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Aug 02

Book review: Leaving Microsoft to change the world: An Entrepreneur’s Odyssey to Educate the World’s Children

I usually do not read business books with gawky titles. The kind of titles that serve little more than just quenching an author’s ego. Leaving Microsoft to change the world, however, was an entirely different case. I knew about John Wood’s Room to Read organization and had strong recommendations from a couple of friends to make it on my “must read” list this vacation. The book is an inspiring and an absorbing story of building and growing an organization dedicated to eliminating illiteracy from the face of our planet.  John’s odyssey to educate the “not so privileged” children in the developing world is a fascinating tale of his transformation from an ambitious corporate executive in the hard charging Microsoft to the forward looking founder of Room to Read.

The book presents details of John Wood’s life as Microsoft’s director of business development for greater China region, his trip to Nepal that changed the course of his life forever,  his inner struggle to overcome all the insecurities and risks associated with a post-Microsoft life, the start up years of Room to Read and the ascendance of this great organization to become a globally recognized world class company.  Above all, it presents an honest dissection of impediments related to launching any initiative in life. It chronicles author’s struggle to find a meaningful outlet for his zeal to make a positive impact on the world. And this impact has been huge. Since its inception in 2000, Room to Read has pulled up more than 6 million children in the developing world from the darkness of illiteracy, constructed 1400 schools, established 12,000 libraries, distributed over 10 millions books and funded more than 13,000 girls scholarships.

The book is full of savvy insights on the best business practices. After completing MBA from the prestigious Kellogg school of management, John Wood worked for several years in the banking sector before joining Microsoft. John applies all the priceless leanings at Microsoft  and from the years he spent working with Steve Ballmer in his new venture.  Sleeping and breathing results, being data driven, being loyal to your employees and backing them in time of need are some of the fabrics that lay the foundation of Microsoft. John applies all these while booting up his own company, that many now call the “Microsoft of non-profits”. One gets to know how hard and frustrating it can sometimes become to build anything of value and one gets to know how pleasurable it can be to see the outcome of a successful venture.

One particular chapter that I  found engaging discusses about the importance of fund raising and why some organizations collapse only because they overlook this valuable skill of selling their vision and the business model effectively to the potential donors. “Many charities are cash flow negative, yet they keep their head buried in the sand, assuming a white knight will emerge to save them. This is a formula for disaster. ” This along with countless examples of dynamic people, including children, who came up with innovative fund raising ideas and strategies are discussed. The chapter in fact fortifies the adage that anything that cannot be expressed is useless.

Another key take away is the stress on “Just do it” attitude.  John discusses scenarios in which people go off the track or lose their motivation and momentum just because they spend too much time thinking and kick starting the things. The author provides examples from his own life about situations in which a lot of people made their best efforts to talk him out of his chosen path. Connecting with like minded people and avoiding naysayers is one of the vital factors determining how well one succeeds with his or her plans.

The last thing I liked about the book is the small section of “everyday heroes”. The section discusses examples of people who went out of their ways to play an important role in building the organization and making their mark to make this world a better place. A man wiring money to help in fund raising from his way to the top of Mt. Everest,  an entrepreneurial minded 10 years old kid from Maryland, U.S.A selling 70,000 wristbands to aid Tsunami-impacted regions of Sri Lanka (and later being honored by the congressional human rights committee), all these stories exemplify humanity at its best.

Overall, this is a good business book and I would highly recommend it.

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