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Neil Holloway
Neil Holloway
Mr Holloway accepts his degree
Orator Professor Richard Vidgen
Neil Holloway with the Vice-Chancellor and Chancellor
Neil Holloway with the Vice-Chancellor and Chancellor

Internal News - 27 June 2008

Honorary graduate - Neil Holloway

Oration by Professor Richard Vidgen:

Chancellor, it gives me great pleasure to introduce to you and the congregation Mr Neil Holloway, Vice President of Business Strategy for Microsoft International.

Microsoft is the largest software company in the world with revenues in 2007 of $51bn from software sales.

In the early 1980’s Neil completed a BSc in Mathematics at Bath, continuing his studies with an MPhil in Operational Research at Cambridge.

He then worked at the technical end of the software industry in start-up companies working on the very first business software applications for the new “personal computer” – the now ubiquitous “PC”.

In 1990 Neil joined Microsoft UK, moving from a technical role to sales and marketing positions until, in 1998, he was appointed Managing Director of Microsoft UK.

The UK operation is part of Microsoft’s EMEA region, a geographical area that comprises Europe, Middle East and Africa – a large number of countries with a diversity of culture and developmental needs.

In 2003 Neil became Chief Operating Officer of Microsoft’s EMEA region and in 2005 he stepped up to be President of the EMEA region. His experience and success in the international arena resulted in his recent move to Microsoft International as Vice President of Business Strategy.

When I asked Neil what has made him successful at Microsoft he told me that it was about having an appropriate business strategy coupled with a focus on people and leadership. Neil aims “to create an environment for great people to do their best, focusing on and developing their strengths rather than worrying about their weaknesses”.

Indeed, Neil has himself struggled with dyslexia, turning a potential disadvantage into a strength, as he noted in an interview with the Guardian: “A page of words can often be blurred but I can smell numbers. I can understand what those numbers are saying, their impact, and I have a natural ability to assimilate them”. His concern with developing each employee’s strengths and creating the best possible working environment led to Microsoft UK, under Neil’s leadership, being ranked 1st in the Sunday Times Top 100 best place to work survey in 2003.

Neil’s role as VP of Business strategy is a complex one. He is developing a business strategy for an organization that operates in more than 70 countries. Those countries have diverse cultural, social, and political regimes and it is a challenge for Microsoft to develop a strategy that responds to that local diversity whilst maintaining its position in a global marketplace.

For example, Neil’s business strategy has to account for providing IT to Schools in South African townships and to supporting the growth of the Russian IT industry, which has grown from just under $200 million three years ago to about $1 billion this year, a compound annual growth rate of over 80%. As Managing Director of Microsoft UK Neil was concerned with supporting UK businesses and Microsoft employees; as a Vice President of Microsoft International he is concerned with helping countries and their citizens develop and realize their potential.

Neil tells me that his favourite cities are Bath and Leeds. Neil lived and went to school in Leeds and he is a passionate supporter of Leeds Football Club. So much so that in 2003 he joined the board of Leeds FC as a non-executive director. Unfortunately, this was just after the time that Leeds had been on a spending spree under Chairman Peter Ridsdale. Leeds FC ended up £100m in debt and their financial difficulties were compounded by a losing streak on the pitch. At that time Leeds FC certainly needed new business and people strategies.

Neil has distinguished himself by helping build the global presence of Microsoft International. He continues to create a valuable blueprint for UK companies that seek to enter emerging markets and compete in a global economy.

Chancellor, I present to you Neil Holloway, who is eminently worthy to receive the degree of Doctor of Laws, honoris causa.