After paying fines for violations in Hungary and South Africa, Microsoft agreed to stop the practice—but I have evidence that I believe shows they continue to violate the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act elsewhere.
I was recruited by Microsoft in 1998, and I helped bring the company’s products throughout the Middle East and Africa for the next 20 years. I was successful and received many promotions. But eventually, I noticed something strange: many employees younger than me, in lower positions, were driving luxury cars and purchasing homes sometimes worth millions of dollars. For my part, I could not afford to buy a home, let alone anything else luxurious, despite my career success. I wondered, naively, whether these colleagues had families with money—but if so, why would they be working on a Microsoft sales team?
I put the thought out of mind as Microsoft’s business in the Middle East and Africa boomed. I established contracts in the public sector in Ghana, Nigeria, Zimbabwe, Qatar, Egypt, Ethiopia, Kenya, and many other countries. I sold licensing and solutions to Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Health, Ministry of the Interior, and National Guard. The Sub-Saharan Africa team I built generated $1 million in 2002; a year later, our revenue was over $15 million. This is, of course, a tiny amount compared to the $4 billion Microsoft now banks in the region, with its near monopoly.
To accomplish this kind of growth in such a short time, Microsoft has long utilized a network of partners known as Licensing Solution Partners, who are authorized to engage with large public customers because they possess certain technical and business competencies. Together with these partners, Microsoft brings e-health solutions to hospitals and GPS and digitized services (such as online tax payments) to government agencies. The partner then takes a share of Microsoft’s licensing sales revenue, usually 10–15 percent.
One way Microsoft closes deals using these partners is to create a business investment fund to pay for training or pilot projects that could cement longer-term deals. As the director of public sector and emerging markets for the Middle East and Africa, I had oversight of the requests for these funds.
In 2016, a request came through in the amount of $40,000 to accelerate closing a deal in one African country. When I looked through the submission, I immediately knew something was wrong. The customer did not appear in Microsoft’s internal database of potential clients. On top of that, the partner in the deal was underqualified for the project’s outlined scope, and he wasn’t even supposed to be doing business with Microsoft: he had been terminated four months earlier for poor performance on the sales team, and corporate policy prohibits former employees from working as partners for six months from their departure without special approval.
I brought these issues up with the Microsoft services architect who wrote the request, asking why she didn’t take the work in this case to our very capable in-house team, Microsoft Services. She said our in-house daily rate is very expensive, and she needed a less expensive team to handle the pilot.
Still suspicious, I escalated the issue to my manager, and then to the human resources and legal departments. I took the business investment fund very seriously, and wondered why we would be giving money to a partner who could not achieve the desired results. The legal and HR teams put a stop to the $40,000 spend, but to my surprise, did not look deeper into the Microsoft employees who were orchestrating the fake deal.
Meanwhile, the woman’s manager sought me out, angry that I had bypassed him; I told him I was only following company policy. Soon after, he was promoted and became my manager. He immediately scheduled a one-on-one meeting, in which he told me our job is to bring as much revenue as we can to Microsoft. He added, “I don’t want you to be a blocker. If any of the subsidiaries in the Middle East or Africa are doing something, you have to turn your head and leave it as is. If anything happens, they will pay the price, not you.” When I said I would not block anything unless it violated company policy, his tone took a sharp turn. He shouted that I was not capable of doing this business and couldn’t close deals. But my 18-year track record spoke for me.
I requested a meeting with his boss, a vice president. When I told her what had happened, she asked whether I had any personal issues with him, and suggested the three of us meet, but the meeting was never scheduled. So, I emailed Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella and an HR executive to explain that I felt mistreated by this manager. The aforementioned vice president immediately got back in touch with me, to say that by escalating the matter to Nadella, I had just “booked a one-way ticket out of Microsoft.”