Sunday, August 22, 2010

NAAAP100: Dr. Qi Lu, President Microsoft's Online Services Division

Dr. Qi Lu: Leading Through Inspiration

by Tammy K. Dang

Dr. Qi Lu once thought that he would go work for a radio factory after studying computer science. That plan didn't work out the way he thought it would because today, he serves as President of Microsoft's Online Services Division, leading the company's search and online advertising efforts.

Dr. Lu's path to leading a division of one of America's most storied companies reads like a Horatio Alger novel ---with this one spanning two continents and a chance encounter with a Carnegie Mellon professor that would eventually lead him to Microsoft Corporation. During China's cultural Revolution, Dr. Lu's parents sent him away from Shanghai to live with his grandfather in a tiny province in Jiangsu to escape persecution. He lived 5 hours away from them with no plumbing or electricity.

"In retrospect, it was a blessing in disguise," Dr. Lu said regarding the circumstances in which he spent his youth. "It taught you to work hard to earn everything." During difficult times, the government rationed food. Families in the village had to figure out a way to eat for three months out of the year.

Village life also taught Dr. Lu about learning and cultural values. "Village life carries thousands of years of Confucianism," he said. Usually, there was only one teacher in a village who had the respect of everyone. If the teacher came to your house to eat, you would treat him like a king.

Dr. Lu grew up idolizing Ludwig van Beethovan, the German composer and pianist, who despite losing his hearing, continued to compose music. "He symbolizes spiritual adversity as life is about overcoming obstacles," Dr. Lu said. When he was old enough, Dr. Lu passed an exam to attend college. Due to his physical limitations of being too small and light, he had a choice of studying mathematics or computer science. With a mathematics degree, he was told he could become a middle school teacher. With a computer science degree, he was told he could work at a radio factory, which sounded much more interesting.

His chance encounter came when he reluctantly attended the lecture of a computer science professor named Dr. Edmund Clark. By this time, Dr. Lu had earned a master's of science in the computer science field from Fudan University. He asked some impressive questions, which prompted Dr. Clark to offer him a scholarship to earn his doctorate at Carnegie Mellon.

Dr. Lu then worked as a research staff member at IBM's Almaden Research Center and Carnegie Mellon. He also served as a faculty member at Fudan University. He then went on to spend 10 years as a Yahoo! senior executive and finally on to Microsoft. He also holds 20 U.S. patents.

According to Dr. Lu, the Chinese tradition of being humble and respectful has been helpful in helping him get to where he is today. Other factors were also involved, but he points out one key element. "Chances favor the prepared mind," he said. A prepared mind helps you see the right bus so that you can jump on it.

In terms of leadership, a distinguishing factor between a great leader versus a good leader is the ability to inspire. Dr. Lu tries to inspire those who follow him. "When you have hope, you can move mountains," he said. "When a leaders inspires, people perform differently."

Dr. Lu feels blessed to work in the computer industry. "Computing is a general purpose enabler," he said. "It makes anything better."


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