Climate, IT Talent Make Bulgaria Important on Microsoft's Map
Exclusive interview of Novinite.com (Sofia News Agency) with George Randelov, Country Manager at Microsoft Bulgaria, for Novinite's "International Survey: Bulgaria-USA."
George Randelov started his career in 1991 as a product manager in a partner to IBM company in Bulgaria, prior accelerating his 15-years international career with IBM Bulgaria, being a Country Manager for 10 years and subsequently a Strategic Value Creation Team Leader – General Business, North East Europe. Prior to joining Microsoft in the last five months Mr Randelov worked as a freelanced consultant with various clients groups across Europe.
He holds diplomas on International Economic Relations from University of National & World Economy and Mechanical Engineering from the Technical University in Sofia, holds an MBA degree from Henley Management College, UK. He had also specialized at Investment Banking Institute New York, USA.
You were appointed General Director of Microsoft Bulgaria on September 1, 2010. Which is the most difficult decision you had to take during this, albeit short, period?
Decisions may be right or wrong. Whether a decision is difficult or not is defined by its impact in mid and long term. Sometimes we need to assess the compromise between short term gain versus long term sustainability and it is an ongoing process for my role. The future will show whether the decisions we took (me and my leadership team) were right.
What is the focus of your work as General Director of Microsoft Bulgaria – sales or the development of new products? Are you planning on making major changes in the operations of the company? What are your major goals?
My goal is Microsoft Bulgaria to be successful and to grow – both in terms of business results and in terms of number of employees. I strongly rely on the team spirit – within the company and in our relationship with partners. Business integration would be vital for our common success. Common trust and commitment could lead to offering solutions and services that bring real business value.
When is Internet Explorer 9 official version expected to be on the market?
We have had 13M downloads of IE9 Beta in the past two months making it the most rapidly adopted beta version of Internet Explorer ever. At that stage we're excited to provide developers with access to the Internet Explorer 9 Platform Preview. Our timeline is driven by the quality of the product. Microsoft is deliberate in our approach to releasing new products, and we feel a strong obligation to our customers to do so in a responsible manner that ensures they are getting the safest, most reliable product possible.
Is the market stable despite the serious financial crisis?
There is no market or company in the world that could say it has not been affected by the crisis. From our perspective, in today's tough economic times, governments and industries need to work together more than ever to attain shared priorities for recovery and sustainable growth.
There are some signs of recovery. I believe that companies, those that continue to invest in innovation, will be in a better position to weather today's difficult economic climate and then grow quickly as the global economy begins to recover. It is with the future in mind that Microsoft continues to invest in R&D; we invested USD 9.5 B worldwide in R&D last year and were recognized in the European Commission's 2009 Innovation Scoreboard as the top R&D investor worldwide.
Does Bulgaria have a good image in Microsoft? Does it have access to the investment programs and schemes of the company, used for incentives for the development of the sector in our country?
Bulgaria is important on the Microsoft's map. Our country offers good business climate and has unique IT talent. We will continue to develop our business in Bulgaria and to invest here – the country has huge potential and our operations here are successful. Microsoft Bulgaria recently celebrated its 11th anniversary on the Bulgarian market. During this period we have invested heavily in several key spheres of economy and society – Bulgaria's IT industry, education and the social sphere. Microsoft Bulgaria has a long-term strategy to aid Bulgaria's secondary and university education. So far, the company has invested more than USD 1 000 000 in secondary education during the period 2003-2009.
Over the next 4 years, USD 800 000 more will be invested under the Partners in learning program. To date, the Partners in Learning program has enabled: 20 000 teachers to be trained; 200 000 students to learn from specially developed content; 300 pilot schools take part in Microsoft Live@Edu program; 25 000 teachers are registered on the Innovative teachers network portal www.teacher.bg.
At the end of September 2010, Live@edu was launched at the University of National and World Economy – providing students and professors with the platforms to create and share knowledge.
Microsoft Bulgaria develops software products, but distributes them through partners. Are you planning to introduce changes in the distribution?
