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Microsoft's Warwick Grey: Nursing the skills

He may have abandoned a career as a psychiatric nurse, but Warwick Grey says that early job has stood him in good stead.

Microsoft’s partner account manager, distribution, tells Heather Wright how the nursing background helps in his current role.

A desire to educate others and listening skills honed through an earlier career as a psychiatric nurse have provided Warwick Grey with the foundations of his career, he says.

It’s a career which has seen him working for Microsoft, Corel, Renaissance and HP among others including two stints at several of the companies.

“Psych nursing has been really useful. Rather than doing the hard sell, I use my listening skills. The desire to train and educate has been the foundation of my career and it’s the part I really enjoy – showing people how to solve problems with software.”

During high school Grey worked as a hospital orderly while saving for university. He considered training as a doctor, but ‘couldn’t fathom the idea of doing more study’.

Instead he became a founding student at Manukau Polytechnic’s diploma in health studies, which covered medical, psychiatric and psychopaedic nursing.

It was there that Grey met his wife, Stephanie. Almost as soon as they graduated the pair headed overseas on their big OE.

“We had always planned to do that, using nursing to travel.” First stop was Australia, and a stint in Perth, where Grey worked in a psychiatric facility. Asia and Europe followed.

“I hadn’t thought long term about what was next. I just assumed we’d return to New Zealand and nursing.”

Grey had only been back in New Zealand three weeks – having returned home to get married – when his sister-in-law suggested he become a pharmacy rep. A car came with the job.

“I was 27 years old and thought, ‘I’m having that!’”

His role as a pharmacy rep for an asthma medicine, educating parents and children, saw him further honing his skills of teaching, listening and caring.

Into technology

Come 1989 and brother, Trevor Grey, was starting Renaissance. He needed an account manager and looked to his brother to fill the role. “I’d never used computers.”

As part of the employment process, Grey was sent to see a psychologist to ascertain if he was ‘appropriate’ for sales. The tests put him in the top 3%, and his IT career began.

By 2000, Grey was at Microsoft, as small business manager. However, prolonged, unsuccessful, rounds of IVF saw Grey ‘tired of wanting something so badly and it not working out’.

He and his wife decided to take time out. The couple ran a book publishing business one of several non-technology sidelines Grey has had over the years – but it wasn’t long before Hewlett Packard came knocking with an offer Grey couldn’t resist.

While many profess to hold an aversion to multinational giants such as Microsoft, Grey is fierce in his defence of them, saying the large corporates offer career opportunities not seen in smaller companies.

Many New Zealand Microsoft staff, he points out, are now happily working with Microsoft in the United States.

“New Zealand should be incredibly grateful to US companies coming in and investing heavily in staff... They can provide a pathway to something much greater than most could imagine,” he says.

“While fortunes have been made by IT companies, a lot has been ploughed back into citizenship and development programmes. People give us a hard time, but money is spent on things government cannot do.”

Despite working for several vendors over the years, Grey says he’s never been ‘vendor centric’, saying technology is only one piece of the puzzle. “It’s how it all fits together – communication, finance, social. They don’t operate in isolation.”

It’s a social world

Grey says he believes ‘something really special is happening again’ in technology at the moment, as social media and new technologies touch – and change – all aspects of our lives.

“Businesses only spend money when they have too, but consumers buy something they want, such as a Kindle, iPad or Samsung smart TV. There’s an exciting wave ahead.”

It’s social media that Grey sees as the big thing now, with technology companies including Microsoft rushing to integrate social media aspects into their software. Businesses, however, have yet to fully understand the power of social.

“The next wave is how we get it happening in the enterprise. How do we leverage it for business results?

“There’s so much change being brought about by social. I think we’re at one of the turning points in history.”

For Microsoft, he says, the most exciting three years are ahead of them, with 35 product launches – including last year’s Windows 8 launch, and the Windows 8 phone – in a short space of time.

“The biggest thing to come from all this transformation is apps. You’d have to be pretty naive to think you won’t have an app for your business.”

Grey says apps will be de rigueur for businesses before long – in much the same way as websites are now. “They’re a way to engage with customers.”

He says distributors could have apps for monthly clearance products. “And it’s not too much of a stretch for channel partners to have apps broadcasting to customers on customer terms.”

And Grey’s app faves? Flashlight, Spirit Level, the New Zealand Herald app, Mpass and LinkedIn.

But while he’s passionate about technology, he won’t be rushing out for a tablet – at least not quite yet, saying he’s not into the ‘third computer thing’, and is instead holding out for a great hybrid.

It’s not just tech

Grey’s weekdays are spent apartment living in Auckland city, giving him the freedom to work later in the evening doing his own training and deveopment, or travel for national tours.

“That has probably contributed to my profile in the industry, somewhat."

Weekends, however, are devoted to Waiheke Island where Grey resides on an olive grove. He’s passionate about olives and says he aspires to be the Kim Crawford of olive oils.

He talks enthusiastically of the similarities between wine and olive oil, the more than 200 varieties of olives and impact of the soil and environment on the final product.

Waiheke’s oils are garnering plenty of attention, and 372 Estate – Grey’s weekend home – has already won awards for its oils.

“I want to create an iconic New Zealand oil brand,” Grey says. “That’s my objective on the side.”

There are also plans to offer executive accommodation on Waiheke. “I expect to always live there,” says Grey. “It will always be my home.”

And while Waiheke may always be his home, he hopes technology will always be in his life too.

He says it’s an ‘honour and privilege’ to have done 25 years in technology and he’s looking forward to many more years with Microsoft – a company he says doesn’t suffer ageism.

“I just don’t want to stop,” Grey says.

“I’m excited about what lies ahead and if you’re still enjoying things, why stop? There’s never been a time when I didn’t want to get up and go to work.

"I’d like to still be working here when I’m 90.”

This article was published in The Channel magazine - to buy a recent issue click here