Microsoft Hero

Scott Oki took $100 million from his early years of sacrifice at Microsoft and turned it into a life of philanthropy, golf and family.

y the time Scott D. Oki retired as Microsoft's senior vice-president of sales and marketing at the age of 43 he had spent a decade building a struggling startup into the world's leading software company. That effort took all the rat's hard-driving ambition, leadership ability and knack for pinching pennies while pursuing perfection.

     Within two years of being hired in 1982 Oki single-handedly conceived, started and built Microsoft's international operations into a unit that was more profitable than its U.S. parent. By 1986 Bill Gates asked Oki to apply his relentless pursuit of efficiency to save the company from disaster at home. As the new vice president of sales Oki quickly restructured Microsoft, firing and laying off nearly half the existing sales and marketing force. Within five years the company's revenues rose from $100 million to $1 billion while gross profit margins grew from 63% to over 80%, raising the U.S. parent's pre-tax profits to 30%.

     Oki's other key contribution to Microsoft's ultimate global dominance was convincing Gates and the board of directors to center product development and marketing efforts around the graphic interface of Windows instead of text-based OS/2. By the time he retired in 1992 Oki was overseeing 3,000 employees.

     "During the 10 years I was at Microsoft, a number of things happened," Oki says by way of explaining the evolution to the next stage of his life. "I got married, I had two kids. In the early years of Microsoft, the first three years, I worked every day — never took a day off. Well, I took one day off in three years. It got to the point where if I was late at the office, I'd feel guilty about not being home, and when I was home, I was feeling guilty I wasn't in the office."

     Ultimately, it wasn't his family that made Oki decide to leave Microsoft.

     "I think Laurie probably wanted me to stay working," he recalls. "There was probably a little bit of a burnout factor, although not a lot. You put in 10 really hard years, and when you have two kids and you start thinking about how you want to spend time with them and have the flexibility of doing various things — it's just a hard thing to deal with."

     The $100 million worth of stock options he had amassed at Microsoft made the transition easier. It let Oki create a retirement that gives him the best of three worlds: as a philanthropist, golfer and family man.

     On the philanthropic front Oki set up the Oki Foundation to help improve children's health and welfare. As the Foundation's Head Volunteer Oki sits on 18 different non-profit boards working in that area.

     By the time Oki retired he was developing a passion for golf and had trimmed his handicap to a respectable 9. The pursuit of that passion led to his second career as a golf course developer. Oki Golf owns and operates 8 golf courses, most of which were bought. Oki's flagship is Newcastle which offers 36 holes on 350 acres. It offers views of Mt. Rainier and the Olympic and the Cascade Mountains for around $160 a round in prime time on weekends during peak season.

     Last but not least Oki has been able to indulge in the kind of intensive family time he could never dream of while putting in 100-hour weeks at Microsoft. With wife Laurie and sons Alexander and Nicolas he could spend two months skiing in Vail or three weeks in Italy. To protect weekends for family time, Oki limits both his golf and business activities to weekdays.

     Scott D. Oki was born in Seattle on October 5, 1948, three years after his father was released from Minedoka internment camp. He is eldest of three children. His Nisei father was strict, instilling in Scott the discipline he would ultimately draw on to work tirelessly during Microsoft's years of struggle. That discipline hadn't yet taken root when Scott began at the University of Washington. After squandering 18 months, Oki escaped into the Air Force and spent four years playing in its Colorado Springs percussion section. His off-duty hours were devoted to courses at the University of Colorado. By his discharge in 1974 Oki had racked up almost enough credits for a BA in accounting and information systems. He graduated magna cum laude and earned an MBA a year later.

     He spent two unhappy years as a data-base programmer for a local direct-mail company before moving to Palo Alto to join a Hewlett-Packard startup division selling small business systems. In 1980 Oki and three fast-track friends secured venture capital to develop and sell turnkey office management systems for small medical practices. The venture failed but the experience Oki took away — what he calls "scar-tissue" — would serve him well at Microsoft.

     Scott Oki's entrepreneurial instincts didn't desert him on retirement from Microsoft. By 1999 Oki's wealth had blossomed to about $750 million, putting him at 380th on the Forbes list of 400 wealthiest Americans.

Scott Oki
Scott Oki single-handedly built and led Microsoft's marketing force to global domination.

“It got to the point where if I was late at the office, I'd feel guilty about not being home, and when I was home, I was feeling guilty I wasn't in the office. ”


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