Communication is extremely time consuming, but critical. Don’t be afraid to express your opinion on everything, from the office layout to product specifications. This allows employees to foster an open communication forum with you and be comfortable around you. You will gain valuable insights, feedback and recommendations from team members. Eventually, this transparency will allow for honest reflections on what is working and most importantly, what is not working in the business.
As part of our series called “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Began Leading My Company”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Mihir Shah, Co-Founder and the CEO of StorCentric. Shah has over 20 years of leadership experience in M&A, finance and technology. He has previously served as VP of Corporate Development and Strategy at Brocade and held sales and corporate development roles at IBM. Mihir earned a Bachelor’s from the University of Southern California and an MBA from the University of California, Irvine and Post Grad Degree from Wharton School at University of Pennsylvania.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I was born in India and as a family of immigrants, we lived in several parts of the United States as my father was finishing up his medical training. We eventually settled in California, which being a hub for innovation and technology, helped shaped my interests. I started my career in investment banking and private equity and also held roles in Corporate Development, Finance and Sales at IBM. After IBM, I was at Brocade as Managing Director and VP of the Corporate Development & Strategy and responsible for setting the strategic direction of the company, M&A, and venture capital investments.
What was the “Aha Moment” that led to the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?
I have always had an interest in technology particularly the explosive data growth we are seeing today. My “Aha Moment” was when I realized as companies grew in size, the focus on customer experience would tend to drop. The market was lacking a data storage management company with a holistic approach to data management with battle tested, high-quality solutions with a focus on customer experience. StorCentric has developed and acquired a set of solutions that fulfill the need for managing the data management of on-premises, cloud and hybrid storage environments.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
StorCentric has had a rapid pace of acquisitions, and integration from a cultural, technological and operational view can be a challenge. However, we have cultivated a team that understands our strategy and a playbook with a rigorous due diligence process to mitigate these risks. The drive to continue is difficult to pinpoint, but some of it is experiences, the drive of my immigrant parents and just knowing that difficult times will indeed pass. One book I recommend to everyone is “The Hard Thing About Hard Things” by Ben Horowitz.
So, how are things going today? How did your grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?
We just finished our 5th acquisition in the past couple of months. I like to focus on a growth mindset which is essential to grit and resilience. I see challenges as an opportunity to learn, not obstacles to overcome.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
StorCentric has a long history of technical innovation but customer centricity is and will always be our most important mission. We have created a nimble organization that allows us to excel in all areas of the customer experience. It is not uncommon to have our C level staff jump onto customer calls to ensure we are providing the best customer service. We had a potential international customer that was having a very difficult time with their data infrastructure, and my CTO and I visited them to help evaluate their solution needs.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?
I went into the office on a weekend, triggered the alarm and I did not know the code. Needless to say, I caused quite a bit of commotion as security personnel were notified on a Saturday morning. Lesson learned, know your security codes!
Often leaders are asked to share the best advice they received. But let’s reverse the question. Can you share a story about advice you’ve received that you now wish you never followed?
Past advice I received that I wish I ignored was to hyper focus on a particular problem. However, this creates tunnel vision and tends to blur the big picture. Tunnel vision is a detriment to strategy and problem solving as leaders can neglect to see what is happening around them.
You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?
There are many character traits needed for success. Humility, grit and adaptability. I truly believe that humble leaders listen more, get more feedback and are overall more effective. When I meet with my team, I tend to ask what I can do better in my position and the feedback is priceless. I define grit as a passion for long-term goals, and this is evident in building a long-term data management company, by acquisition and innovation. Lasty, adaptability is important when things change. I like to have a plan B, C and D in place.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Life outside of you career is important. Cultivate your hobbies, mine is golf and reading biographies and spy novels. I am also an amateur wine enthusiast and critic. Most importantly, I like to take time out of my day for practicing mindfulness through meditation. This reflection brings awareness to daily accomplishments and the focus for the path ahead.
What are the most common mistakes you have seen CEOs & founders make when they start a business? What can be done to avoid those errors?
I have seen CEOs insisting on making all of the important decisions in silos. It is critically important to surround oneself with subject matter experts and also seek feedback cross functionally to ensure that all angles are covered. Also, it is important to know your employees, and be approachable. This allows open lines of communication and an opportunity to gain insights not usually available at the CEO level. Also, aligning people in the right roles is critically important, so make these decisions quickly, early on.
In your experience, which aspect of running a company tends to be most underestimated? Can you explain or give an example?
The importance of building a long-lasting company culture is often overlooked. Defining a clear mission and accompanying goals are extremely important. Facilitating job satisfaction means better company performance overall, and happier employees.
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Began Leading My Company”? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Nausea and stress are normal. There have been days during my journey as a CEO where I felt sick to my stomach. Countless hours configuring deal structures, terms and revenue numbers kept me up at night. Each hurdle we passed, the nausea subsided and became less noticeable. There are highs and lows. Understand that the lows will pass.
- Learn quickly, make decisions even faster. Learn from your network, books, customers, and industry events. Then, take these data points and increase the velocity of your decision making. One of the first things I learned was to spend most of your time listening to your customers, and make quick product decisions.
- Keep all strategic options open. It is often difficult to think of forks in the road when you have a straight and narrow path planned. For example, if you are looking to efficiently capitalize your business, talk to banks, investment bankers, commercial bankers and other investment funds. When a fork in the road appears, you will have multiple options.
- Communication is extremely time consuming, but critical. Don’t be afraid to express your opinion on everything, from the office layout to product specifications. This allows employees to foster an open communication forum with you and be comfortable around you. You will gain valuable insights, feedback and recommendations from team members. Eventually, this transparency will allow for honest reflections on what is working and most importantly, what is not working in the business.
- Culture is hard work, harder than creating a new product. As an acquisitive company, with 5 acquisitions in 3 years, there has been quite a bit of effort to build a cohesive culture, and at times can be challenging. This is an ongoing effort. It is equally important to be introspective, and open to new and diverse ideas that acquired companies may bring to StorCentric. Every year, we examine our culture as a company by evaluating our core values and communicating this across the organization.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Creating economic opportunities for underprivileged areas is a passion of mine. Opportunities, especially in technology have ripple effects that positively affect generations to come. We have seen how high-tech job opportunities have changed many metropolitan cities and created pockets of progress and wealth. I would love to see that also happen in underserved geographic locations.
How can our readers further follow you online?
The best place to follow me would be on LinkedIn (https://www.linkedin.com/in/mihirhshah/), Twitter (@Mihir_h_Shah), and Instagram (@shahmmelier).
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!