A man with a dream. A company in flux. A secret factory outside Portland. And a hyper-ambitious gambit to reimagine how meetings happen.
Jeff Han’s fingers are dancing across an expansive, wall-mounted touch screen. Planet Earth spins in front of him in computer-generated form; he grabs it with both hands and starts to zoom in. He keeps going—Western Hemisphere, North America, United States, Pacific Northwest—until we’re finally staring at a prosaic industrial area alongside a highway.
“Here’s our building, right here,” he declares.
The conference room where this demo is going on is named after Bill Gates, so it shouldn’t come as a complete shock that we’re on Microsoft premises. But this isn’t corporate headquarters in Redmond, Washington. Han and I are 200 miles away, across the Oregon border in the Portland suburb of Wilsonville, inside a 4-acre structure flanked by a manufacturer of industrial shredders and a storage facility for boats and RVs.
Microsoft hasn’t played up the fact that it has a major operation in Wilsonville. Actually, it’s been downright stealthy about it. (The roadside signage directing visitors to the main entrance doesn’t even mention a company name.) But since March 2014, the building is where the company has been engineering the device Han has been showing me, the Surface Hub.