Philanthropist’s journey to the top of Microsoft started at UCCS | Scott Oki ’74

On March 1, 1982, UCCS alum Scott Oki started a job at a Seattle-based computer software company. On March 1, 1992, Oki retired from that company after helping build it into a billion dollar global corporation known as Microsoft. 

Oki’s story started in Seattle, where he grew up in poverty but enjoyed a “very good life” with his parents, Japanese-Ameicans who were interned during World War II. A passion for music took Oki from Seattle to the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, where he participated in the Air Force Academy band. He wasn’t attending classes at Air Force, so he decided to pursue his undergraduate degree at another school in the area, University of Colorado Colorado Springs.

Oki quickly fell in love with the school. The low enrollment meant small class sizes and focused attention from his professors. He credits one professor in particular, Dr. Couger, who not only encouraged Oki to learn more about computers, but also guided him and supported him in his early career.

“It was an amazing experience,” he said. “If it weren’t for professors who are constantly pushing you to do different things, to experience different things, and to live life to the max, I think we’d end up in other places that we wouldn’t want to be in.”

Oki earned a bachelor’s degree in accounting in 1974 and a master of business administration in 1975. After a failed software company of his own, he joined Bill Gates at Microsoft as manager of special accounts in 1982. When he retired in 1992, he was Microsoft vice president of sales and credited with expanding Microsoft’s operations internationally. 

Oki stresses to college graduates today that understanding their passion is key in finding success. “Life is too short. The most successful people are those who are doing what they’re passionate about.”

Oki’s passion has turned from computers and business to philanthropy, starting 20 nonprofit organizations since his retirement from the private sector. “My father set a great example. He spent more time volunteering than he did on his full-time job, and that stayed with me.”

Scott Oki is a distinguished alumnus who delivered the fall 2014 commencement keynote speech. View a list of other notable alumni here.