From pilot to sales exec: Transferring military commitment to business dedication

Rich Witte, an account executive at Microsoft, has been out of the military for many years, but he still carries a commitment to detailed preparation, putting the unit above oneself and the challenge of carrying out the mission, all of which he applies to his current job in sales.

Rich Witte, an account executive at Microsoft, has been out of the military for many years, but he still carries a commitment to detailed preparation, putting the unit above oneself and the challenge of carrying out the mission, all of which he applies to his current job in sales.

Whether you were trained to do your job, or simply born to do it, your level of commitment and preparation will determine success.

It’s a philosophy that’s helped Microsoft’s Rich Witte get to where he is today. Witte became a Navy pilot after graduating from Purdue University and the school’s Navy ROTC program. During his service he flew in a squadron of A6 Intruders that for training was stationed in Oak Harbor, Washington, and for deployment flew off the deck of the San Diego-based aircraft carrier USS Ranger.

Why train so far from your ship? The Navy wanted to enhance the degree of difficulty. The A6 is a terrain-hugging attack aircraft that relies on the element of surprise. Washington’s rugged terrain serves as the perfect proving ground for the airmen who fly them.

“Typically the missions we flew were under cover of darkness,” he says. “If you can successfully fly and train in the Olympic and Cascade mountains, then you can pretty much do that anywhere.”

Witte trained to fly attack aircraft for difficult missions in the Navy by navigating the rugged terrain of the Olympic and Cascade mountain ranges.

Over his eight-year career, Witte served two deployments in the Persian Gulf, each of which required three to four “workups” — specialized training exercises to prepare for specific missions. The military’s detailed preparation taught him a valuable principle he still relies on today.

“The key thing the military teaches you is commitment to the objective,” he says. “It’s a dangerous business, so that commitment to being successful is critical, because if you’re not successful the consequences can be extreme.”

Though he’s been out of the military for many years, he still carries that commitment — to detailed preparation, putting the unit above oneself and the challenge of carrying out the mission. Today Witte works to apply those military principles to another lifelong passion: sales.

“My father was a career salesman, and he worked out of the home,” Witte says. “Customers called the house frequently, and at an early age I learned how to work with them, how to talk to them. So I was excited about the transition in my life when I left the service and the opportunities ahead.”

Just out of the service, Witte found that the experience and skills he gained in the Navy were in high demand. He landed a job right away with a company based in Chicago, selling medical equipment to large hospital accounts. The company was keen to hire ex-military officers, and he found himself making new relationships with friends who shared similar history and interests.

“One of my friends was a West Point graduate who flew helicopters in the Army,” he says. “A couple of buddies were Army Rangers. So I was learning a new business but also worked with a lot of people with a similar background.”

Over the years, he helped a couple of those friends build a successful dot-com company, then furthered his technology experience selling software in Arizona, before landing at Microsoft 11 years ago.

Witte uses the skills he learned in the Navy in his job as an account executive at Microsoft.

Witte uses the skills he learned in the Navy in his job as an account executive at Microsoft.

Today Witte is an account executive serving major enterprise accounts back in his hometown of Pittsburgh. He says his role gives him the opportunity to dig deep and understand how to help clients be successful with technology.

“Some customers own a lot of our technologies, so it’s more of a conversation about how best to leverage those,” he says. “In other cases customers may not already have a solution, so it’s working to understand how technology can solve their challenges.”

Similar to his methodical training in the military, he says, serving a large enterprise account takes detail, planning and a commitment to getting the job done.

“These are big, global organizations,” Witte says. “These deals don’t happen overnight. We work our way through the process, plan to get to the right people, help them understand the benefits, and then tap into experts at Microsoft to craft a solution that meets those needs.”

Witte says he’s still passionate about the military and the crucial role it plays in society. He volunteers for Microsoft’s recruiting efforts targeting veterans, and has worked to call attention to the Project 22 documentary and its importance for veterans’ issues across the country.

“One of the things that I’m committed to doing personally is giving back to this community,” he says. “Working to support veterans is something that I think is very worthwhile, and I’m glad Microsoft puts so much into its veteran community as well.”

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