Stuart McKee says his life story is really a set of accidental opportunities. The Lewis-Clark State College graduate certainly has made the most of those opportunities though as he is Microsoft’s Chief Technology Officer for state and local governments in the United States.
“I have been incredibly fortunate to have just some fantastic opportunities avail themselves to me and I guess I was naïve enough not to know any better and take advantage of them,” McKee said, laughing. “In many cases they were accidental miracles. Fortunately, I didn’t know they were opportunities or I would have goofed them up.”
McKee is an alum of the LCSC business administration/management accounting program and graduated in 1992. He credits the college for being the perfect fit for him and helping him on his way to a successful and rewarding career.
Following high school, however, McKee had other ideas. He took a couple of college classes, but admits he wasn’t serious about it because while he was in high school, he started a house painting business.
“I had a business of my own but realized that financial management was really killing me,” he said. “I could get the work done, but doing the books was really hard.”
With his mother working as the director of surgery at St. Joseph Regional Medical Center, McKee decided to move to Lewiston and enroll in a couple of classes. As he puts it, one thing led to another and soon he was a full-time student at LC.
“It was a great fit, a fantastic fit for a bunch of reasons,” McKee said about LCSC. “Financially for me it made a huge amount of sense. College can be expensive when you are young and kind of paying your own way, or older paying your way, it doesn’t matter. It’s not only a commitment of money, but a commitment of time. I was incredibly fortunate as being a little bit older. I was 23 when I came back to school. I was able to get Pell grants and work study, and was able to fully fund my education.”
McKee also said he loves the Lewiston area because of the rivers and the outdoors.
“It’s a great place to live,” said McKee, who now lives in Seattle. “It’s really easy to get around town, frankly something I really miss and I’m thinking about more personally now. I travel a lot all over the country and just the convenience of getting from point A to point B is important to me.”
McKee said the support of the Business Division faculty helped him get more than just an education at LCSC.
“Without a doubt, the people I was exposed to and the mentorships that I was able to achieve,” McKee said about his favorite memories. “I still have relationships with some of my professors from LC and I can’t speak highly enough for the people here who were willing to spend time and engage with me. That is so, so critical and such a big deal for me. I have so many amazing memories of LC and Lewiston in my time there. We could talk about that for an hour.”
McKee also mentions accidental opportunities to discuss his favorite moments on campus. He was part of the Business Student Organization, which decided to sell chicken shish kabobs during the annual Dogwood Festival in April. He said it was a last-minute thing and BSO wasn’t expecting to sell many, but with the combination of a prime location and the smell of the food, he had to help run to the grocery store several times to help keep up with the demand.
“We ended up with a bunch of money that we didn’t know what to do with,” McKee said. “We far exceeded our expectations, but it was a lot of fun.”
His other memorable experience came during an LCSC International Exchange Conference.
“We had a fairly sizable international student body here and the International Exchange Conference was a pretty big deal, not only for Lewiston and the college, but with the kind of people who came here that we were able to interact with,” he said. “One of the things the business students did at the conference was run a little lounge area for the speakers and dignitaries where they could get coffee, soft drinks and snacks. We also had a couple of cars to transport them around.
“So while I was sitting in the lounge one afternoon, one of the Russian dignitaries from the San Francisco embassy came in and he asked kind of hap-hazard what were the chances for him to go see Moscow, Idaho. I told him it was only 30 minutes away and I could take him, so we jumped in a car and took off. I’m sure some of his security were freaking out because we were out the door and nobody knew where we were going. Off to Moscow we went. We rolled into city hall just matter-of-factly and I introduced him. Soon the mayor rushed over from across the street and we took pictures. It was a lot of fun.
“I think being in a small town like Lewiston made it such a great experience for me at LCSC. I was able to do something that was such a unique opportunity that wouldn’t have happened anywhere else.”
McKee said he came to LCSC with the intent of pursuing his accounting degree and becoming a CPA. However, those accidental opportunities continued to pop up.
“While I was at LCSC, my work study happened to be in the computer lab, which was the foundation of the career path that I am on today,” McKee said. “As I was finishing my degree, I realized that running a 10-key during tax season wasn’t what I really wanted to do. Computers weren’t really new, but personal computing and business computing were fairly new. I was incredibly fortunate that one of my professors, Gerry Ramey, asked me why don’t I pursue an MBA and get a graduate degree. I had never thought about it before.”
So following LCSC, McKee applied to graduate schools. He said he was accepted into Dartmouth’s School of Business, but he would have to wait a year before starting classes. He had mixed results at other schools before he paid a visit to Gonzaga where his grandfather graduated in 1933. McKee said everything worked out perfect for him that day. He was accepted and earned his graduate degree at the Spokane school.
“I worked in the computer lab there as well, which turned out to be another huge competitive advantage, and that’s what really led me to technology and business,” McKee said. “I’ve been pursuing this idea of innovation and technology, and the implications for society whether it’s in business, government, private sector, or public sector, and that’s what my career path really has been.”
McKee worked for a few companies, including Walt Disney, before he became the executive director of the Washington State Department of Information Services on then-Gov. Gary Locke’s executive cabinet.
McKee joined Microsoft as the first U.S. Technology Officer in June of 2004. He said he’s surprised that he’s been in his position with the company for almost 15 years.
“Within Microsoft, that’s a huge anomaly for someone to have been that stable in the same job for that long,” he said. “The other part of that is technology has changed so much. I have been incredibly fortunate to not only carve out a niche for myself, but I have been able to really operate as an independent contractor in an environment that is constantly morphing. And I’ve been very fortunate to create some success and anticipate changes in innovation, and be out kind of in the forefront.”
McKee said in his current role, he spends half of his time with customers, primarily state and local governments across the country, to help them understand how Microsoft products can help them. He said he helps governments understand technology space, whether that means using technology to operate road maintenance supervision, child welfare, water quality, payroll, or policy-related issues.
“Many governments are struggling with things like jurisdiction, boundaries, cyber security and digital archives,” he said.
He said during the past few years, he has spent a lot of time with law enforcement agencies on the use of body cameras and the digitization of content.
“I spend half of my time external with the customer but I would like to spend more of my time there because I’m a field guy,” he said. “I like being out on the street where things are happening.”
The other half of his time is spent with Microsoft officials and developers, helping them understand the needs of his clients.
“The complexity of state and local governments across the country is that although there are many laws that are unique, there is a lot of consistency,” he said. “That’s what my job is. Finding those commonalities. Everybody wants to be unique and do their own thing but at the end of the day, government is very similar and has similar issues regardless who they are. The real complexity is that while the United States is an amazing place, it’s big. The complexity comes in with geographical diversity, political diversity and size diversity. The issues that Sacramento, Calif., are faced with are certainly different than issues say in Ritzville, Wash. So those are the bigger challenges.”
He said the one commonality that Microsoft must deliver is trust.
“At the end of the day, if the products and services we are delivering can help governments be more effective in their services to citizens with trusted technology platforms, then it’s a win for us,” he said.
McKee was back on the LCSC campus in October to help with the LCSC Business Division’s fourth annual Meet the Firms event, which allows LCSC business students to meet with business firms to connect professionally and learn about job opportunities. McKee said he enjoys coming back to campus whenever he can, and share his story, especially if it can help someone else.
“I’m a big believer in doing inventory, personal inventory, and checking where I came from and what I’m doing, and keep things in perspective,” he said. “I’ve had exceptional opportunities and been involved with some really amazing things, but at the end of the day, having a foundation, having sound principles, is really important.
“For me to come back to LCSC is an honor and privilege.”