Microsoft strongly relies on its partner ecosystem; we have more than 800 partners in Bulgaria. The Microsoft ecosystem in Bulgaria includes those companies that sell PCs, servers, storage, and smart handheld devices running Microsoft software; software vendors that write applications that run on Microsoft platforms; resellers that sell and distribute these products; and service firms that install and manage Microsoft-based solutions, train consumers and businesses on Microsoft products, and service customers for their own applications. It also includes companies that do combinations of these functions.
This business model is good not only for Microsoft and its' partner ecosystem but for the IT environment and Bulgarian economy as a whole. According to IDC Aid to recovery study (2009), for every BGN Microsoft made in Bulgaria in 2009, companies in the local ecosystem made 12.93 BGN. Companies in the Microsoft ecosystem employ 12,000 people; IT-using organizations employ another 9,000 IT professionals who work with Microsoft software or the products and services based on it. Together, these employees account for 51% of IT-related employment in 2009 and 56% of IT-related taxes in the country.
Does Microsoft Bulgaria have any requirements that computer assemblers have to meet in terms of configurations?
For the very big local assemblers Microsoft has guidelines and requirement about production quality, and helps them certify their products. This improves the quality and compatibility of their desktop, mobile and server systems, and enables them get access to big Corporate and Public Sector customers. For the smaller local assemblers, all resources are free, and there are no specific requirement. Microsoft publishes guidelines and advices on the software and configurations. The partners can choose to use the OEM technologies to get their product quality closer to the big multinational PC manufacturers. All resources are free at http://oem.microsoft.com.
What would you say to convince people that Microsoft products are the better choice and disprove the statements of free and open source software proponents?
Rather than engaging in a debate about 'open versus closed', I prefer to focus on openness. More than 350,000 open source applications run on Microsoft platforms and we are releasing protocol documentation for our high volume products like Windows and Office in order to help developers innovate and succeed. We are formal members of more than 150 standards groups, and participating actively in more than 350 working groups. In Office 2010 we've enabled documents in Word to be saved in OpenXML or ODF formats. Microsoft contributed code to the Linux kernel, and we are helping our customers to virtualize diverse data centers. We believe there are times for openness, and we also believe there are times when proprietary software makes better business sense.
Another key point is one that transcends all of our business, which is that when the software ecosystem succeeds, we succeed. This is also true for companies that sell open source software.
A great example of this is SugarCRM, a 100% open source company which has chosen to offer its online services on Microsoft's Azure platform. The CEO, Larry Augustin, was part of the group which coined the term "open source." When the cloud computing phenomenon started to take hold, SugarCRM began its search for the best cloud platform to help extend its business to the cloud and to help it pursue the new business opportunities presented by the cloud. It's choice was Microsoft, and it became one of our first customers on Windows Azure.
How do you assess the state policy in the sector?
Dialogue is more important than assessment and we are always open to dialogue. I would say the state policy is to make their citizens' life easier and access to administrative services easier – this is something we strongly support. Citizens expect a government that can be a part of their digital lives - one that responds, acts, and communicates in fundamentally new ways. Microsoft and its partners are helping governments bring services and information to citizens anytime and anywhere. The result is a more collaborative, two-way conversation between governments and citizens.
The relationship between Bulgaria's state administration and the software giant has been very "passionate". What would be the expenses that the state administration has to pay if it is to migrate from Microsoft to alternative products?
Microsoft has a long history of working closely with governments and our partners worldwide to help foster social and economic development through the use of technology and Bulgaria has been part of this ongoing initiative. Our approach to supporting governments is a holistic vision of three combined key elements: efficiency, citizen engagement, and job creation and opportunity, each of which help drive national competitiveness. However, technology alone is not the answer - true economic and social opportunity cannot be delivered by one company or even one government acting alone. Government and industry must work together to help identify the course of action that can help rebuild infrastructures and encourage sustainable economic and social development.
How free is the alternative free software?
This is not something I am able to answer.
