Chris Mahl: I have to say that Informatica, for those of you who know, they were just acquired for about five billion dollars in private, which I joined in 1995 as one of 20 people. So there was minus nine customers, there was zero revenue and I have to say I’m going to share two perspectives on what I was most proud of.
Chris Mahl: One is we grew that, we took that public profitably over the next five and a half years, built it from the ground up with great people, great passion, define the market, own that market. And so I’m certainly proud of all those achievements from a sales/marketing perspective, but what I’m really proud of is when the bubble bursts we were one of the only companies to actually truly grow during that nuclear time we grew the company 10% with no revenue.
Chris Mahl: If you take the whole software category and you look at real returns in that particular year which is roughest in the tech industry, that was a pretty amazing achievements. So it’s actually that, I love the IPO don’t get me wrong, but building it from a garage of 20 with Groap, Diaz and Mark Burton who’s now on the board of Mongodb and tremendous executives but it was actually sailing the ship through the tough storm that I’m most proud of. So I’d say that.
Chris Mahl: I have to say that after that I went to Salesforce and I was there for just about four years leading a bulk of sales and strategic sales. I have to say the early milestones I’m most proud of was the teams who I worked with who closed the first 400 seed deal. At the time when I joined it was 50 and 40 and Kevin was there and the board was curious so that would have been AOL with a fellow named Greg Brown and his team in the southeast. Wow we can do 400 and shortly thereafter there was the Sungard deal which was 1,000 seeds.
Chris Mahl: Common at the Sales Force at that time, an on demand model trusting 1,000 people to put all my customer data in the cloud, not happening. And that was actually Eric Poley who actually works for me now, it runs outside sales now through JW Player so Eric they do a tremendous job and great work with Mark on that.
Chris Mahl: The following year, the first 2,000 seed deal so these were 6 million dollar plus deals- unheard of. Nobody does this with on demand and SunGard was the big bag in the Southeast and the ADP. Teams are all part of my organization so these major milestones really made the industry say this is real. Everything up until then wasn’t real so I have to say those.
Chris Mahl: Up to where I am now, certainly Right Media don’t get me wrong Right Media was a remarkable run, really brilliant. Guys like Mike Walrath had an amazing model going I just helped scale it before Yahoo purchased it. Seven months to a year there, did I play role definitely. Was the course set, clearly- these guys innovated on the exchange model and really understood how to create that and I loved being a part of that.
Chris Mahl: But I have to say right now which is JWPlayer and the present folks on the commercialisation and scaling of the business. When I joined with some great founders, you know the company had done well, huge footprint but relatively small commercial presence. We doubled that business year over year with phenomenal innovation, recreating the market, recreating the value there. If I look Informatica sort of the first you know I was at Oracle for over five and a half years, informatica was the first true start up.
Chris Mahl: The founders Gaurav and Diaz Nesamoney had really studied the problem they were solving and they had a unique answer, and it was a problem that the market wrestled with in weird ways. This was the enterprise, analytics, data warehousing which was really nascent at that time. They solved a unique problem which gave us a lot of differentiation.
Chris Mahl: That’s different than sort of the quarter to quarter building the business. There was actually a lesson I learned there that was handed to me and this was really from a guy named Dave Pidwell which he’s retired now, I think he owns half of Hawaii. Guys who used to work for him founded Ariba he’s a tremendous man but he taught us a way to organize ourselves as executives committed to each other and be real time about it, sort of week to week, month to month.
Chris Mahl: It was really simply, at the end of each week we’d share a brief communication to each other around key metrics and needs and asks of each other. So this executive dialogue that went from sales to marketing, product engineering, to finance, to CEO was a very vibrant muscle from the beginning and it’s the lasting lesson I still use.
Chris Mahl: The idea was we got something week to week, month to month so that was actually a lesson that I was taught and got the benefit from in Informatica. I will say that we all have personality types, well lesson learned is what’s your personality type. Ultimately folks have heard the sales background conflicts and everybody’s type but when you’re inside the walls of a company you can be the driver and it should be, you are the number. In a sense to the board, to the public market you’re a number so you want to organize people, and concepts and execution to achieve that number and ultimately making that happen.
