John Wood Profile

Few individuals choose to walk away at the height of their corporate career to dedicate their life to a social cause.

At age 35, John Wood did just that—quitting his position as Microsoft’s Director of Business Development for the Greater China Region in order to found Room to Read. He has never looked back.

John’s career at Microsoft spanned 1991 to 1999, where he ran significant parts of Microsoft’s international business, as the Director of Marketing for the Asia-Pacific Division, Director of the Internet Customer Unit for Microsoft Australia, and Director of Marketing for Microsoft Australia.

In 1998, John took a vacation that changed his life. Trekking through a remote Himalayan village, he struck up conversation with a schoolteacher, who invited John to visit his school. There, John discovered that the few books available were so precious that they were kept under lock and key—to protect them from the children! Fewer than 20 books, all backpacker cast-aways, were available for more than 450 students.

What started with a simple email requesting friends donate used books has grown into Room to Read, an award-winning non-profit that over the past eleven years has established over 12,500 libraries, donated and published 10 million books, built over 1,500 schools, and supported more than 13,500 girls so they can graduate from secondary school with the skills they need to succeed. In total, Room to Read has impacted the lives 6 million children.

John strives to bring the lessons of the corporate world to the non-profit sector. Room to Read combines his passion with the discipline of a well-run global company. He has been described by Fast Company Magazine as “all heart, all business.”

John has received countless honors for his work, including recognition as a “Young Global Leader” by the World Economic Forum and as one of Time magazine’s “Asian Heroes.” He has also been selected as a “Young Global Leader” by the World Economic Forum and is a Henry Crown Fellow at the Aspen Institute. The Public Broadcasting Corporation (PBS) named him one of “America’s Great Leaders” and he was selected by Barron’s as one of the “25 Best Givers” in 2009 and 2010, ranking 11th and 9th on the list, respectively.

Room to Read has won UNESCO’s 2011 Confucius Prize for Literacy recognizing excellence and inspiration in the literacy field. It is a five-time winner of Fast Company magazine’s Social Capitalist Award, a recipient of the Skoll Foundation Award for Social Innovation, and a recipient of Draper Richards Fellowship for social entrepreneurs. For fiscal efficiency, Room to Read has been awarded Charity Navigator’s highest 4-star rating for sound fiscal management for 5 years in a row.

John holds a Bachelors of Science, magna cum laude, from the University of Colorado, and a Masters of Business Administration from the Kellogg Graduate School of Management at Northwestern University. He lives and works in New York, NY.

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John Wood's Speech Descriptions

Leaving Microsoft to Change the World
At age 35, John Wood left his job as director of business development for Microsoft Corporation?s Greater China region to form Room to Read, a nonprofit organization that promotes literacy in impoverished parts of the world.

In his inspiring presentations, John describes how he founded Room to Read after becoming concerned that nearly a billion people in the world lack basic literacy, "I was blessed with a great education, and as a result I had a great career and made some money. I started Room to Read as a way to give that same opportunity to children in some of the world's poorest villages."

Leaving Microsoft tells the story of Room to Read's infancy, the early successes, and lays the groundwork for the long-term vision of world change. John vividly chronicles Room to Read's beginnings, from his life-altering decision to leave the corporate world, to his quest to create a non-profit with a strong business ethos, and continuing until the present day.

John Wood's work has been profiled by Bloomberg Television, CNBC, CNN, Fast Company, Newsweek, The New York Times, Time, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, and USA Today. He holds an MBA from the Kellogg School of Northwestern University and a Bachelor's of Arts degree in Finance from the University of Colorado.

What People are Saying about Seeing John Speak

Rating Entries

“John spoke at our 500-person Starbucks marketing conference and was an amazing inspiration to our global team. Here is someone who is literally changing the world, and he invites you to participate! He does so with humor, energy, and no guilt. If you want to hear a story that will end with a standing ovation, invite John to speak (and then donate to his organization)!”
    Anne Saunders, Senior Vice President, Starbucks Coffee Company

“John is a breath of fresh air to executives and professionals who are typically caught up in their busy lives. He connects with people’s natural desire to do good for society. John was a big hit at our Software 2004 conference, where he received a standing ovation (the only one in the history of the conference) from over 1,000 CEO’s, VP’s, and venture capitalists. He is an engaging speaker who is guaranteed to make people passionate about life.”
    MR Rangaswami, Founder and CEO, Sand Hill Group

