Corporate Vice President of Azure Infrastructure, Digital Applications and IoT at Microsoft
Merrie Williamson is the Corporate Vice President of Azure Infrastructure, Azure IoT and the newly launched Digital and Application Innovation solution area in the Microsoft Customer and Partner Solutions business group. She is responsible for Microsoft’s global commercial sales, strategy and execution for the core multi-billion dollar Azure business. As Microsoft and their customers continue to transform with digital solutions, the requirements for an ever more agile sales models with deeper investments in technical breath and customer compassion are required. Merrie joined Microsoft in 2019 as an executive leader with deep roots in building cloud technologies and driving global cultural transformation.
Before joining Microsoft Merrie worked in the technology sector for over 20 years. She directed strategic investments in products from technical inception to launch, typically in a cutting-edge area for the business, bringing together organizations, corporate partnerships, and leading sales teams to deliver revenue. With a background in Manufacturing Engineering, Merrie is ardent is passionate about finding solutions for the under-representation of women and underrepresented people in STEM and sales.
Merrie is also passionate about service and community. She has served on two not-for-profit boards in the Seattle area. Starting in the early 2000s, with Seattle MESA (STEM pipeline for Seattle underrepresented schools) and then on the board of the Seattle YMCA (Homeless youth, special needs foster care, low-income
childcare, and health and wellness) where she volunteered for 10 years, including as chairwoman. More recently, Merrie had the opportunity to serve for over two years on a private board for Urban Airship, a start-up technology company in Portland. She shares her community service mindset with her husband Derek, who has served for over 25 years in the Seattle Fire Department and is currently an Assistant Chief. Her life is shared by her wonderful children Evan and Sophie. Together they are sporty and musical. Merrie is a voracious reader, amateur soccer coach and player, and unsuccessful gardener. In recent days, Merrie has used her platform on social media to speak out about the Black Lives Matter movement, hoping to address this as a human rights challenge by building a shared understanding and steps to inspire action. Connect with Merrie on LinkedIn.
We began by asking Merrie to tell us a little bit about herself.
“I am a black woman in sales. Back in my college years, I knew I wanted to do deeply technical problem solving types of things with my life…I thought I was a brilliant product person who built the best things on the planet and sales was just this easy cheesy job that people like me don’t go into – but it’s hard and] it’s something I wish more people understood.”
Merrie studied engineering in undergrad and continued on with this focus for her Masters Degree. After finishing up school, Merrie joined the workforce as a Technical Program Manager at Intel.
While working at Intel, Merrie grew both as an engineer as well as a leader.
“I learned a lot about the world of technology and high tech and how to develop myself as an engineer. I learned how to marry my authentic view of the world into my management experiences and eventually senior leadership positions.”
Before joining Microsoft, Merrie worked in the technology sector for over 20 years. She directed strategic investments in products from technical inception to launch, typically in a cutting-edge area for the business, bringing together organizations and building corporate partnerships.
Merrie made a career pivot while at Intel when she stepped into the role as Global Senior Director for the Datacenter Sales & Marketing Team. While in this position, Merrie helped grow their traditional sales organization from a hundreds-of-millions sales pipeline, to a multi-billion dollar sales pipeline.
“Where I am now [in sales is focused on] how do I help provide that empathy bridge between the product teams that I work with…while designing and partnering and coaching our sellers all over the world doing cloud sales – and how do I maintain the speed and the growth that the company requires to meet our shareholder and external commitments. I’m still on my own learning curve in sales.”
Over the course of her career, Merrie has managed to evolve and grow with each new opportunity presented to her. She has maintained a presence in her community through serving on various boards and she has also raised two children all the while climbing the corporate ladder. When asked how she continued to evolve as a woman in leadership, she shared the following insights:
“As I look back over the first 10 years [of my career], my evolution was almost survival. I was focused on how to show up and manage myself as one of very few women, and also perform at the highest level I can perform. I think my next evolution was focused on how do I then turn into the woman manager that I want to be that’s authentic to me?”
“My third evolution, now as a Senior Leader, an executive, has kind of unleashed the courage for me. I feel like I’m at a position now where I’m still learning and listening but it’s all about being an amplifier of things that people may not want to address full steam, whether that’s business…or culture, and community, and the world, and hard things.”
With so many accomplishments, Merrie has learned firsthand the importance of evolving oneself to meet the new demands each new role requires. She has mastered the art of looking within, while simultaneously assessing her environment to determine which skills and resources she needs to tap into to catapult herself into a new evolved person.
In her personal evolution, Merrie acknowledges how critical workplace culture is on one’s professional development.
When asked to describe the workplace culture at Microsoft and what sets it apart, Merrie pulled back the curtain and provided insight into the beliefs that have reverberated throughout the entire company.
“The culture at Microsoft is why I’m here, to be honest. It’s so important to be somewhere that you can feel supported as a full person and that was really important to me.”
“The mission of Microsoft is about how we provide value to every human on the planet. The statement is, ‘Empower every person and organization on the planet to achieve more.’ This spoke to me – it’s not just technology for technology’s sake, but really the human element.”
