The road less travelled... to Microsoft
If you ever meet Tristan Benfield (MBA 2015), you will soon realise he is charming and charmed, traits that have helped him get where he wants to get quickly, even without the usual prerequisites.
“Honestly, I lucked out. They approached me for a different role initially, but after interviewing with them for a while, they said, 'There's another job we have in mind, are you interested?’ I said, ‘Absolutely,' and they ended up putting me through two interview processes.
“In the end, they said, 'You'd be great for both roles, which one would you prefer?' I chose the product role, which involves promoting Microsoft’s Surface Pro tablet. And they said, 'Alright, welcome aboard.'”
Tristan admits to being a bit of a PC fanboy. “I'm pretty techy and have always been pro-PC. Growing up, my best mate was a big Mac fan, and we always bickered. I think it grew from there.”
Tristan grew up in laid-back Byron Bay, a beautiful town on the north coast of New South Wales and magnet for many urban escapees. He went straight from school to selling carpets, moved into national marketing and advertising roles and then a senior national sales position at major leasing firm Fleet Partners (now the ASX-listed Eclipx Group) before arriving at Melbourne Business School.
“I don't have an undergraduate degree. My last boss, one of my mentors, said to me, 'You can have my job in two years, but that's where you'll cap out. You need a degree. Do an MBA. But, without an undergraduate degree, that could be a struggle, so consider a bachelor's degree.'
“And I said, 'Well, I might as well start at the top. If I do an MBA, what's the best school?' He said, 'MBS, don't go anywhere else.' So, I rang up MBS, and they said they don't typically take applicants without a degree, unless they have strong experience and can get a good GMAT score.
“So I said, 'Alright, what score do I need?' And went out and got it. They made me an offer three days later. I had applied for other schools, but, as soon as I got my MBS offer, I accepted it.”
As he readily admits, “No one can accuse me of not having confidence.” At just 29, Tristan has his future mapped out.
“I told Microsoft that I would like to stay in my new Product Marketing Manager role in Singapore for two years. My girlfriend, who will join me when she finishes her PhD at WEHI (the Walter and Eliza Hall Medical Research Institute), wants to do a post-doctorate in Europe or the US, so said I would later like to spend three years in Europe or the US, which they're absolutely on board with.
“Beyond that, I said I wanted to come back to Australia or New Zealand eventually, in some sort of country manager position. And they said, 'Beautiful, that's what we're looking for.'”
Microsoft couldn’t be happier with their new recruit. Along with chipmaker Intel, they’re partnered with MBS for a recruitment event in Kuala Lumpur on August 19. Both companies are keen to recruit MBA and other students to work for them in the region, especially if they’re locals.
For Tristan, the chance to work in a region he wants to experience and for a company he loves, as it creates an ecosystem to compete with Apple and Google, is very exciting.
“I was pretty keen to work in Asia, and it's an incredibly exciting time to join Microsoft with the new Surface Pro about to launch, the release of Windows 10, their Azure cloud platform and new phones.
“They have all the pieces for an impressive ecosystem, and, unless you can put forward your own ecosystem, people aren't interested. They don’t want bits and pieces of technology in isolation. They want a phone that can talk to a tablet, a computer and the cloud.”
Tristan says his new role gives him responsibility for marketing the Surface Pro from Microsoft’s regional headquarters in Singapore.
“It's a pretty broad role, doing everything from marketing insights to setting production volumes to working with the sales teams and account managers.
“When you consider how important the Surface is to the Microsoft ecosystem, I'll be working pretty closely with other Surface leads in the region, as well as the operating system guys and device guys, to make sure we're offering a solution rather than just a single piece of tech.”
Tristan attributes his success in his double-round of Microsoft interviews to honesty.
“I'm a great believer in being genuine, rather than manufacturing interview responses. Just get in there, tell them what's important to you, what you're good at and what you're goals are.
“I was able to speak about stuff that I was actually passionate about. It ended up being a lot of conversations with people and building rapport to see that it would be something I would really enjoy.”
Tristan so impressed Microsoft that they’ve put him into their leadership program.
“As long as I don't mess anything up, it should be a great journey.”