Greg Butler: business partner, mentor, and friend: A tribute

Greg Butler

I personally met Greg Butler for the first time in May of 2000 — it is going to be 15 years in a few months. I was the Technical Coordinator in charge of programming for a huge annual conference in São Paulo, SP, Brazil (about 4,000 attendees) called “Educador”, aimed at discussing Technology and Education. Microsoft’s subsidiary in Brazil was one of the sponsors and my friend Marcia Teixeira, then Senior Academic Program Manager for Education for the Brazilian subsidiary, indicated someone to be one of the keynote speakers: Greg Butler. I got in contact with him late in 1999 and early in 2000 and finally met him when the conference took place in May. He spoke about “Anytime, Anywhere Learning” – his passion at the time.

At that time Greg was not formally at Microsoft. He was managing a program in the United States (West Coast, mostly, if I remember it right) aimed at placing one laptop in the hand of each student. It was called Anytime, Anywhere Learning and it was, as far as I can tell, the first program of what came to be called “one-to-one (1:1) computing” or “one laptop per student”. Bruce Dixon, who later on became my friend as well, and who now heads the Anytime, Anywhere Learning Foundation, worked with him on that program.

Microsoft Corp (US) was one of the sponsors of the program, and noticing Greg’s talent brought him onboard (Greg as an employee and Bruce as a consultant). After a while Greg created at Microsoft the Partners in Learning program, a global initiative in education – a multimillion dollar attempt to change education in an innovative direction, today present in over 100 countries. That program came to receive about 750 million dollars from Microsoft over ten years, as I am informed.

At the end of 2002 Greg asked Marcia Teixeira to indicate someone to be part of the International Advisory Board (IAB) of Partners in Learning, representing Latin America. She approached me, told me about the main ideas of Partners in Learning and checked if I would be interested in participating in its IAB. I did not have to think twice. I had been a Microsoft partner in the area of education since 1998, when I created, with the support of Carlos Alberto Ferreira, who was Marcia’s predecessor in that position, a site and a virtual learning community called “EduTec.Net”. In the area of computer training I had been a partner since 1994, through my company. Marcia indicated my name. Greg called me to formalize the invitation and I remained on that illustrious board (with John Bransford, Michael Fullan, Jenny Lewis, Michael Furdyk and Bruce Dixon) for ten years, from 2003 to the beginning of 2013. Other members eventually came and went, but this group remained the core of the International Advisory Board for ten years.

Less than one month after the first meeting of the International Advisory Board, “Partners in Learning” (then baptized as PiL) was publically announced in what was then called the Global Leaders Summit (May 18-20), in Redmond, WA, USA, by Maggie Wilderotter, then Microsoft’s Senior Vice President of Business Strategy (later of Public Sector). I was honored to have a participation in her keynote speech, speaking in the name of the International Advisory Board for about fifteen minutes to underline the importance of the program. The speech took place on May 19th, which was the first full day of meetings (the Summit opened on May 18th with a Welcome Reception). That night (19th), during a special reserved dinner, I met Bill Gates and had the opportunity to have a brief chat with him.

The rest is history.

Through Partners in Learning I was able to participate, almost always alongside Greg, in events in London (several times), Salzburg and Amsterdam, in Europe; Taiwan (several cities), from 2004 through 2009, every year; Singapore; Sidney and Perth in Australia; Tokyo in Japan; Seoul in South Korea; Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia; Hanoi in Vietnam; Buenos Aires, in Argentina… In Sidney, in 2007, I stayed during seven days at his house, as family guest. I already knew his wife Diane and his three children (Catherine “Cathy”, John “Jack” and Timothy “Tim”) from frequent dinners in their house in Seattle, WA. I can’t remember how many times we met in the US, in Brazil and in other countries in Central and South America. Under his guidance I visited, in South America, Venezuela, Colombia, Peru, Ecuador, Chile, and Argentina to help them implant local Advisory Boards. He recommended my name to be the chief consultant to the program in Central America and the Caribbean and Yolanda Ramos, who coordinated the program in the area, hired me for two years in that capacity. There I visited Puerto Rico, Panama (more than once), Costa Rica, Guatemala and even the Bahamas…

I was older than Greg, a university professor, and supposedly an expert in Technology in Education, but in the area of business consulting Greg was my chief mentor. And he was always a friend. In his many visits to Brazil he brought Jack along once and Diane at another time. When Diane was here in São Paulo we went to Embu das Artes, nearby, a great fair, and had dinner at the Chacara Santa Cecília, a picturesque restaurant in São Paulo.

In 2008 Greg, already based in London, tried to create a venture in Europe involving the concepts behind the Lumiar School, founded in São Paulo by Ricardo Semler, and which became, in 2007, a Microsoft Innovative School within the Partners in Learning Program. I was the President of the Lumiar Institute then, institution which maintained the school. I was charged with writing the project, which I did. The thing somehow grew too big and involved too many vested interests and eventually was the idea was abandoned. But writing a great project like that, involving many of the “big shots” of the area of education (from Howard Gardner, from Harvard’s Project Zero, to the Future Lab, in England), was quite a learning experience – and Greg’s advice and guidance were essential.

On Sunday I was shocked with the news of his premature death, as were all of his friends. I can’t still quite believe he is gone. But feel compelled to leave this tribute to him here.

São Paulo, SP, Brazil, January 20th, 2015.

2 responses

  1. A wonderful tribute Eduardo. Greg was also a great friend of mine for almost 30 years. We met in the early days of computer education in Australia when he was an educational computer consultant in New South Wales and I was developing software for schools in Queensland. We were members of our state computer education groups and became fast friends. He was a wonderful and generous man whose passions for education through technology you’ve fully described.

    Like you I was shocked to hear of his passing. Vale Greg.

    Paul Holland
    Past President, Australian Council for Computers in Education


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