Brad Smith | DIA 1984
President and Chief Legal Officer, Microsoft Corporation
Can you briefly present your career path?
After finishing my year in Geneva, I completed my law school education at Columbia University in New York and started a legal career. Seven years later, I became a partner at the firm of Covington & Burling, where I spent three years in Washington, DC and four years in London. I did a great deal of international work, including international arbitration, and focused on intellectual property and competition law issues. In 1993 I joined Microsoft. During my three-year tenure in Paris, I led the European Legal and Corporate Affairs group, before moving to the company’s headquarters in Redmond, Washington, in the US. For five years I was responsible for all of the company’s international legal and corporate affairs work. In 2002 I became the company’s General Counsel. I led the Department of Legal and Corporate Affairs, which had roughly 1,000 employees, including about 450 lawyers and 175 government affairs professionals. I also acted as the secretary for the company’s Board of Directors and served as Microsoft’s Chief Compliance Officer.
Why did you choose to study at the Graduate Institute?
I had a friend from my undergraduate days at Princeton who had attended, and he raved about the experience. He described the opportunity to interact with students and professors from multiple countries and disciplines in an intimate atmosphere. He praised the high quality of teaching and discussion. It was a compelling case, and in fact my own experience definitely lived up to this advance billing.
Which is the most striking memory from your years of study at the Institute?
My wife and I attended together. We were both law students in the US, got married in 1983, and spent the first year of our marriage studying in Geneva. Our French skills were not great when we arrived, but they definitely improved during the year! There were a number of lively intellectual debates among the students, including about intermediate nuclear forces in Europe and the intervention by US troops in Grenada in 1984. This was part of what made the experience so enriching. We couldn’t afford a car, but we had two mopeds. I remember a January day when we rode up to the UN library in the middle of a huge snowstorm because we each wanted to finish some research. The security guard looked at us and said “You must be American. No one else would be this crazy!”
To what extent has your programme of study at the Graduate Institute been useful in your career?
My year in Geneva definitely inspired me to pursue a career involving international legal issues. When subsequent opportunities arose to pursue international assignments, I jumped at them. I benefited from working closely with some outstanding professors, and I still use today some of the intellectual frameworks they provided for analysing complex problems. More broadly, the multinational background of the students at the Institute required that one learn how to listen well to and understand diverse points of view from around the world. This has been an essential part of my work ever since. At Microsoft I interact regularly with government officials from around the world, and I lead what may well be the most globally diversified legal and corporate affairs department in any company in the world.
What advice would you give to students at the Institute wishing to pursue a career in the private sector?
We now live in what is obviously a much more global economy. Many companies now rank among the most genuinely global institutions on the planet. I have found that when well-run in a thoughtful way, global companies can deliver broad societal benefits based on sustainable business models and sound market economics. Yet there is a lot that the private and public sectors need to continue to learn about and from each other. I’ve found that many of the initiatives that produce the broadest societal benefits in fact come from bringing these three groups together. The world needs talented individuals who can work at the intersection of the public, non governmental and private sectors. It also needs more academic research on new and emerging models for effective partnership across these types of boundaries. I believe that this type of work has great potential for spurring new advances in addressing some of the biggest challenges in the world today, from putting information technology to work for all people, improving global health outcomes, and coming to terms with climate change.