Chris Mahl: At Informatica I got a nickname which was brought to me by the sales teams which was The Edge. It’s not because of my remarkable guitar skills, it’s because of the amount of pressure I would bring to people objectively with support. It was a joke they could make to me so that I was approachable but I learned from that a little bit.
Chris Mahl: I used to think about it am I pushing them to the edge to be productive or over the edge where they become unproductive. There’s a real good lesson for everybody, I’d actually say in today’s world a lot of CEOs who have an idea and maybe not a lot of management background to be honest, developing people is a skill. It’s not natural maybe 10% of the time and acquired maybe 90% of the time in my experience.
Chris Mahl: I can encourage new CEOs, younger CEOs to think about that dynamic and get a mentor. I know we’ll talk about that who might be very good at that sort of really be able to reflect on that for you. We need people to hire to increase productivity, nirvana leading them there where they’re exciting and doing it themselves- brilliance. That’s not that easy at this scale. Being The Edge, have a driver personality, backing them up a little bit and bringing people up the productivity curve, definite valuable lesson.
Chris Mahl: I appreciate where we’re coming from in this video, my great career but it really is the function of the places I’ve been and the people I learned from, and the market opportunities those companies have had. But if I roll all the way back to a company no one knows about, there’s these two guys no one knows about, it’s my first job out of college. I went to work for a guy named Joe Tucci who happens to be CEO of EMC. I’m sure Joe might kind of remember my name now but at the time I used to really study him and learn from him.
Chris Mahl: There were two things that I could see day to day being on the eastern sales team of his which he ran then at Sperry, a company nobody knows. If you’re new to technology even in your computer courses about history, you may not know that company. But chat me I’ll tell you all about it.
Chris Mahl: But he taught me about relationships, customer relationships and how to really be meaningful and how to be very intelligent about those relationships. He was excellent at that and what was great about that was it wasn’t a lecture, it was a behaviour. You can see it and so as we worked in team meetings and he’d do a lot of reviews of deals you got those kind of senses and it became important. I really got that.
Chris Mahl: Shortly thereafter there’s another Joe, Joe Walton, who has now been running worldwide consulting at EMC for the last umpteen years and really is a key member of the folks that integrate EMC’s acquisitions. He taught me how to out organize anybody. Same things about relationships and intelligence but how to be very organized, not just in the internal meetings but with your clients, with your partners, with your prospects.
Chris Mahl: Not off the cuff only creative brainstorming brilliant, but how to bring a really structured, thought out process which was phenomenal. So how to out organize and out execute, they kind of go hand in hand. If you’re not organized then execution is no point.
Chris Mahl: What I have to say is when I think of Right Media you know there were two folks that I really got to watch and learn from there, younger than me which is fine. Michael Walrath the fellow who started it and Brian O’Kelly the fellow who built it hand in hand. Michael really understands the strategy of markets, at that time it was very clear he had a vision for what could be built and he was passionate about it. He also understood the mechanics of it and business model of it, and it was very easy when I first met him before I joined to realize this guy has got an amazing grasp of this market. Which the world of online advertising at that time shifted, but he had a vision for scaling it which was phenomenal.
Chris Mahl: Brian O’Kelly, unbelievable technologist. Frankly of all the companies I’ve been at one of the most gifted for sure. I’ve said that to him many times, I say that to everybody. He had sort of two monstrous skills, many, many more, one was the ability to really see which clients will give him the meaningful exercises to build something remarkable. So I’ve never seen a leader so, really when I say understand the times I’m not saying the business but process, technology, down to the details. The second was this applied innovation, how can he see and sense something.
Chris Mahl: He’s got a big vision, he’s got a real sense of the climate but I’m going to build it. At a speed that dumbfounded all of us. Innovation came out across Right Media around the clock so I could really see those two hand in hand. Then also today Dave Otten, Jeroen Wijering these two guys demonstrate what culture is about phenomenally. how do you build a culture of excellence, how do you care for people which is just an affirmation of something I’ve known but it’s phenomenal and a big part of why I’m at the company.
Chris Mahl: Big lesson learned is people matter the most- technology is brilliant, the idea is brilliant but it’s people that make it work in the market over time and enhance it. Around about 2002 I just finished about five and a half years of Informatica, at home here in New York but on the road a ton. I was helping my wife decorate an apartment, young child so it was really a time to focus on family. Sometimes these things can be crazy.
