- Hardcover: 272 pages
- Publisher: HarperBusiness (August 29, 2006)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 006112107X
- ISBN-13: 978-0061121074
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.5 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
- Average Customer Review: 122 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,314,144 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Leaving Microsoft to Change the World: An Entrepreneur’s Odyssey to Educate the World’s Children Hardcover – August 29, 2006
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John Wood discovered his passion, his greatest success, and his life's work--not at business school or leading Microsoft's charge into Asia in the 1990s--but on a soul-searching trip to the Himalayas. Wood felt trapped between an all-consuming career and a desire to do something lasting and significant. Stressed from the demands of his job, he took a vacation trekking in Nepal because a friend had told him, "If you get high enough in the mountains, you can't hear Steve Ballmer yelling at you anymore."
See how John Wood came to start Room to Read and write Leaving Microsoft to Change the World in this video clip: high bandwidth or low bandwidth
Instead of being the antidote to the rat race, that trip convinced John Wood to divert the boundless energy he was devoting to Microsoft into a cause that desperately needed to be addressed. While visiting a remote Nepalese school, Wood learned that the students had few books in their library. When he offered to run a book drive to provide the school with books, his idea was met with polite skepticism. After all, no matter how well-intentioned, why would a successful software executive take valuable time out of his life and gather books for an impoverished school?
But John Wood did return to that school and with thousands of books bundled on the back of a yak. And at that moment, Wood made the decision to walk away from Microsoft and create Room to Read-an organization that has donated more than 1.2 million books, established more than 2,600 libraries and 200 schools, and sent 1,700 girls to school on scholarship-ultimately touching the lives of 875,000 children with the lifelong gift of education.
Leaving Microsoft to Change the World chronicles John Wood's struggle to find a meaningful outlet for his managerial talents and entrepreneurial zeal. For every high-achiever who has ever wondered what life might be like giving back, Wood offers a vivid, emotional, and absorbing tale of how to take the lessons learned at a hard-charging company like Microsoft and apply them to one of the world's most pressing problems: the lack of basic literacy.
From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. It's a rare business book that not only provides savvy insights for better business practices but transcends the category altogether, to rank as an infectiously inspiring read. Wood takes the reader on an engaging journey from his life as a rather ordinary marketing director at Microsoft through the transformative decision to launch the nonprofit organization Room to Read (www.roomtoread.org), which has created more than 2,000 schools and libraries for children across Asia. From his first trip to Nepal, where he was struck by the country's 70% illiteracy rate, through his courageous decision to leave Microsoft, to the logistics of growing and expanding the Room to Read initiative, Wood endears himself to the reader with his introspection and honesty. Crediting his former employer with giving him the business skills and drive to aim high, he outlines the concrete steps he took to make his vision a reality. Marked by sincerity and savvy, this is the kind of book that business colleagues will discuss with their acquaintances, spouses and friends. (Sept.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
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This is not so unusual: many successful business people, from Andrew Carnegie to Henry Ford to Bill Gates, have had "second act" careers as philanthropists. Wood simply started his early.
This book offers a first-person view of both careers with more chapters for the latter. I'm a fan of memoirs by successful people writing about their areas of expertise. This book delivers in full. In particular, I enjoyed the glimpses of Wood's network of high-energy, hyper-effective friends and colleagues. I aspire to be more like that.
On the downside, Wood writes as if he invented the idea of founding a charity. This is mostly okay, because this book is Wood's story. If you want more stories, read more books. However, Wood also neglects an important area: measuring and reporting results. Sometimes he mentions milestones such as number of libraries built, but he doesn't report anything such as improved scores on college entrance exams. In this age, charities should be accountable for results -- I'd like to see a chapter or two about that, with some actual stats.
On balance, though, I enjoyed this memoir about a go-getter who has built thousands of schools and libraries.
But what is the story?
In Leaving Microsoft to Change the World, John Wood is on a small sabbatical (in Nepal) from blossoming Microsoft. There, he discovers the country's intense need of books, libraries, and schools and its childrens' more intense desire to learn. He promises to return with books (on top of the pictured yak). What follows is an absolute eruption of giving from John's friends and family. Funding and providing books for one library soon turns into John leaving his killer position at Microsoft to work on his charity full time. Now, Room to Read (the charity) is present in seven countries in Asia and Africa building libraries, schools, and funding education.
Not just a success story...
Perhaps the part I enjoyed most about the book is that it does not only talk about how his charity started, but it discusses entrepreneurship, management theories, and other business ideas. It seems that business lessons learned by John apply strongly to successful for-profit organizations as well. Perhaps what stands out the most is how lean, focused, and passionate his company is.
Anyone can do it
As long as you've, you know, worked at a skyrocketing tech company, have millions of dollars of stock options, and the ability to quit receiving a salary for years at a time and still travel to third world countries. Admittedly, the author talks about how anyone can get involved, but it sure makes following your dreams easier when you've got the money to do so.
"It will make you want to quit your job."
Well, I was warned (Jeff) before I started to read that it would make me want to quit my job. It's true, a social improvement job is a lot more appealing than SQL. Leaving Microsoft starts out interesting and only improves. It is not a particularly difficult read, either, so that, coupled with how much fun it is to see Room to Read succeed makes this a rather quick read. At best, you'll be inspired to "dive in" (the author's words); at worst, you'll be entertained for a couple hours' worth of reading.
Leaving Microsoft to Change the World Rating: 84 / 100
Writing Style: 7 / 10
Finish-the-chapter-before-bed Factor: 8.5 / 10
Reading the stories of people that he encountered, you get a sense of someone perhaps in the next town, rather than halfway around the world. And that is the story that John Wood is telling, that each of these children deserves a chance to learn, to get an education, to participate in making our world a better place for everyone. He has created the organization to make it happen, we just need to get on board and work together to ensure it does! If you can't imagine not being able to read, if you remember not wanting to put down that good book, if you were one who read by flashlight under the covers as a child, you will want to read this book and share it with others.
Very inspiring. If you liked this book you will love Three Cups of Tea which is a similar story, but written by a man who started with nothing at all and hadn't the faintest idea how to proceed with building schools.