Leaving Microsoft to Change the World: An Entrepreneur's Odyssey to Educate the World's Children by John Wood (Collins, 2006)
I don't believe one gets closer to God simply by climbing physically higher, but there must be something special in the rarefied air of the Himalayas. Greg Mortenson returns from a climbing expedition inspired to build schools for isolated, impoverished communities in Central Asia; John Wood visits Nepal, then quits his high-level, very highly paid job at Microsoft, and begins building libraries for poor children all over the world.
The organization Wood founded, Room to Read, has earned the highest Charity Navigator rating of four stars. That it has grown explosively and yet responsibly is as much a tribute to Wood's business accumen as to his good heart. His years at Microsoft were preparation for his life's mission, though he didn't know it at the time.
As for the book, it's fascinating to read, as much for the insights into Microsoft as for the larger story. There is, perhaps, a bit too much of Wood himself. I find him, like Mortenson, to be rather too much full of himself. John Wood does not seem like a pleasant person to live or to work with. I was particularly bothered by his abrupt decision to drop all previous commitments to get on with his mission. He broke up with his girlfriend, whom he supposedly loved, and with whom he was apparently serious enough not only to live with but to follow when her job moved her to China. He made (as far as I could see) no attempt to work things out, to give her time to adjust to the radical idea and catch his vision—just "my way or the highway" (never mind that his way was the highway). He quit his job abruptly, leaving his boss and coworkers in the lurch, not giving his employer a reasonable amount of time to find a replacement and make a smooth transition—just "Goodbye."
But one does not have to be good in all aspects of life to accomplish good things, even great things. And it may be said that full-of-yourself, aggressive personalities are much better at getting certain types of things done. Wood (and Mortenson, recent problems notwithstanding) certainly have done and are doing amazing work. Leaving Microsoft to Change the World is a great testimony to how important to a community it is to include members with different strengths and different personalities, even personalities we dislike. Even more, it's a brilliant example of what can be accomplished—beginning with a single, inspired, hardworking, driven individual—when great vision and solid business sense come together.