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Brad Smith: From Appleton West High School to Microsoft president

Brad Smith: From Appleton West High School to Microsoft president
Posted at 4:07 PM, Oct 04, 2021
and last updated 2022-01-25 15:23:27-05

GREEN BAY (NBC 26) — It's not every day a community can say the president of a tech giant grew up in their area.

Brad Smith, president & vice chair of Microsoft, hosted a roundtable Monday at TitletownTech with Rep. Mike Gallagher, (R-WI), to discuss the cyber workforce in Northeast Wisconsin with local education and technology leaders.

The trip brought Smith close to home: He grew up in Appleton and graduated from Appleton West High School in 1977.

"I have always been grateful for what I feel was a great education," Smith said. "It really pays, I think, to get a public school education. I think it's one of the great assets of Northeast Wisconsin as a whole."

Smith joined Microsoft in 1993 where he lead the legal and corporate affairs team in Europe. Twelve years later he was named Microsoft's general counsel and spent the following decade working to settle the company’s antitrust controversies with global governments and tech companies. Smith became Microsoft president in 2015 and leads a team of more than 1,500 business, legal, and corporate affairs professionals in 54 countries, according to his Microsoft biography.

"It gives me the opportunity to work on a wide variety of challenges around the world and happily it brings me back to Wisconsin about once a year as well," Smith said.

Gallagher said he's spent a lot of time over the past few years working with Smith on cyber security issues. He said Smith's Appleton roots set an example for kids that there's "unlimited potential" in what they can achieve being from Northeast Wisconsin.

"Brad's continued commitment to Northeast Wisconsin shows what a special place this is," Gallagher said. "I tend to think this is the best place in the country to live, and work, and raise a family, and I think TitletownTech and Brad's commitment certainly reflects that fact."

Michelle Schuler, Microsoft TechSpark Wisconsin manager, agreed that Smith's Northeast Wisconsin background serves as a great role model for the community and helps encourage young people to stay in the area.

"When you can have people like Brad Smith, the president of Microsoft, come and visit, it really makes an impact that they can be like, 'Hey. You started here and I can be here too. And I can really dream whatever I want to dream,'" Schuler said. "So having people like Brad really helps with that next generation of talent that we're looking to develop here."

Smith didn't begin his career in technology: After leaving Appleton, he graduated from Princeton University in 1981 and enrolled in Columbia University Law School the same year. Smith said he started reading about the "personal computer" in law school and eventually turned a hobby into a profession.

“I don’t think I’ll ever possibly be able to give back as much as I received growing up here," Smith said. "But more than anything, I just want others who grow up here to have the same kind of wonderful education. I had great teachers, great support from the community. If you can get that when you’re a kid, you can accomplish just about anything later on.”