400 million people use Microsoft Outlook daily. The number alone is jaw-dropping, but what’s even more significant is how important it’s become to everyone in the midst of the global pandemic. And no one is more aware of that than seven-time Classic Journeys traveler, Suri Raman. He built it.
That’s right. One of the original ‘Softies’, as Microsoft employees call themselves, Raman is the original architect of Outlook, leading the team that created the email and calendar management system in the 90s. He joined Microsoft in 1989, back when the company had fewer than 3,000 employees, and he’s one of those guys who’s been at the table with Bill Gates himself, many times. (Notably, he’s also been face-to-face with another tech titan, Jeff Bezos, when working at Amazon at a different point of his career.) Raman is still part of the Outlook team today, like so much of the world in work-from-home mode, in Seattle. And right at this exact moment, no matter when that is, you can bet he’s thinking about how to make your email better.
Raman spends time thinking about ways humans can connect, and what that will look like today, tomorrow and five years from now. He’s got plenty of ideas there (read on for more!). But actually, the all-important element of human connection is also what attracted him to travel with Classic Journeys.
Travel Isn’t Just About Seeing Sights.
Raman and his family started traveling with Classic Journeys in 2009, first to Costa Rica, and just returned from their latest trip to Chile in February. “Before Classic Journeys, getting us to move was almost impossible,” Raman jokes of travelling with his wife and three children. “The intent was just having somebody tell us where to go and get us into a rhythm with travel. That’s how it began.” Travel evolved into more for Raman, his wife Mala and their children—two are now teens and the oldest is in college—as their experiences deepened. “When we travel with Classic Journeys, it’s just not about the place, it's about the people, their practices, their stories, their food,” he says. “It’s never just, ‘I’ve been to X and I’ve seen Y,’ because in some cases, maybe we didn’t even see Y, because everybody goes there and it’s a tourist place. Instead, we get to meet real people. On our trip to Cuba, we met a guy who was running a car remodeling business, fixing old classic cars that would be used for rides around Havana. It was amazing to meet an entrepreneur in a country like Cuba, where being an entrepreneur isn’t exactly a thing that you do. And he was so passionate about it.”
“My Kids Have Traveled Worldwide, Much More Than I Ever Did”
Raman didn’t travel until he was an adult, and credits his wife for catching the travel bug first. “I was always into my studies back in India [Raman is a graduate of the Indian Institute of Technology, Madras], and when I joined Microsoft in 1989, I barely got out of the office. I would leave at like 2 am, even 6 am,” he recalls. “Traveling was not exactly a thing I did. My first trip outside the country was when I took the job at Microsoft. That was my first flight. So my kids have a very different lifestyle than I did, growing up.”
Periodic work sabbaticals and finding time for longer trips grew in significance for the couple as their children grew. They both wanted their travel experiences to be part of the memories their children carry with them throughout their lives. “Mostly it's my wife who’s the driving force for any of our trips, I’m just the minion who makes the arrangements,” Raman jokes. “My kids have now traveled worldwide much more than I ever did when I was a kid, and that’s important to us.”
Human Interactions Drive Him, In Work and Travel
Raman likes to joke that he’s a “multiple failed retiree” as he’s resigned from Microsoft at three different points during his career only to rejoin the company later. “I love to interact with people, like the young kids just out of school who are hungry to do something and the veterans who are still pumped up about doing stuff, that’s what makes me come back,” he says, noting that his favorite travel memories are always about the individuals he’s met along the way, too. “Much of my work happens when I run into people in the hallways, and they throw something at me and then I give them back guidance. Somebody has to tell me something can’t be done, and I have to tell them why they’re wrong, why it can be done, and they just need to try it differently, and get them excited about it. And right now that’s not happening, so that’s difficult for me.”
The COVID-19 pandemic, and his company’s response to it—including founder Bill Gates and his Foundation’s direct involvement—have also expanded Raman’s thinking about what needs to be done, digitally. There’s plenty, he declares. “I’m very bullish about the opportunities ahead,” he says. “People are going to get more and more digital. And just in the medical field, can you get rid of having personal desk monitoring to do more digital monitoring of patients, so you can manage with less nurses? Can you make medication more automated, with some robotic way to deliver medication? There’s a whole set of things, as we’ve got to have some option for dealing with this kind of spike—in case this becomes the new normal.”
Raman Remains Optimistic About the Future
Though any of his family’s immediate travel plans are tabled, he’s still thinking about the future. “Maybe once the kids are all out of the house, that’s how we get the family back together, by bringing them on these trips,” he muses. “Everybody’s home right now, so this is an interesting moment for us. We’re all in the same place. It’s almost like a Classic Journeys trip.”
Kelly Phillips Badal is a Los Angeles-based writer, editor and world traveler who writes about travel, lifestyle and design. The former editor in chief of Interiors California, her work has also appeared in Sunset, Angeleno, BBC Travel and CondeNastTraveler.com; and she's held staff positions at Better Homes & Gardens and Country Living. Kelly is married to travel and lifestyle photographer Tanveer Badal. Together they split their time between New York City, Los Angeles, and wherever their travels take them. Follow her at @kellybadal
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