Microsoft's new Asia boss outlines business priorities in the age of coronavirus

Key Points
  • Microsoft Asia's new boss, Ahmed Mazhari, told CNBC the company's business priority is to help other firms build long term resilience and survive the disruption brought about by the coronavirus in the short term. 
  • Mazhari joined Microsoft in February, replacing Ralph Haupter.

In this article

Ahmed Mazhari, President, Microsoft Asia
Source: Microsoft

In an environment where firms big and small have suffered tremendous disruption due to the coronavirus pandemic, Microsoft wants to enable its clients to stay in business and build long-term resilience, the company's Asia president told CNBC. 

One of the hardest challenges at the moment is the fragile balance between lives and livelihoods as governments are forced to decide between restarting their economies, or keeping them in lockdown to contain the virus, Ahmed Mazhari said. 

Mazhari recently completed his first 100 days at the helm of Microsoft's Asia business, after replacing Ralph Haupter in February. 

"The times are challenging for humankind, but the last 100 days have been lots of learning, lots of anxious moments with our customers, with our partners, with governments," he said in a recent exclusive interview with CNBC. 

"Our business priority is to ensure that we help people, in the long term, become more resilient in their businesses and institutions," Mazhari added. "In the short term, enabling them to keep business running." 

Cloud performance

Microsoft said during its last earnings release in late April that the initial impact of Covid-19 on the business was mixed. Cloud computing-based products — such as Teams and Azure — saw increased usage as more organizations shifted to remote work. But "there was a slowdown in transactional licensing, particularly in small and medium businesses, and a reduction in advertising spend in LinkedIn," the company said. 

Mazhari explained there were two aspects where Microsoft saw an acceleration in its cloud business. 

"The one is just consumption as a consequence of the fact that there's more ... telecommuting happening, (a) lot more people on the internet, lot more people accessing corporate networks," he said. 

The other aspect was that institutions and corporations realized they were not ready for remote work when the pandemic forced countries to step up restrictions and require nonessential employees to work from home. "Cloud plays a huge role in enabling virtualization of your workforce, virtualization of your technology and consequently your workforce," Mazhari added. 

Cloud computing in recent years has grown into a larger part of Microsoft's business model and its Azure platform remains one of the dominant players in the market

Asia focus 

Microsoft said that for fiscal year 2021, which begins in July, its Asia business is focused on working with governments and communities to use digital technology and data analytics to respond to the coronavirus crisis and accelerate the recovery process.

The company added it plans to help its customers achieve business continuity in areas like telemedicine, online learning, and day-to-day operations as people continue to work remotely in what some have said is a fundamental social shift that has emerged from the pandemic. 

Cybersecurity and data privacy remain another area of focus for Microsoft, according to the tech giant. In March senior technology executives surveyed by CNBC said that cybersecurity risks increased as a majority of their employees worked from home. 

When asked about his outlook, and if there was any restructuring or potential job cuts on the horizon, Mazhari said the Asia business "continues to progress and we make progress in helping."

"At this stage, our primary focus is to ensure we can help our customers, our partners and governments come out stronger and help reimagine a future that is driven by inclusive growth and better health," he said.

The virus was first reported in China in late December and has since spread around the world, infecting more than 9.1 million people and killing over 470,000.