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Kellogg makes house-call to computer giant

Even legendary entrepreneurs like Bill Gates can use some outside expertise to keep Microsoft humming. For half a decade, Kellogg professors have helped the software company remain innovative thanks to custom executive offerings delivered directly to the client's door

"Kellogg is very visible at Microsoft, says McCormick Tribune Professor of Technology Mohanbir Sawhney.

He means that literally. Rather than teach a few of Microsoft's senior executives at the Kellogg School's James L. Allen Center, Sawhney has helped bring a piece of the school's expertise to Microsoft.

"We work very closely with them and spend a lot of time understanding their business to develop a series of really customized programs that we deliver on site," says Sawhney, who also directs the Kellogg School's Center for Research on Technology and Innovation and its Technology Industry Management Program. "After five years of this partnership, Kellogg has had a significant impact on Microsoft's marketing strategy."

He adds, "It's been a fascinating experience for us." And the balanced approach that brings theoretical structure to solve practical problems has been a boon for Microsoft.

Sawhney's team helps Microsoft sell itself to its increasingly savvy and demanding technology consumers, including those who have recently warmed to free Web-based applications and downloadable open-source software. Sawhney says that while such software is "a huge threat to Microsoft's business," the company will adapt.

"They have to find ways to work with this open-source software, he says, pointing out that even Linux — a popular open-source operating system designed as an alternative to Windows and Mac OS — is not quite free to the average computer user. That person will likely need help installing and running it. "Linux is like IKEA furniture," says the Kellogg professor. "Some assembly required."

Key for Microsoft, he says, will be determining where it can offer the greatest value. Even if the company doesn't nail its strategy on the first try, Sawhney says that Microsoft will keep working until they refine their efforts.

"Never underestimate Microsoft," he says. "They are relentless."  — AH

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