David Cole ('84, Applied Mathematics; '86, M.S., Mathematics), retired senior vice president
Story by Mary Gallagher
Ask David Cole about what it was like to work at Microsoft in the '90s, and he'll tell you about the pickup truck full of video games.
Near the release of Windows95, one of many high-profile projects Cole led at Microsoft, programmers wanted to make sure games designed for the previous Windows system would still work So Cole and a couple of co-workers took a pickup truck to the nearest Egghead store and bought about $10,000 worth of computer games. Back at the Microsoft campus, they divvied up the games to take them home, play them and find the bugs so programmers could make the new system compatible with the old games.
"I think people get inspired by that kind of can-do attitude," says Cole, who retired from the company in 2006 as a senior vice president. He's not sure Microsoft executives are still allowed to buy software by the truckload, "As the company gets bigger," he says, "you have to put more rules in place to create a balance between creativity and corporate recklessness."
Since joining Microsoft in 1986 the Monday after earning his master's degree from Western, Cole witnessed - and led - the company through monumental growth over the next two decades, playing key roles in the development of Windows and later in Internet Explorer and MSN.com. He also served three years on Western's board of trustees in the 1990s.
Motivating people: There are times to crack the whip, Cole says, and there are times to put on a pink bunny suit and make people laugh. "It's a pretty intense environment, with people working 12 to 16 hours a day or more, So you've got to blow off steam. After we shipped Windows95, there was a pickup truck load of Dom Pérignon. I think a motorcycle went around the hallways, too. I'm not going to claim I was driving it."
Online business strategist: Tapped by CEO Steve Ballmer in 2001 to run Microsoft's online business, Cole was in charge of development at MSN.com and helped the business turn a profit for the company. "I was a technical guy now running not only the technical side, but sales and marketing for the entire business, generating significant revenue. That's when I said, 'I wish I would have taken more business classes.' I encourage people in computer science to expand their horizons and take (business and management) classes. If you're successful, you're going to be a manager someday"
Future leaders: Cole's a strong supporter of leadership development programs at Western, "It would be great if people could come out of school with leadership skills developed, rather than land in cor life and have to start from scratch," he says, "I want to develop leadership
skills, and at the same time I want a more diverse leadership workforce. I know the leadership program at Western is largely about both."
Happy retirement - for now: Cole says he misses working with "teams of really smart people doing incredible things," but is glad to leave corporate pressures behind. At 49, he's not sure how long he'll stay retired, but for now spends a lot of time with his children, who are in their late teens and early 20s, and on his horse farm, where he and his wife train horses. He also enjoys fly fishing and spends many weeks a year fishing for steelhead and other types of fish. "When you leave a corporate job," he says, "you have to be OK with the fact that most of the things you do are important to you and your family, but not to 10,000 other people."