Judson Althoff (ME ’95), Mercer Island, Washington
Creating His Own Luck
Judson Althoff’s late mother, a high school calculus teacher and celebrated debate coach in his small hometown of Wooster, Ohio, inspired him to embrace mathematics and sharpen his persuasive skills. Althoff (ME ’95) says, more importantly, she presented him with a gift that charted his success in the many directions his life has taken him.
“[My work ethic] is probably the single biggest thing she left behind for me; this notion that the harder you work, the luckier you get,” he explains.
Althoff shared highlights from his childhood, his time at Illinois Tech, and his rise to Microsoft executive vice president for worldwide commercial business at a talk for students, faculty, and staff on Mies Campus when he visited the university to accept the Alumni Association’s 2017 Professional Achievement Award.
He told the group that after graduation he received a surprising surplus of computer science job offers and, with a growing family to consider, accepted a position with a Canadian startup that outfitted mainframe systems with Internet capabilities. Althoff said he began to embrace all things high tech, teaching himself programming and delving into the intricacies of every computer the company serviced. After a few years, he felt he was ready to join a company “that could move the needle” and persuaded a recruiter to get him an interview for a position answering sales calls at Oracle in Chicago.
“I said this is what life is handing me right now and I’m going to make the very best of it. I jumped in and answered the phones at Oracle in a little cube with three other guys,” he shared with his audience. “I worked my way up to become one of the youngest senior vice presidents the company has ever had. Four years ago Kevin Turner [former Microsoft chief operating officer] recruited me to run Microsoft North America.”
In 2016 Microsoft Chief Executive Officer Satya Nadella named Althoff to his current role leading Microsoft’s Worldwide Commercial Business. Althoff predicts that digital transformation—which he defines as “a new wave of business innovation that’s fueled by cloud technologies like artificial intelligence, augmented reality, and data science”—will be the hot topic in technology for at least the next decade. Althoff shared stories of customers, such as Land O’ Lakes and Ecolab, that are partnering with Microsoft on their digital transformation journey.
Althoff told the students in the audience that while the university will academically prepare them for this next advancement in technology, they would be wise to remember the deeper lessons that comprise their education.
“There’ll come a day when you’re not the best programmer anymore and your differential equations aren’t quite what they used to be,” says Althoff. “But those fundamentals—how you problem solve, how you work together, how you collaborate for a greater end—those will stick with you. That’s what IIT taught me.”