Recent Speaking Venues:

    • The Power Within (Toronto, Canada)
    • Starbucks Corporation (Seattle, Washington)
    • Microsoft Corporation (Seattle, Washington)
    • Borders Bookstore, Inc. (Rye Brook, New York)
    • Professional Businesswomen of California (Sacramento, California)
    • Council on Foreign Relations (Chicago, Illinois and Washington, D.C.)
    • Sand Hill Group (San Francisco, California)

John’s work has been featured by a wide variety of major media outlets, including:


    • The Oprah Winfrey Show
    • CNN
    • CNN Headline News
    • Fox News
    • National Geographic Television
    • Star TV Asia
    • Bloomberg Television
    • CNBC, “Squawk Box”
    • PBS, “The Great Leaders” series
    • Good Morning Australia

Daily Newspapers

    • The New York Times
    • International Herald Tribune
    • The Wall Street Journal
    • Chicago Tribune
    • Washington Post
    • Boston Globe
    • San Francisco Chronicle
    • San Francisco Examiner
    • South China Morning Post
    • Singapore Straits Times
    • The Guardian (UK)
    • The Australian


    • Time
    • Newsweek
    • Forbes
    • Fast Company
    • Town and Country
    • Travel and Leisure
    • San Francisco Business Times
    • Delta Airlines Sky Magazine

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Books by John Wood:


Creating Room to Read: A Story of Hope in the Battle for Global Literacy
The inspirational story of a former Microsoft executive’s quest to build libraries around the world and share the love of books.

What’s happened since John Wood left Microsoft to change the world? Just ask six million kids in the poorest regions of Asia and Africa. In 1999, at the age of thirty-five, Wood quit a lucrative career to found the nonprofit Room to Read. Described by the San Francisco Chronicle as “the Andrew Carnegie of the developing world,” he strived to bring the lessons of the corporate world to the nonprofit sector—and succeeded spectacularly.

In his acclaimed first book, Leaving Microsoft to Change the World, Wood explained his vision and the story of his start-up. Now, he tackles the organization’s next steps and its latest challenges—from managing expansion to raising money in a collapsing economy to publishing books for children who literally have no books in their native language. At its heart, Creating Room to Read shares moving stories of the people Room to Read works to help: impoverished children whose schools and villages have been swept away by war or natural disaster and girls whose educations would otherwise be ignored.

People at the highest levels of finance, government, and philanthropy will embrace the opportunity to learn Wood’s inspiring business model and blueprint for doing good. And general readers will love Creating Room to Read for its spellbinding story of one man’s mission to put books within every child’s reach.

Leaving Microsoft to Change the World
John Wood discovered his passion, his greatest success, and his life’s work—not at business school or leading Microsoft’s charge into Asia in the 1990s—but on a soul-searching trip to the Himalayas. Wood felt trapped between an all-consuming career and a desire to do something lasting and significant. Stressed from the demands of his job, he took a vacation trekking in Nepal because a friend had told him, “If you get high enough in the mountains, you can’t hear Steve Ballmer yelling at you anymore.”

Instead of being the antidote to the rat race, that trip convinced John Wood to divert the boundless energy he was devoting to Microsoft into a cause that desperately needed to be addressed. While visiting a remote Nepalese school, Wood learned that the students had few books in their library. When he offered to run a book drive to provide the school with books, his idea was met with polite skepticism. After all, no matter how well-intentioned, why would a successful software executive take valuable time out of his life and gather books for an impoverished school?

But John Wood did return to that school and with thousands of books bundled on the back of a yak. And at that moment, Wood made the decision to walk away from Microsoft and create Room to Read—an organization that has donated more than 1.2 million books, established more than 2,600 libraries and 200 schools, and sent 1,700 girls to school on scholarship—ultimately touching the lives of 875,000 children with the lifelong gift of education.

Leaving Microsoft to Change the World chronicles John Wood’s struggle to find a meaningful outlet for his managerial talents and entrepreneurial zeal. For every high-achiever who has ever wondered what life might be like giving back, Wood offers a vivid, emotional, and absorbing tale of how to take the lessons learned at a hard-charging company like Microsoft and apply them to one of the world’s most pressing problems: the lack of basic literacy.

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