Following on from AI researcher Pascal Kaufmann, our co-CEO Ana Campos met Marianne Janik, head of Microsoft Switzerland, this month. The result is a very personal interview, about loneliness at the top, the physicist Marie Curie and curiosity as a major driving force.
Ana Campos: You have been Country Manager at Microsoft Switzerland for five years now. What conclusions can you draw? What are you proud of?
Marianne Janik: It makes me proud that with my team from 40 different nations I have been able to create value for Switzerland for five years. It is Microsoft's mission "to empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more."
In the past few years, we have driven forward three topics in particular: innovation, education and security. With respect to the first topic, we make a contribution to Switzerland's high level of innovation. This includes investments in our Swiss data centres as well as our joint research projects. Regards the second topic, we support teaching and learning with technology, very important right now. Where the third topic is concerned, we also deal intensively with ethical questions in connection with technology.
Ana Campos: What would you have done differently with hindsight?
Marianne Janik: In retrospect, I would perhaps push certain topics a little more. This also includes mobilizing Swissness faster as the core brand of Switzerland. We had lost it for a while, despite our 30-year history in Switzerland.
Ana Campos: How exactly did you manage to bring back Swissness?
Marianne Janik: This works well with the three topics mentioned, because they are also very firmly entrenched in Switzerland. In a sense, they serve as anchors and translate and flesh out Swissness.
Ana Campos: It is sometimes very lonely at the top of a company. How do you deal with it?
Marianne Janik: I don't feel lonely. I can prepare and discuss all decisions with my team or other bodies. This makes me feel well supported and challenged. Of course, you have to be brave about some uncomfortable decisions to create clarity. Nobody can do that for you.
Ana Campos: You have had an impressive career with posts in different countries and still seem full of drive. What drives you?
Marianne Janik: Sometimes I ask myself that too. (laughs) I'm basically very curious. I also decided to consciously come out of the comfort zone at least 1-2 times a day. Meaning, to look for situations in which I have to do something that is not so easy for me. It's like a flywheel that helps me develop. It gives me great pleasure and gives me energy to discover something new every day.
Ana Campos: What is your biggest success and what is your biggest mistake or better your biggest lesson?
Marianne Janik: It is difficult for me to find something where I would say it was absolutely unique. For me, success is when I feel that I am on the right path. This also means that many of the things that I have done are still there today, and that people who have accompanied me part of the way are continuing to develop. The same applies to failures. I have small failures every day and make mistakes. I just try not to make the same mistakes again. Especially when you are massively challenged, you fall into an error trap every now and then.
Ana Campos: How do you manage to see "mistakes" and learn from them?
Marianne Janik: I look at the situation every morning and how I feel about it. In the mornings between 7 a.m. and 9 a.m., my schedule is a bit more flexible, so I have time to do that. I reflect either alone or with another person. At the moment I am doing this really intensely, because some things are becoming crystal clear, what still has to be done in the organization. Then I also think: How should I do this? How "sharp" do I focus on some situations? You can also overwhelm an organization simply by seeing too much.
Ana Campos: What would you advise your 12 year old self to do?
Marianne Janik: To be a little more patient, not to take things so seriously. Have more confidence that things will come together.
Ana Campos: Which invention is the most important for you personally?
Marianne Janik: I'm more impressed by progress than a single invention. I am fascinated by how things build on one another, and how this changes society.
Ana Campos: Who is the most impressive female pioneer for you when you look back in history? And why?
Marianne Janik: I have extreme respect for the physicist Marie Curie. For her time she was incredibly versatile and worked across the board, not just in several areas of science. After all, IT is based on physics.
Ana Campos: How do you want to be remembered by your employees, customers and partners?
Marianne Janik: As an authentic person.
Ana Campos: What else do you want to achieve at Microsoft Switzerland?
Marianne Janik: With respect to our three anchor topics in particular, we can still do a lot to advance Switzerland and empower people. We would also like to bring together companies across industries even more closely and create ecosystems. This includes networking start-ups and smaller companies with larger companies, and practically piggybacking them so they can quickly open up new markets.
Ana Campos: Who would you like to have lunch with?
Marianne Janik: With Winston Churchill, a fascinating personality. In the present, I can't think of anyone to become a groupie for.
Ana Campos: What is your advice for companies that want to switch to the digital workplace?
Marianne Janik: Not to neglect the cultural aspects. Right now I see many examples where a digital workplace is being introduced in a kneejerk reaction. According to the motto: It'll do. But a lot is lost. It is important to involve the corporate culture in such a change, to ask yourself: How can we further develop our corporate culture so that people feel good and can work well, even in the new digital world?
This also includes perceiving and capturing fears. In the current situation there is enough of that. Many are unsettled when a dog barks or a child screams in the background in the home office. How do we as a company deal with this? How can we remove the stress from our employees? All of these are cultural issues. It is important to address such things and then tolerate them, and to take them with a pinch of humour.
Ana Campos: How do you deal with such situations?
Marianne Janik: We are fortunate to have decades of remote work experience at Microsoft. But there are still small things that we can improve. For example, to further strengthen personal responsibility and to follow certain rules, such as switching to mute so that others do not hear the sounds. It is important to be considerate of one another, to listen much more closely and to be more precise.
Ana Campos: How do you personally deal with the situation when you work in the home office and are not alone?
Marianne Janik: When four people are doing home learning and video conferencing at the same time, it doesn't always work smoothly. (laughs) I have to ask myself the following questions: How do I organize the call now? How much do I put myself on mute? When do I deactivate the camera, for example in favour of the connection? You have to be well prepared for the calls.
Ana Campos: How does planning work in the family? Do you have certain times when everyone withdraws, learns, works, and then you come together for breaks?
Marianne Janik: Exactly. Lunch break and dinner are our times together. I am fortunate that working from home is nothing new for my children, they have been used to it from an early age. They are older now. In this respect, we are pretty shipshape apart from the bandwidth, which is affected now and then of course. (laughs)