FARGO – When Microsoft acquired Great Plains Software, Microsoft had about 40,000 employees, most of whom were in Redmond, Wash. But in the immediate aftermath of the deal, just one employee made the move from corporate headquarters to the Fargo campus.
Bill Danna, a finance manager, came to help assimilate the Great Plains organization into Microsoft. As it turned out, the assimilation worked both ways.
“I think after about a year I kind of became a part of the Great Plains family,” said Danna. “I very much got to become part of the community there.”
The first thing he noticed, other than the flat topography of eastern North Dakota, was that employees on the Fargo campus seemed genuinely happy with their workplace. He was struck by the attitude of cooperation and teamwork.
“There was a real sense of family,” he said. “The relationships that existed among the people there in Fargo had existed for a long time.”
Danna said seeing the way the Fargo campus operated was a critical learning experience. In the immediate aftermath of the merger, it was very much a standalone company, giving him the chance to work in an environment that differed from the corporate structure of Microsoft.
“Microsoft is a very large company, and you become very much a cog in an enormous wheel,” he said. Working in Fargo “was definitely the most pivotal experience that I’ve had in my career.”
He grew as a leader and took away key lessons about operating on a field campus.
Those have since come in handy. After three years in Fargo, Danna moved back to Redmond, but six months ago landed in Dublin as the senior director of finance for Microsoft’s European operations. As a campus of about 1,200 employees, it’s similar in scope to the Fargo site, and Danna has found the way things are done here to be a useful template elsewhere.
“I actually look very much back to Fargo and have actually had conversations with (site leader) Don Morton and others,” he said. He still keeps in touch with his team here, and while he hasn’t had the chance to come back for some time, he said he owes Morton a visit.
When he does get around to it, it’ll be a visit that carries significance beyond a business trip.
“My family and I had lived all over the United States – New York, Chicago, Seattle, and Fargo,” he said. “Fargo was by far the best place that we’d lived. Fargo was the only place that when we left as a family, we actually cried.”