Microsoft’s Alain Crozier Bids Farewell to China
In the latest of AmCham China Quarterly magazine’s series profiling our Board of Governors (BOG) members, outgoing Board member Alain Crozier reflects on his time in China, impact on AmCham China, and his advice for the 2022 Board members.
You’ve worked at Microsoft for over 25 years. Could you outline your career with the company?
Alain Crozier: I joined Microsoft in 1994 in Paris in a finance role. I went on to take several finance and operations leadership roles in Microsoft France, the Americas, and the South Pacific. In 2000, I became Worldwide Controller and then in 2003, CFO for the global sales and marketing operation at our Redmond Global Headquarters in Washington. In 2012, I went back to France to take on another leadership role as President of Microsoft France, and in 2016 I was appointed CEO of Microsoft Greater China Region. So, all together I’ve been with Microsoft for over 25 years. I’ve had tremendous opportunities to learn, grow, and evolve along with the company.
You became the Microsoft Greater China Chairman and CEO in 2016. After five years in China, what are your biggest takeaways?
Alain Crozier: China is, of course, an enormous market for pretty much everything, and technology is no exception. But more than that, it is so dynamic – just in the five years I have been here with Microsoft, for example, it seems the entire country shifted from cash and occasional cards to almost exclusively digital payments. We saw the rise of the bike-share business, with the proliferation of bikes everywhere, and then, just ask quickly, they seemed to disappear overnight. A big takeaway for me, is that China is incredibly innovative. China is uniquely willing to try and fail fast, iterate on ideas, and take them in new directions. I feel that, even within my short time here, China has transformed from a tech fast follower to an industry leader.
Over the same time period, what are the biggest changes you’ve observed? How has the outlook for engagement with China changed?
Alain Crozier: The biggest changes I’ve seen in the technology space have been around the growth of awareness and maturity – particularly in enterprise – in terms of understanding first, the need, and then, the urgency of digital transformation. When I first arrived, sure, everyone knew about the cloud, but they were reluctant to dive in. Five years later, it’s a given. Today, we have strong local players in addition to the global ones. Now, everyone has moved on to working out their hybrid cloud strategy, how to use AI, and how to become more agile and productive with digital tools. The pandemic was really the final catalyst. It made remote work and resiliency a new imperative for digital security and compliance.
In terms of engagement, I have to say that despite a difficult trade and diplomatic environment, at least for Microsoft, the environment has been quite stable. We have been in China for nearly 30 years and during that time, we have experienced a lot of challenges along with our successes. But through it all, we have always aimed to stay engaged, continue to contribute to the economy and society in alignment with national priorities, and be transparent about where we need to have boundaries. I think that our Chinese counterparts appreciate that and engage with us in good faith in a similar way. Given this, I think the outlook appears pretty good for China-US engagement in the business realm. And it is encouraging to see the US and China taking recent steps to productively re-engage.
Currently, one of the most sensitive areas of the bilateral relationship is tech. What role can US tech companies play in the US-China relationship?
Alain Crozier: US tech companies have a lot to offer China in several respects. However, there are two areas where I think they can be most helpful to China’s agenda, and therefore stabilize the bilateral relationship. One is assisting US companies to come to China, to grow in China, and to innovate here. Microsoft offers a consistent global cloud architecture, including our productivity tools, which helps companies easily deploy and run their key systems in the country, while staying secure and compliant. This fulfills a national goal to bring in high-value multinational business and investment. At the same time, this same cloud is open and flexible so that Chinese companies who might use one of the local clouds for their business model in China can easily deploy on our cloud to achieve global growth – with the same advantages of compliance and data security. Dual circulation is, of course, a key national priority. And so, if US tech companies can support these national priorities in a transparent and responsible way, I think that will only enhance good will in the US and China’s relations.
A particular focus of yours has been assisting partners and customers define digital transformation goals. The pandemic unexpectedly accelerated digital transformation globally, but due to China’s aggressive and successful pandemic response, the pressure for rapid digital transformation eased. What are your predictions regarding digital adoption in China?
Alain Crozier: To be honest, I do not think the urgency has really eased all that much. There was already a sense of urgency before the pandemic, but it was more about efficiency and competitive advantage. Once the disruption of remote-everything turned the world upside down, the urgency was more about business continuity and all the associated components of that. So, everyone made the change, and they made it fast. But there is no returning to “normal.” The world has changed. All around the world, we’re still feeling the effects of COVID and we need to be prepared to dial up and dial back. Resilience is the name of the game. And it all depends on the same technologies and a hybrid approach to work, and that means a hybrid approach to technology. So, we are not encountering resistance and, in fact, we’re seeing strong continuous uptake of cloud services and solutions in China. I predict digital adoption will continue to accelerate and especially in the areas of process automation and incorporation of AI, which is why we focused on providing tools to make that easy for almost anyone in any industry or organization to effectively do.
During your time here, you joined the AmCham China Board of Governors. How has being a BOG member shaped your experience here? What do you feel was your most important contribution during your tenure on the Board?
Alain Crozier: Being a BOG member was really a great experience for me. I especially benefitted from engaging with other Board members and thinking through the challenges the US business community faces. Microsoft has a unique history and experience in China that has shaped my perspective, and I hope that was valuable to the Board. Others’ experiences and perspectives were certainly valuable to me as I worked through strategy and challenges. But I also quite enjoyed engaging with younger AmCham China members, like the Leadership Development Program (LDP) group, who are very promising professionals who always had great questions. AmCham China, as a mature organization, needed to adopt modern business applications tools and systems to support its development and better serve its members. As part of the Technology Committee, this something I have been deeply involved with.
In which areas would you like to see the Chamber doing more work in the future?
Alain Crozier: AmCham China is essential to the growth of small businesses. So, doing more to further the interests of small businesses is critical. The Chamber of Commerce should be viewed as their business partner.
As an outgoing Board member, do you have any advice for the incoming Board of Governors members?
Alain Crozier: The AmCham China Board of Governors is full of smart, energetic, and engaged leaders who have a lot to offer. My advice would be to spend time getting to know the other Board members as well as the membership. Attend as many events as you can. Be a mentor and pitch in to help where you have a strength. The BOG members will want to hear from you but be sure to take as much, or more time, to likewise listen and learn from them. We have an important role in shaping the US-China relationship, and that requires humility and a commitment to listening and learning with good will.
What’s next for you? Do you plan to still be engaged with China? If yes, in what capacity?
Alain Crozier: My next chapter will be to mentor, coach, and advise small companies, including startups, to help them access global markets. So definitely it will include working closely with Chinese companies to help them go global and/or partner with multinationals.