George Santino retired as a partner at Microsoft, but before that he did just about everything — from fast-food restaurant management to shoe repair to product testing. He interviewed at Microsoft four times before getting hired.
In his new autobiography, Get Back Up, Santino details how life knocked him down and all the ways he recovered from those down times. From his youth in Philadelphia’s rough-and-tumble neighborhoods to a back injury in his 20s after which doctors told him he’d never work again, Santino has been through a lot.
But there’s one thing Santino doesn’t do in the book: complain. We recently spent some time asking Santino to elaborate about specific events in his life, and to talk about his book and his time at Microsoft.
Q: What inspired you to share your life story?
A: My family lived down in Woodinville, and we had a lake house up in Mount Vernon. It’s about an hour drive up and back, and the kids would always say, “Hey, tell me a story to pass the time.” So I’d talk about things that happened in the projects, and things that happened when I was running businesses in Florida and in California.
My daughter said, “These stories are really inspirational; have you ever thought of writing a book?” I said, ‘Well, I’m kind of too busy to write a book.’ But as I started to approach retirement at Microsoft, I really gave it some serious thought and decided that there probably are some lessons to learn (from my life). So I decided to capture all these stories and put it out there. Hopefully people find it inspirational, motivational, and, at the very least, entertaining.
Q: You came to Microsoft in 1995. What was the company like back then?
A: It was basically the main campus, just the core setup of buildings 1 through 10, right off Bel-Red Road and 40th. They were already building more buildings; big tower cranes were everywhere. Any time Microsoft could get a hold of a piece of land, they would buy it and start building. If Microsoft couldn’t buy it, it would lease land. The growth was absolutely phenomenal back then. One of the running jokes was to never sell your stock options as long as the cranes were still around.
Q: You also were in Silicon Valley in the early days. How was that?
A: California has been a very crowded place for a long time. Before there was Silicon Valley, there were still tons of cars. I remember when we moved there in 1989, it was the first time in my life that traffic came to a complete stop on the interstate. I had never seen anything like that before; now it happens all the time.
Q: How has retirement been?
A: Well, it’s been very busy. A lot of my friends at work would say I was always somewhat of a workaholic, and people would say, “You won’t know what to do with yourself, you’ll be bored and be back in six months.” So when I got ready to retire, I sat down and said, “What are all those things that I put off throughout life because I was basically too busy working?”
I always wanted to learn piano, so I bought myself a piano and I’m taking piano lessons. I always wanted to learn how to speak Italian, so I started taking Italian lessons. I sat down and created myself a to-do list and said, “These are things I want to do every day, and these are things I want to do every week, and these are the bigger projects I want to accomplish, like the book.”
Q: If you could go back and tell yourself something during the times you stumbled in life, what would it be?
A: There may be a number of things that at the time really sucked and you say, “I wish that had never happened.” Then you wonder — had I done something different there, would it have changed the past?
Q: What is the book’s overall message?
A: That it doesn’t matter what life throws at you. It doesn’t matter how many times you get knocked on your butt. It doesn’t matter what the challenges are. Whether it’s physical, mental, educational, financial — no matter what it is, you just have to look at the situation and find a way to get through it. My book is just a series of stories where there was an opportunity for me to give up, but I didn’t do that because that just wasn’t the right choice for me. Don’t be a victim — go out there and get what you want. I went from nothing to partner at Microsoft without a college degree.
This article appeared in the June 2016 issue of 425 Business.