Liana Korkotyan (MBA ‘09): ‘There is no Such Thing as too Big of a Dream’

Liana Korkotyan is the partner development manager lead at Western Europe HQ of Microsoft based in Paris. In the interview below, she talked to us about her career path, AUA’s role in her development, her current job, her definition of success, her values as a leader, and more. Truly believing in the idea that effort is rewarded in any profession, Liana encourages young people and particularly women to follow their hearts and to never give up.

How did you start your career? Please, take us on a journey of your career path.

You know, sometimes you have a journey in mind, and you think it is going to be a straight line taking you from point A to point B, and then you look back, and your path looks more like a long and tangled line — this is a little bit what my journey was like, as I changed professions several times throughout my career. My journey started with attending the Linguistic University after Brusov in Yerevan, where I was on a path to become a linguist. Right after graduation, I started working for the U.S. Government, joining the U.S. Agency for International Development as a translator, and then I was assigned to one of their small business development programs. This is when I was first interested in business management, so I decided to apply to the American University of Armenia MBA program. Right after graduating from AUA, I worked for a short time at the Armenian Development Agency, the national agency for export and import promotion, and shortly after that, I decided to continue my studies in the United States. I did my second master’s in international relations with concentration on international business and commerce at Georgetown University. Right after graduation, I joined the World Bank headquarters in Washington DC, where I managed a global small and medium business development program, working with partners in over forty countries worldwide. After four years with the World Bank, I joined Microsoft in 2015 as a country manager for the Armenia subsidiary. So I moved back to Yerevan, yet again changing my career path, shifting from international development to sales and marketing in IT. I have been with Microsoft ever since in a number of different roles, ranging from marketing and operations to partner relationship management.

What motivated you to make such a big change in your career, as you went from humanities and foreign service to the field of business and IT?

During my work as a translator/interpreter in the USAID Mission in Armenia and its implementing partners, I realized that my job was not satisfying me professionally. Although I was a part of very exciting initiatives and projects, helping people who were making a difference, I did not really play an active role in those. I was just a messenger, transferring messages from one language to another. I had this constant idea in my head that I could do more, that I could do better, and that I could make a real impact through my personal contribution. Certainly, I have nothing against the profession of translators. I am very respectful of that profession, and obviously it serves an important mission in facilitating communication among people speaking different languages. It just wasn’t mine — I wanted to do more. I wanted to go farther, and this little voice in my head was continuously pushing me to look for the next thing.

I just recounted my path of twenty years in just two minutes, and it may have sounded easy. But, of course, it came with a whole set of challenges, forming the tangled line I was describing earlier. My firm determination and positive thinking pushed me forward. I am a strong believer that effort is rewarded in any profession. I truly believe that one should give their hundred percent to whatever one chooses to do.

Does your background in humanities influence your professional judgement? How?

I think the fact that I spoke English fluently has helped me a lot in my career. Unfortunately, when people don’t speak the language fluently, even if they’re the best subject matter experts, they’re at a disadvantage because they cannot articulate their thoughts properly. I think that has certainly served to my advantage. I also took Spanish courses in my undergraduate years, which today is serving me as I am covering Spain as one of the countries I work with. Of course, I am by no means fluent,  but speaking even a few words with the Spanish customers and partners shows that you’re trying to be inclusive, you’re trying to belong. Most importantly, humanities has taught me people skills, which I think are absolutely important for success in a professional setting, because no matter what technical skills or subject-matter expertise you possess, if you’re not able to properly position yourself within your organization and among colleagues internally, as well as externally with partners and customers, it immediately diminishes the value of what you’re able to bring.

What was your experience like at the American University of Armenia? What was the role of AUA’s MBA program in your career? 

I can say that AUA completely changed my life. It opened my mind in multiple different ways. It was very different from the Soviet-style education that I was used to. For me, AUA was an eye-opener in terms of acquainting me with Western-style education that now more and more of our local Armenian universities and even some schools are adopting. At the time, it was still quite uncommon. We were not used to being independent thinkers. AUA taught us to think analytically and to challenge things around us. For me, the most valuable skill I obtained in my two years at AUA was analytical thinking. The other major benefit of going through a graduate program at AUA is the network — the students and the professors. I keep in touch with many of my classmates, and I think the relationships that you build during your study years stay throughout one’s life. I am also in touch with some of my professors: Hayk Messerlian, who was a mentor to me; Rubina Ohanian, who was always supporting and guiding us in the right direction; and many, many others. I would encourage current students to really leverage this network of smart people they’re surrounded by, ask questions, ask for guidance, and seek mentorship because otherwise that would be a lost opportunity.

What does success mean to you? What has been the most memorable moment of success in your career journey?