Merrie went on to explain what sets Microsoft apart.
“The growth mindset. A lot of people are familiar with this, but it has to be paired with many other things to be real. It has to be paired with courage, it has to be paired with empathy, with transparency. Those are the things that really pop for me. It really has both extremely positive consequences for how people have their living experiences at Microsoft, and for our customers.”
One of the greatest sources of inspiration when it comes to the life Merrie has built is her ability to strike a balance between her work life and her personal life. As mentioned earlier, Merrie is very involved in her community, at work, and in the lives of her children. We asked her, how do you have a growth mindset in terms of maintaining balance?
“I don’t think there’s any one playbook for everyone to repeat but the things that I’ve learned and practiced is boundaries and forgiveness. I’ve learned to be a better leader and role model by setting very strict boundaries in my calendar.”
Merrie goes on to explain that by honoring the boundaries she establishes through her calendar (not working after certain hours, not sending or responding to emails outside of said work hours, etc.), she is able to honor the time of the people on her team. She explains that it has a downstream effect that allows her to maintain her own personal balance while empowering her team to honor theirs.
“We don’t get the best out of people when they’re constantly burnt out. We’re also not doing a good job as leaders if people don’t understand how to prioritize. This is sort of the driving force for me too.”
It doesn’t end there. Merrie goes on to explain the importance of forgiveness when trying to balance it all because things won’t always go the way you plan.
“The thing I balance with this is forgiveness. I break my own rules, in general. There are times I say I want to pick up my daughter every Friday afternoon…if I don’t do it because I have something pop up, I have to practice forgiveness. I don’t want to have guilt in all aspects of my life.”
Maintaining balance between work and life can be difficult. It’s even more difficult when you have children in the picture. Merrie has had to navigate balancing children, work, and community service and has utilized the tools of boundaries and forgiveness to do so.
When asked to share advice to working mothers trying to grow their careers while striking a balance between their work life ambition and their homelife priorities, Merrie shares the following:
“Looking back, the first five years, I felt overwhelmed. I felt like I wasn’t able to give 125% to anything. I think as new parents, we don’t give a lot of forgiveness. It’s important to have a broader view when you’re in the middle of it to recognize that you’re at the beginning, and it will be hard to do this.”
Merrie shares that it’s important to practice transparency and to communicate the changes one might face after having kids, early on. She explains that it takes courage to step into this new mode of being after having children but that it is ultimately better than “trying to hunker down and pretend you are the same person you were pre-children.”
There are many challenges one might face as they grow their career. As a woman of color, Merrie has first hand experience of how difficult and complex it can be to navigate climbing the corporate ladder and maintaining a leadership position.
Despite the tremendous improvements we have made as a society in terms of the inclusion of women, within the tech industry there is still a lot more room for growth. There are still outdated biases placed on women despite the fact that women are more educated than ever. As a woman who started her career in STEM, Merrie offers great advice to women that may find themselves in positions that are dominated by men.
“I speak to a lot of women and they get very common and very frustrating messages – the same ones I got early in my career, which are vague, coded, insufficient ways to grow.”
“We need to surround ourselves with honest people who will say ‘that person is not giving you the feedback you need to grow.’ We either need to find a new person or a new company to grow.”
“We have to acknowledge that we’re living not in some utopian state in the future and that we need to use the people around us, and be very thoughtful about how to develop open and transparent conversations with leaders…to make sure they’re sensitive and aware of the environment and are willing to think and listen – perhaps differently they have for the last 10 to 20 years.”
Merrie has navigated many difficult terrains from being a woman in STEM to building a 20-year career with two different focuses. She has excelled both in her home life and her professional life. From the outside looking in, it can seem like Merrie has always had things figured out, but this isn’t the case. When asked what she would tell her younger self, Merrie offers some words of wisdom that anyone who is starting their career can appreciate:
“At the beginning of my career, I was convinced that no one was going to outwork me. Looking back, I probably wasted a lot of time just trying to prove to others that I could run faster, and climb the mountain higher. I was unfiltered in trying to do all things at 125% all the time. The thing I had to learn over time is the importance of pausing and really understanding where your energy needs to go.”
Through her many accomplishments, Merrie teaches us that it is possible to create a career that is nourishing, fulfilling, and conducive to a well balanced life. Despite the challenges that come with being a woman of color in spaces that traditionally were not created for women of color, Merrie has proven that we too can rise above. With hard work, a growth mindset paired with courage, and a commitment towards transparency, we too can aspire to new heights both personally and professionally.
About The Interviewer:
Ashley Keimach works professionally as an Account Executive at SAP. She is married to her best friend Evan and together they are raising two boys, a toddler and a newborn. When not selling software, you can find Ashley making TikTok videos, writing blogs, and educating the public about personal finance and professional development. Ashley believes in making ideas happen and is passionate about finding the right solution at work and at home. Connect with Ashley on LinkedIn.
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