Chris Mahl: Somewhere around a month and a half into that brief sabbatical I get a brief email from somebody I had known in Oracle that he was building this great big company and he was looking for Oracle talented folks and that happened to be Marc Benioff and he was talking about the end of the first year of Salesforce and now it’s gone to the second year and he wants to build out the execution team. So I get that email.
Chris Mahl: Fast forward I ended up visiting Marc and joined to run the Eastern U.S. and Canada strategic sales and really build this next phase and development inside Sales Force at the time. So my experience in the next few years learning from Marc was phenomenal. The first thing that I got to see in Marc was vision, and how to articulate vision and bring the statement of vision down to customers and to partners, and to specific people in their lives.
Chris Mahl: I’ve never seen someone being able to take vision and personalize it to where they empower people. It was just an amazing gift he has, I think it’s the long history he has with technology, it’s also his persona. Vision was a huge part of what he taught.
Chris Mahl: Passion, and when I say passion my experience having been on the operating committee for a couple of years, the presence that he was. The company could go through reorganization overnight, the passion he had for the business down to the detail, left, right, up, down was remarkable and he lived it if you were within a near distance of him you knew what that meant. So this whole idea of passion.
Chris Mahl: Then excellence, I want to turn out whether it’s an experience for the brand, an experience with the customers, an excellent experience for the customer and that sort of drives home the biggest thing he talked about and was dedicated to and that remains to this day so, it’s the customer. To him if the customer isn’t experiencing success, the rest of it is just talk. So how do you take an organization at that time a few hundred people, now tens of thousands and continue to have that relentless focus on that customer. A huge, blazing message I got from him.
Chris Mahl: I think the first both for the organization, and the customer, and the individuals is meaning. Do I have a meaning here in terms of this company’s mission, the products it delivers. Does it have a meaning, it has a broad definition it can be pure charitable so create a company that has meaning on that level. Sales Force taught us that for sure.
Chris Mahl: But also is what we’re doing in the world something that I can connect with as an employee or a board member that impacts the world. There are smaller solutions that are sort of specific to business and so as a leader having a sense of meaning and purpose and that being viable, and visceral to the people around you and the people you lead. But also in part to employees, folks that join a company want to know here’s our vision and this has meaning. This has purpose whether it’s changing an industry, changing a technology like we are doing something bigger than just being at a desk all day and be connected to that. So I have to say meaning is first.
Chris Mahl: I have to say the second thing is attraction. We really could be an attractive leader i.e. people want to learn from you, people want to work with you. I mean we’ve seen all kinds of leaders you know autocrats, drivers, people that are sort of short-term focused. How is it that you create a culture of attraction, that people are really energized by it. Hear good things about it, people’s careers develop there, the company has impact.
Chris Mahl: The last thing that I would have to say that leaders have to be cognizant of is development. The ones that I’m most attracted to, to me the people that join me I’m interested in their career development. Regardless of where they are in the company, whats the pathing, how does their voice get heard regardless of where they sit. How do I create a meritocracy which means that while I might have several hundred people or 1,000, or 5,000 someone with a smart idea can get to me.
Chris Mahl: I’m creating an environment with that brilliance because it can be anywhere in the company, it isn’t stifled five layers down. It’s a very old concept level five leadership which is how do I get behind you. I mean leading from the front which is important in terms of experience, but also standing behind people. Lifting up the folks who are working for you to success. They know that you’re behind them but really you’re empowering them, those would be the big success factors I’ve seen in leaders and have been able to experience myself.
Dave Carvajal: What would you say is your driving force behind the passion and fire in your belly?
Chris Mahl: Well family, my daughter number one. Really her, and her development and success in her life it got to be number one. You check with her, unlike a lot of dads she characterizes me as her best friend and that’s how we experience it all the time. Family is first, always will be. The health, the ambitions, the joy that people experience I’m there.
Chris Mahl: I have to say over the years I’ve been involved with multiple sclerosis through family members that have been really profoundly impacted by that and some research around that. And recently for those of you who are New Yorkers I’ve spent more time with the Wild Bird Fund which is here in New York so I’m going to share a little love their way. Which is the only fund and the only organization in New York City that deals with Wild Birds that are injured in New York City.