Well, first of all, I think success is an internal feeling of satisfaction with what a person does, because, while external validation is important, depending on one’s personality, I think what really matters is how you feel about yourself and your accomplishments. Some people are happy doing the same thing in the same office with the same people, and that’s great. Others want to move on, they want to change companies, they want to try new things, and that’s also great. I think that if you feel accomplished at the end of the working day, that’s a sign of success. And if you feel excited about waking up and going to work the next morning, meeting your colleagues, and progressing with your day, that’s certainly success.

I can’t recall just one particular instance of success in my career. Every time I accomplish something, big or small, I feel successful. I think success is more about that ongoing feeling of accomplishing things, of making an impact, and then, most importantly, of growing personally and professionally. I believe what is driving us is the feeling that we are constantly getting better and stronger as professionals — our growth and the competition with our own selves six months ago, a year ago, and the energy it gives us to keep going.

As a representative of Microsoft in Armenia, you have been actively engaged in educational projects. How do you see the future of education in Armenia? To what extent, in your opinion, does technology affect the quality of education?

I am very passionate about education. I believe that education is the foundation of one’s success, and I also believe that education can play a big role at every age — I have proven to myself that you can actually go back to school quite late in your career. When I say education, I look at it more broadly, and I think that in Armenia we are really lucky to have a strong foundation, and we have a lot of smart people in our country. We used to have a great educational system that was right for that time. I think that in order for us to be successful today, we need to transform that foundation so it helps us meet the 21st century needs. One of those is to encourage analytical and independent thinking. Another aspect of this transformation is what we have been witnessing over the last year and a half with hybrid learning — combining online and offline modes of learning is a capability we should keep developing on a national level. This topic is specifically close to my heart because we, at Microsoft, are at the forefront of providing educational technology to a number of educational institutions worldwide. I know some people might still feel skeptical about how effective hybrid learning can be, and deep inside, I used to be one of those people. But, in fact, what I saw over the past years and months, combined with my personal experience of my youngest daughter attending a fully online school (and loving it!), I can say that it can work perfectly both in terms of the learning process and in terms of social integration. I think that a hybrid learning mode is the direction education will increasingly be opting for across the globe.

One application of this is the project we launched together with the Ministry of Education during my days leading the Microsoft country office in Armenia, where sister schools were exchanging teachers on certain subjects, primarily with a number of remote villages in the country, essentially helping close the teacher gap.

You have served in several leadership positions. What are your core values as a leader?

We are not perfect. In every aspect, we come with our sets of strengths and our sets of weaknesses. Thus it is important to understand what is driving a particular person on the team to be able to adjust their functions and thus maximize their impact and contribution. My secret is building a team of people that are smarter than me. A shout-out to my team at Microsoft Armenia!

To me, being a good leader is demonstrating that you are willing to get your hands dirty with whatever your team is working on, and that you are always there to support them and help them grow. You know, when I was at Microsoft, as part of our repositioning strategy we did a complete revamping of our office space — we put a big sign at the top of the building and renovated the office to meet modern standards. We did this in a very short time. We were expecting a high level Microsoft HQ representative and were trying to get everything ready prior to their arrival. We were all moving boxes and furniture and I think that is completely normal. There were also times when we had deadlines, and my team was working in the office until 3 am. This is not something you can force people to do. You can only achieve this by encouraging them, by making them excited about what they do, by getting them to realize the impact they will make and finally by being grateful.

What do you like most about your current position as the partner development manager lead at Western Europe HQ at Microsoft?

What I really appreciate about working with Microsoft is the mission that the company carries, that is, empowering people everywhere to achieve more. I do believe that indeed by making technology accessible to people, we empower them to do things that would not have been possible otherwise. This keeps me really satisfied and excited about what I do. I learn every day, and I work with extremely smart and intelligent people. I am a part of the Microsoft Western Europe area and I cover over twelve countries, so I also travel a lot, and get to discover different cultures, which I enjoy. The power of this energy coming from colleagues, customers and partners is unbelievable.

As a woman in tech, what would be your advice to young women in Armenia? And then, what would be your advice to young people in general?

I know it’s not always easy to be a woman, and it’s not easy to be a woman with an active professional career. So one thing that I would encourage young women to do is to just follow their dreams and their hearts. I would advise women to never be discouraged by societal pressures that are still very much present across the world. Women should be confident that, just like their male counterparts, with the right level of effort, they will be able to accomplish their dreams.

Sometimes some things may seem impossible to reach or too far away. Twenty years ago, I would not have thought at all that I would be sitting in a beautiful office in Paris, working in an amazing company, doing exciting and fulfilling work. But here I am. So to everyone, all the young people who are just embarking on their journeys, who have dreams and are wondering if those dreams are right or perhaps too big, I would say that there is no such thing as too big of a dream. Ultimately, it is about following your heart, it is about understanding the path that could take you there and making all the effort needed to do it. It’s about determination and asking people around you for support. It is okay to ask for guidance because people around you are most of the time willing to support, more than you might think. I have had mentors in my life who I am eternally thankful for, and I encourage young people to seek such mentors for themselves. And to always follow their dreams.