Being a Learn-it-All

Dennis Garcia, Assistant General Counsel for Microsoft, practices at the intersection of law, technology and business, providing a wide range of legal support to Microsoft’s Sales, Services, Marketing & Operations teams across the United States.

CCBJ: What led to your role at Microsoft?

Dennis Garcia: I was working as an in-house lawyer at Accenture in 2002 when a friend I had previously worked with in the IBM law department told me of a job opportunity at Microsoft, which he had just joined. The job opportunity involved serving as the company’s lead lawyer for its U.S. Central Region sales team. I was happy in my role at Accenture, but the opportunity at Microsoft seemed interesting and it was based in Chicago, where I was located with Accenture. I submitted my resume, had some interviews at Microsoft’s corporate headquarters in Redmond, Washington, and they offered me the job. After careful consideration about the next steps in my career, I accepted the job offer and started my Microsoft legal career in December 2002. Today, many years later, I feel fortunate for the opportunity to work in what is, in my opinion, the greatest law department on the planet.

Tell us about your leadership style and who has influenced it.

Throughout my career I have been positively influenced by many terrific leaders. In my current role I have the privilege of leading 14 outstanding legal professionals who are located across the United States, and we deliver a wide range of legal support to Microsoft’s U.S. Enterprise Commercial sales team, which is made up of over 2,000 sales, technical and marketing professionals, and they are responsible for one of Microsoft’s largest commercial businesses.

I work hard to embrace the following leadership principles:

  • Integrity first: Leaders are role models for their teams and must always, always act with a high degree of ethics, honesty and integrity.
  • Servant leadership: Leaders must serve their teams and help position their teammates for success.
  • Empathy: Leaders need to put themselves in the shoes of their teammates and customers whenever possible.
  • Provide clarity & transparency: Leaders need to drive clarity and transparency with their team, keep them well informed and overcommunicate when necessary.
  • Drive inclusivity: Leaders need to create a culture where people feel highly respected and their voices and opinions are heard.
  • Growth mindset mentality: As our Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella likes to say, leaders need to be “learn-it-alls” and not “know-it-alls.”

What qualities do you look for when hiring new people for your team?

Some qualities I look for when hiring new people are excellent communication and strong emotional intelligence/interpersonal skills, and a willingness to work hard and serve as a team player. I also look for diverse backgrounds.

What’s the best career advice you’ve ever received?

My father passed away last September, and he had the greatest impact on my career and my life. He grew up in a tough area of the South Bronx in New York City, was a highly decorated veteran of the Vietnam War, led a nonprofit organization that advanced diversity and inclusion, was a senior business executive for a major financial services company and was a great father. He experienced a great deal in his life and I learned so much from him.

When I think of the career advice he shared with me, two things stand out. First, he encouraged me to meet a new person every day and to always be networking. As I have become more senior in my legal career I have grown to fully appreciate and understand the incredible importance of building relationships with key people and that to advance in your career it is probably more important “who you know” than it is “what you know.”

Secondly, my father impressed upon me the importance of embracing change – something that he did throughout his life. When I felt stuck in my career several years ago, my father encouraged me to engage in some new and different activities, like writing articles for publication and delivering external presentations – which I started doing. In hindsight, I believe that actively engaging in those activities, building my brand and developing a greater presence via social media enabled me to gain more self-confidence, improved my visibility within Microsoft (and outside of Microsoft) and provided me with more opportunities to drive positive impact on behalf of Microsoft.

How about the best life advice?

The best life advice that I have learned is that we all have to constantly take excellent care of our health and focus on our wellness. The legal profession can be extremely demanding and stressful. However, there is nothing more important than our wellness and I am constantly reminding my teammates of the importance of self-care. We all need to remember to get proper rest, exercise, eat right, take real vacations, immediately consult a medical professional when our bodies do not feel right, spend quality time with our families, and make sure that we achieve the appropriate balance and harmony between our work and personal lives.

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