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Going above and beyond earns ESGR Patriot Award for Microsoft manager

One came from Ireland, the other from Sri Lanka. Here’s the unlikely story of a Microsoft operations manager whose on-the-job support for an Army reservist was more than appreciated — it was award-winning.

The tale begins when job-seeker Eric Mendis met Gary Ryan about working with Microsoft Dynamics CRM. As a sergeant in the Army Reserve, Mendis had one requirement that might have been a deal-breaker: He needed four months off for military cybersecurity training.

Many managers would balk. But not Ryan. He not only hired Mendis as a service engineer, he went above and beyond by offering paid military leave toward his goal of becoming a cybernetwork defender. While all companies must hold employees’ jobs open or re-employ them in similar roles when they return from military duty, only public employers must offer paid military leave. For his support of Mendis’ Reserve duty requirements, Ryan has won the ESGR Patriot Award, for which a grateful Mendis nominated him.

Mendis says, “I wanted him to be recognized and tell him, thank you.”

“I was just trying to be a decent manager and doing what’s right for someone I work with,” says Ryan, senior service operations manager of the Dynamics CRM business operations center. “The award is recognition that I didn’t expect, but will greatly prize.”

The Patriot Award honors a manager who supports the National Guard or Reserves by acknowledging that employees may need flexible schedules, time off before or after deployment, or leaves of absence. ESGR, short for Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve, was established in 1972 by the Department of Defense to promote cooperation and understanding between Reserve service members and their civilian employers.

This year, Microsoft also won the ESGR Extraordinary Employer Support Award for its sustained commitment to the Guard and Reserve, having received the most prestigious of employer awards, the ESGR Freedom Award, in 2009.

Ryan knew Army cybersecurity training would benefit both Mendis and Microsoft. “For me to have Eric use his skills for this country, and also apply them in his professional role and support Microsoft needs, it’s just an obvious win-win,” he says. “It really supports Microsoft’s commitment around trust and security.”

Eric Mendis and Gary Ryan look over a whiteboard.
The Dynamics CRM business operations center provides 24/7 technical support to Microsoft customers worldwide.

For his part, Mendis says, “I got lucky. I like IT, I like anything to do with computers, and fortunately I landed at one of the best companies in the world. In the Army I get free training in the areas that I like, and I can implement it on the Microsoft side. And what I learn on the Microsoft side, I can implement in the Army.”

Mendis and Ryan both came a long way to work where they do in Microsoft’s Bellevue, Wash., operations center. Both are immigrants — Mendis hails from Sri Lanka, Ryan from Ireland. Even more unusual is the fact that their paths crossed because of the U.S. military.