Chris Mahl: Just last year there was over 4,000 of these birds of prey and significant birds we have the Hudson River over here and there’s cliffs and they do phenomenal work. Really the passion of the founder who just cared and kind of did it in their home and now it’s grown and it’s only three years old. The wildbirdfund.org check it out, it’s here in New York and you can not only volunteer there and obviously give of your money but your time as well. It’s really an amazing group of people.
Chris Mahl: We’ve got peregrines, and wild hawks, and eagles they are kind of close to extinction and very local to the New York region area, so super meaningful stuff they do and I’ve been enjoying a lot.
Dave Carvajal: What about the future for Chris that gets you most excited?
Chris Mahl: It’s the same, it’s been the same in technology since I started. It recreates itself so it recreates itself and I can mention companies that are tens of billions of dollars and people 20 years ago that are long gone. So the innovation speed with the advent of the SaaS model and the cloud development model, and cloud model kind of everybody is a tech innovator now. As we know there’s a big brain drain on the banking recruiting into tech because pretty much everyday can get into tech.
Chris Mahl: The chip remains the reason that everything changes because the power of the chip continues to double, it is then and it is right now. The speed of the networks that we have on the planet is opening up. The Wi-Fi access is opening up so an entire digital ecosystem exists like every 18 months. The brilliant developers, and innovators, I mean Uber eight years ago couldn’t do it. How much is that company worth now?
Chris Mahl: The networks weren’t there, it wasn’t available and the idea everybody would have loved to have had that eight years ago but the last couple of years- boom. Brilliant. The opportunity for innovation will not slow down and the models that have created big companies now will create new big companies a few years from now. So for me the future in terms of the industry I’m in keeps recreating itself.
Chris Mahl: Really if you draw a line through my good fortune it’s because I kind of pay attention to that and think about those innovations. When I find somebody who’s really at the nexus of those things, where they find me- I’m pretty fired up. So this industry never stops.
Chris Mahl: There are people that need to innovate as fast as the industry and if you’re passionate about it, it’s the most exciting thing on the planet. One’s belief in the problem you’re solving, the vision that what I’m doing is meaningful and different. I think back to presentations I saw from Bill Gates 15, 18 years ago, Larry Olsen and in both cases they talked about is it a meaningful problem? Can we find people that care?
Chris Mahl: One is be brutally honest with yourself. Not enthusiastic, not idealistic but realistic. One is that problem. Two is you got to have passion about it. I mean it’s got through your toes, your ears, your nose- you’ve got to care because there are things that will constantly change about that problem market and you need to know about it. Three is put your big person pants on.
Chris Mahl: I’ll be politically incorrect, these are tough cycles. Building companies is not easy, they’re like having babies. I’ve had both, it truly needs that kind of attention, and care at the right time when it needs it. It’s not a 9 to 5 thing ever, it’s part of what I’m addicted to which is why I keep doing this. The whole idea that there’s this whole opportunity to grow something and because meaningful. I think those will be three things.Then I do this for the entrepreneurs, good for you.
Dave Carvajal: How would you like to be remembered?
Chris Mahl: Well I think I’ll give you two aspects. One is my philosophy of building organizations is really upside down. What I mean by that is if you look at plastic structure somebody is at the top and really it doesn’t matter who is at the top. It’s the people at the point of contact with building the product, partners, clients are not successful the top is irrelevant. That has a lot to do with my philosophy in building people up and empowering them.
Chris Mahl: The stronger they are, the most successful I am. In fact over the years I’ve been able to say pretty succinctly certainly around sales leaders and folks on the revenue side is they’ve always made more money working for me than they had prior. Pretty much that’s always true. That helps them.
Chris Mahl: I think the other one is just in the eyes of my daughter, pretty simple. being her best friend. Time stops when I hang out with her, it doesn’t matter. The other thing which is still true when she was little we laughed all the time. So much so that she became a chronic hiccuper and in fact we’d have to stop and do the eye thing and help her stop hiccupping. We’d be laughing two seconds later and the hiccups were back. It’s still true today, it’s bizarre.
Chris Mahl: We laugh non-stop and probably that’s the number one joy, that is and will be the number one joy of my life really.