Microsoft Bulgaria has launched a number of initiatives, which aim to help the Bulgarian business and youth. Which are the most important ones and how do you see their development?
I've already talked about our Partners in Learning program and its success.
We have also Child Online Safety campaign NetAlarma targeting children, teenagers, parents and teachers on how to behave more safely in the Internet. This year we target teenagers and our aim is to initiate more open dialogue with teenagers on what is important for them when using Internet. We do not want to mentor; we just mean to initiate a discussion – that's why the main platform is Facebook where information is more informal and friendly. Microsoft Child Online Safety campaign has twice received Bulgarian Business Leaders Forum awards and is recognized at the largest in this field in Bulgaria. Engaging partners we have initiated public discussions with active engagement of government institutions and NGOs, children and parents in Sofia and the country, created movie "I surf safely", specially designed children educational book "Me and the Internet". In 2009 at start of the new school year more than 3000 children nationwide received the book. We have announced online contests "Find the 8th Rule for Safer Internet" (2007-2008) Lesson for parents (2008-2009) – children propose how their parents could better protect them - more than 1500 applications were received and the best 10 rules are included in a brochure distributed in 150 000 copies. Only in 2009 we've reached more 800 000 children/parents/teachers and 700 teachers were trained on the subject.
After being approved by the Ministry of Education, Youth and Science the movie "I surf Safely" has been inserted as a CD in the IT Manual for 3 grade of Izkustva publishing house – it has been circulated in 4 000 copies and more than 200 schools in Bulgaria.
Another successful example is the European Union Grant Advisors (EUGA) program that became active in Bulgaria on Oct 1 2007 aiming to support SMEs gain easier access to EU funding. More than 700 Bulgarian companies have been consulted under the EUGA program and projects for EUR 25 M have been submitted with projects for EUR 16 M approved so far – mainly under the programs Administrative Capacity, Human Resources and Competitiveness. One of the main priorities of EUGA is to support the implementing of E-government and E services through the EU funding.
The recruitment of good IT experts in Bulgaria was very tough just until recently. Is this still the case and how do you motivate your employees?
It has always been difficult to recruit and retain talent in whatever industry. Microsoft is committed to investing in its employees on both enhancing interpersonal and professional capabilities or providing opportunity for career pursue. We do provide people with the necessary tools and occasions to plan their careers further within the company and give them opportunity to attend training, professional gatherings or summits that would be of help to reach their goals. Our training programs are inclusive and designed not just to train people for one role, but to think about growing their careers and moving to different departments internally to build a range of skills and experience. This keeps people challenged and satisfied. We do also maintain positive and encouraging working environment, lead open and trustful communication, and provide flexibility at the work place and level of independency in running the daily activities. All this attributes are highly appreciated by the employees and definitely are powerful motivational and retention instruments.
More than half of Microsoft Bulgaria employees are women, which makes the company a leader in Central and Eastern Europe. How did the company manage to achieve that?
We don't differentiate our employees on a gender principle – we value passion, talent and professionalism. Probably the ratio female/male is higher in Bulgaria than the average for CEE. Bulgarian women are much dedicated to be successful in their career and are not afraid to compete in areas and industries that are generally male dominated. We give those opportunities for female talent to test oneself into an environment and job that are building very much on strengths, diversified business and interpersonal experience, blended learning and fun at work, which everyone enjoys and appreciates. People value a fair work-life balance, and it is important for us as a company to reflect on that pattern and provide options to work flexibly if needed. We do support female colleagues while on a maternity leave of absence by endorsing opportunities to reach useful and up-to-date information, remotely support virtual projects, avail themselves of the benefits offered by the company and using our unified communication products to communicate with own workgroup or cross-groups.
One last personal question. You had the opportunity to leave Bulgaria in the early 1990s and make a career somewhere abroad. Why did you decide to stay here?
There were two main reasons for that. First, my family, my friends and relatives were living in Bulgaria and second, I figured out that there were more opportunities in Bulgaria than in developed (Western Europe) countries, and I like challenges!
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