BHAVANA BARTHOLF: The Way she Kept Things the Same was to Change

Say hello to IMSEI alumna Bhavana Bartholf. She is the chief transformation officer for Microsoft US Sales, Marketing and Operations. She has worked for Microsoft ever since she graduated with her IMSEI degree from NC State 20 years ago. When the median number of years that people have been with their current employer is 4.1, what keeps her in the same place? She says there has been one constant — change.

Bhavana Bartholf
Bhavana Bartholf

The first “change” has been her role throughout the years. She has had the opportunity to take on a variety of different jobs in her career. This mixture has included support engineer, consultant and account manager to leading organizations across Canada, Latin America and the US. Bartholf has led start-ups to now having the opportunity to be the chief transformation officer for Microsoft US Sales, Marketing and Operations. The possibilities continue to evolve, which keeps her driven and energized. “It’s important to make the most of every opportunity you are given,” said Bartholf.

The second “change” has been the many different people who have inspired her to keep changing, learning and growing, including Satya Nadella, Microsoft’s CEO since 2014. Satya has made the “Growth Mindset” — a transformational way of thinking — the cornerstone of the 40-year-old-company’s cultural turnaround. “A fundamental part of this shift in our mindset was to move from a ‘know-it-all’ mindset to a ‘learn-it-all’ mindset,” explained Bartholf. “This helps you to take the approach that you are always learning and staying curious, you see setbacks and failures as part of the journey to success, you will be more open to taking risks, and you will collaborate with others to deliver success.”

The third “change” has been her commitment to increasing diversity and inclusion throughout the organization. Bartholf has worked to be a leader who is a voice for diversity and inclusion, a STEM advocate, an ally for women and racial/ethnic minorities (REM). She has won many awards throughout her career, including a Diversity & Inclusion Leadership Award – Empowerment Award in 2016 and a Management Excellence Community Leadership Recognition Award in 2014 and 2015. “I am proud to be recognized for growing the female/REM workforce while promoting diversity and inclusion,” shared Bartholf. “Inclusion is essential to me, and I have been intentional as a leader to fostering positive, transparent, collaborative and inclusive work environments. Her advice is, “Simply Imagine the possibilities of what is possible by Simply Being your authentic self.” 

As a leader, she shows empathy, courage, energy, vision and truly cares for her people. She is seen as a transformational leader who helps her team be the best version of themselves and supports them throughout their journey. “I would be remiss if I didn’t call out that they would also say I am fun, and I get the party started on the dance floor,” quipped Bartholf.

Outside of the office, Bartholf and her husband made significant changes by adopting three amazing kids. Growing up in India, her grandfather had her and her siblings volunteer at an orphanage, and he encouraged her to show empathy and do what she could to make a difference. “My husband and I were both in agreement that we would grow our family through adoption,” said Bartholf.

That is why since 2007, she has been a national board member for the Gift of Adoption Fund, a non-profit that provides grants that support the funds needed for families to complete their adoption process. The organization is one of the largest providers of adoption grants, and 100 percent of donations go toward providing a child a permanent home and completing the adoption process. The fund allows her to continue to give back in helping families come together through adoption.

Bartholf’s passion for making a difference extends to students as well, and she enjoys sharing what she has learned on her journey. As a little girl growing up in India in an environment where gender-specific roles and expectations prevailed, her grandfather taught her always to imagine what was possible by simply challenging the status quo. He taught her to be curious, listen and learn, and most importantly, always dream big. “What we can or cannot achieve is simply a result of the limitations we put on ourselves,” explained Bartholf. 

She believes that it is hard to distill a lifetime of lessons from her grandfather, but here are five transformative things that he taught her:

  1. Believe in yourself — you are worth it.
  2. You always have a choice — even when it does not seem that way.
  3. Your experience is your journey — do not waste time comparing it to others.
  4. Live every day like it is your last — the possibilities will seem endless.
  5. Be kind and smile more — you never know whose life you will change because of it.

Following this advice, Bartholf believes that you can handle anything that life throws in your way. Studies show that only 27 percent of college grads have a job related to their major. Initially, that is how her career started at Microsoft. “As I continued to grow in my career, I learned that my education in manufacturing systems processes and logistics has become extremely valuable in building efficient, agile and productive organizations,” she shared. “As I fondly remember my experience at NC State, I am grateful to our faculty and the school for helping prepare me for the world ahead.” In other words, her education has prepared her to handle change.