Microsoft president “thrilled” with idea of moving Canadian headquarters to Vancouver

Software giant cuts ribbon on new Vancouver office that has capacity for 750 workers

Microsoft Corp. president Brad Smith was intricately involved in selecting Vancouver to be one of his company's global excellence centres | Glen Korstrom

Following festivities related to officially opening a 142,000-square-foot, $100 million office above Pacific Centre, Microsoft Corp. president Brad Smith told Business in Vancouver that he likes the concept of moving the headquarters of the company’s Canadian division to Vancouver.

“I would be thrilled, on behalf of all the employees in Redmond, [Washington, where the company’s global head office is located] if the headquarters for Microsoft Canada were in Vancouver,” Smith said in an exclusive interview.

“[But] there’s 32 million people in Canada so we also have to pay attention to where they live and not just to where we want to vacation.”

Microsoft Canada’s head office is in Mississauga, Ontario, although the 2,000-employee, 10-city Canadian division has about as many workers in Vancouver, at 568, as it does in metro Toronto, according to Microsoft Canada president Janet Kennedy.

Microsoft's new Vancouver office has capacity for about 750 workers and the company is amid a hiring spree. Most of the workers and new hires are Canadian. 

The site is not Microsoft's only office in Vancouver given that about 180 staff work at 858 Beatty Street, a structure once known as the Pivotal Building. Those workers are expected to stay put.

Smith's comments came after a ceremony that included speeches from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Premier Christy Clark and Mayor Gregor Robertson.

Clark used part of her speech to cajole Microsoft into contemplating moving its Canadian headquarters west.

“Our conversation is just beginning because the next step is to figure out how we can make this the Microsoft Canada headquarters,” Clark said in her speech.

Regardless of where the country’s top Microsoft executives call home, they will rely on their burgeoning hub in Vancouver.

Smith said that he was “intricately involved” in selecting Vancouver to be one of what the company calls global excellence centres.

The other cities under consideration were London, England and Dublin, Ireland.

Microsoft chose Vancouver, Smith said, because of:

•the quality of talent, thanks to training and education at B.C. institutions;

•the ability to bring in foreign workers; and

•the city’s proximity to Microsoft’s global headquarters.

He said that it is easier to recruit foreign workers and have them admitted to Canada to work than it would be to have them be eligible to work in the U.S.

“In our industry, and I would argue in the world today, there are few things that are more important than people and there are fewer strengths more important than having a diverse group of people who can work together,” Smith said.

The decision to open the centre of excellence and double the size of the Vancouver workforce was announced more than two years ago and people started working in the new office in February.

(Photo: B.C. Premier Christy Clark chats with Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau during a tour of Microsoft's new excellence centre in Vancouver | Glen Korstrom)

Smith hinted that future expansion in Canada is likely in part because he likes the nation’s political leadership.

“We had the opportunity to meet with the prime minister in Davos at the World Economic Forum in January,” Smith said earlier in the day in a speech while standing on a stage with Trudeau.

“We had the opportunity to talk about what we can do, not only today but in the months and years ahead. We realized that we were talking to someone who is not only a great leader but someone who can probably lead a technology-design team at Microsoft.

“At a time when we’re taking the message around the world that the young people of tomorrow need to learn how to code, we got to meet with a prime minister who knows how to code already. When you combine that kind of leadership with what we hope to contribute as a company, when you combine that with the great talent here today, we have a magical opportunity for the future.”

Trudeau used his speech to issue a challenge to other global executives to consider moving their enterprises to Canada.

“I want the global business community to know that now is the time to invest in Canada,” Trudeau said.

“If you’re looking for a sound business climate, if you want to hire diverse hard-working talent, if you’re seeking a partner who values and champions innovation, Canada is the place for you.”

Microsoft workers at the company’s Pacific Centre office will develop software and be engaged in projects such as interactive TV. Microsoft has a pact with the National Football League, for example, and streams games via an app. Users who stream games can also navigate to get statistics on specific players.

All of the company's Vancouver-based video-game development happens at 858 Beatty Street, where workers are focused on Microsoft’s popular Gears of War game franchise.