Njeri Mutura – Microsoft
She couldn’t reveal many details but by late June, which corresponds with the end of Microsoft’s corporate fiscal year, Njeri Mutura was expecting that months of negotiations between her team and a multitude of flagship companies across the Americas would consummate into billions of dollars from technology deals.
Such companies seek to scale their operations or enhance their products and services through the transformative potential of Microsoft’s cloud-based technology. But there were details to fine-tune, she told Vanguard in early June upon returning to her Irvine, California, office after a week of negotiating in Toronto.
“Piece by piece we’re putting it together,” says Mutura, a member of the Microsoft legal department since 2012 and, for the past two years, assistant general counsel for strategic pursuits and complex technology transactions in the Americas. “My role is providing a strategic vision and guiding the business client as it relates to some of the legal, regulatory and policy concerns that might impact our business as well as our customers as they adopt our technology.”
Such compliance becomes an increasingly bigger concern with Microsoft’s customers active in many jurisdictions and having to adhere to evolving laws relating to the handling of data. The multi-faceted nature of the deals requiring collaboration of internal and external legal subject-matter experts, Mutura and her team assume a project manager’s responsibility to bring it all together. Given the fluidity of innovative technology, she says the law can hardly keep pace.
But this is what she says she likes most about this ever-changing field. It’s why she encourages others to follow this path, there being much opportunity where law and technology converge.
Worldly from the start
The Kenyan-born Mutura took an unusual path to this role. She came from a family that pushed education and encouraged learning through novel experiences, a philosophy that she adopts in raising her own children. This mindset motivated her parents to sacrifice their limited resources to give the young Mutura an opportunity to leave her homeland alone to finish high school in Canada.
“It was daunting, doing this all by myself, but it helped me grow up quickly,” she recalls. “I had to buckle down and make it work.”
She had much initiative, however, and with high honors, earned a degree in commercial studies at Western University in London, Ontario, before enrolling at University of Windsor Faculty of Law. That grounded her for what’s been a fulfilling career with stops at global law firms, tech start-ups, larger innovation companies like Oracle, entrepreneurial ventures and, finally, to Microsoft, which she says has been the perfect landing.
“Microsoft takes the pulse of wherever it’s located,” Mutura said. “There is a common thread in foundational principles, but it’s attuned to the inimitable aspects of geography.”
At Bill Gates’ brainchild, Mutura explains that if you’re aligned to the company’s mission, your extracurricular pursuits and passions can blend into the job. Through Blacks at Microsoft (BAM), where Mutura has served in a leadership capacity, the company provides opportunities for her to contribute to the community. She’s coached high school students from diverse backgrounds about professions in technology law, with a focus on the future of artificial intelligence.
Noting gender disparity in the STEM ranks, Microsoft also has spearheaded a global program, DigiGirlz, which introduces high school girls to science, technology, engineering and math. Mutura immerses in this effort too, participating in forums that guide and mentor young women. She also finds time for the Association of Corporate Counsel, leading its award-winning diversity internship program that provides in-house access to law students who may otherwise not have that exposure.
“Infusing diverse experiences and perspectives into the legal profession serves us all,” Mutura says. “That’s particularly so where the law meets innovation.”
She’s also led some of the association’s pro bono efforts in Southern California on behalf of children needing legal services, and her team has been awarded for goodwill initiatives.
Of course, Microsoft can’t be all about progressive initiatives. While the company’s keen with Mutura’s activism, she’s primarily there to lead a seasoned team of technology transactional attorneys. For that, she brings a worldly outlook.
Before her current role, Mutura was the first legal professional representing Microsoft in East and Southern Africa. With Nairobi as her base, she led legal support of the 4Afrika initiative that galvanized Microsoft resources and technology to impact innovation in what is often termed the Silicon Savanah.
Microsoft recognizing Africa as the region with the world’s youngest population, Mutura has been on the frontlines of establishing thriving projects. Among them is the revolutionary whitespaces technology that provides affordable broadband to underserved communities. Artificial intelligence now is the space where Njeri and her team are most engaged and, in her view, the company is on a promising trajectory but has only scratched the surface.
The world only growing more wired, Mutura’s team will have much more to do. She says her business background enables her to understand Microsoft’s objectives as well as the clientele’s. Though she’s practiced corporate law on so many shores, Mutura says she’s felt most fulfilled at Microsoft.
And her other roles have been meaningful. After working at tech start-ups in Canada and the United States, she became Oracle’s senior counsel for global sales and services from 2005 to 2008. She then started her own tech law consulting firm, ThrEEE Tenets Consulting Services, and returned to Kenya in 2010. For a year and a half, she was a senior lawyer in Bowmans’ Nairobi office and contributed to the South African-headquartered law firm expanding its regional technology, media and telecommunications practice.
Mutura’s responsibilities having included counseling multinationals on regulations with emphasis on tech-related transactions and intellectual property, she fit the bill in 2012 when Microsoft sought someone with her credentials to further its efforts in sub-Saharan Africa.
Initially based in Nairobi, she relocated to California, which has proved a most agreeable home, but understanding the value of in-person connection, Mutura’s often on the road. The Toronto trip was productive, though there still are details to finalize. That’ll be done, she assures, and there’ll be more big-ticket deals to negotiate.
“I impact not just the company but communities and individuals,” Mutura says. “I see the transformative nature of technology and how it helps all of us accomplish so much more than we could without it.”
View this feature in the Vanguard Fall I 2023 Edition here.
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