Inspiration and business savvy mix well in John Wood’s autobiographical Leaving Microsoft to Change the World. The former Microsoft executive did what few have the guts to do: walked away from a lucrative career to pursue his dream of educating children around the world.
A few years ago, Wood founded Room to Read, a successful charity organization that builds schools and libraries for children in third-world nations and offers scholarships for girls. The uniqueness of Room of Read lies in its business structure. Donations directly go toward building schools or scholarships. With low overhead and lots of volunteer participation, Room to Read is a charity that shows direct results.
Room to Read’s rapid growth comes as no surprise given Wood’s enthusiasm and charismatic nature. His work reads like an adventure novel, with his descriptions of climbing the mountains of Nepal for a school dedication and e-mailing friends who hold a fundraising party at Mount Everest.
Those familiar with the rigors of the corporate world will relate to Wood’s frustrations and anxiety. His anecdotal stories of meeting with Bill Gates are entertaining and enlightening, including his descriptions of the billionaire’s famous bad haircut. The Microsoft mentality of working hard to get direct results certainly influenced Room to Read’s mandate as Wood sought for the organization to become the “Microsoft” of non-profits. Each chapter ends with a sort-of words of wisdom story on the spirit of entrepreneurship and what is needed to succeed in life.
Changing your life isn’t easy. Wood doesn’t hold back on the details on the difficulties of leaving the corporate lifestyle for the life of charity worker. He vividly describes the pain of telling his girlfriend that he’s leaving her, and telling his friend and boss that he’s abandoning him. “Sophie had once surprised me with a painting on which she had labored for weeks...the painting and its glass frame now lay shattered at the base of our bedroom wall, against which it had been flung.” By understanding the hardships of letting go, the reader enjoys even greater satisfaction in the triumphs.
And there are many triumphs for Room to Read, such as raising $150,000 for scholarships in two minutes and building new chapters in London and Vancouver based on random phone calls from supporters. Perhaps the most incredible triumph was Room to Read’s reaction to the 2004 tsunami. After two appearances from Wood on CNN, Room to Read unexpectedly launched new operations in Sri Lanka, with thousands of inquiries on how to help with new schools built within months.
Leaving Microsoft is more than just a man’s journey to finding a meaningful purpose in life or a clever business how-to guide. In essence, Wood describes how he recognized a problem (inadequate education for children) and took action. The simple act of doing something inspired others to do something, which created a powerful ripple effect.
Wood’s uplifting story proves the power of one individual to change the lives of thousands of families and communities. Full of enthusiasm and valuable life lessons, Leaving Microsoft is a hearty meal for the soul.