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Oracle NetSuite Co-Founder Evan Goldberg: “Don’t be consumed by the definition of your role in order to create a fantastic work culture”

Don’t be consumed by the definition of your role. Encourage people to think not just about the things they do on a day-to-day basis, but also take time to think about how the company can operate better. My favorite example is from of one of the most well-run organizations, the Golden State Warriors. It was […]


Don’t be consumed by the definition of your role. Encourage people to think not just about the things they do on a day-to-day basis, but also take time to think about how the company can operate better. My favorite example is from of one of the most well-run organizations, the Golden State Warriors. It was the 2015 NBA Finals and the Warriors were down 2–1 in the series with no clear answer for how to handle Lebron James. Then comes the idea to start Andre Igoudala…and the whole series changed. That idea didn’t come from head coach Steve Kerr, but rather the special assistant to the head coach, Nick U’Ren. Kerr was the first one to give him credit. This behavior is what improves work culture. Push your employees to contribute beyond their role, and when they have a great idea, give them credit.


I had the pleasure of interviewing Evan Goldberg, Co-Founder and Executive Vice President of Oracle NetSuite. Goldberg is responsible for product strategy and development at Oracle NetSuite Global Business Unit. Prior to Oracle’s acquisition of NetSuite, Goldberg was CTO and Chairman of the NetSuite board. Before co-founding NetSuite in 1998, Goldberg spent eight years at Oracle Corporation, where he served as a vice president. He was involved in a variety of projects, all focused on making powerful database technology more accessible to users. When he left Oracle, he started mBED Software and built groundbreaking website technology. Goldberg holds a B.A. Summa Cum Laude in Applied Mathematics from Harvard.


Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

When I was in Junior High, programming on an Apple II, I built a program for graphing functions in math and all of my classmates wanted to use it. I remember the thrill that came with I realized I had built something people wanted to use because it made it easier for them to accomplish their own objectives. I’ll never forget that feeling, and it’s what has driven me to continue to try to make software that improves people’s daily lives.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

It was Christmas Eve and the kids had just gone to bed. I started perusing the user group and came across a post from a customer who was upset about some trouble he was having with his website, which we were hosting. I responded to him and went in to make the fix. It was an incredibly painful moment for the customer and I just happened to be in a position at that moment where I could address his problem.

That’s when I realized that, regardless of the product and how much it changes lives, it is the times when you personally go above and beyond to solve a problem that have the biggest impact on improving the perception of your company. That’s resonated at NetSuite where we really try to utilize empathy in our interactions with our customers. Having empathy at every touchpoint, in every situation, is something that goes a long way to building a successful customer relationship.

Are you working on any exciting projects now? How do you think that will help people?

There’s a program at NetSuite that is very special to me and that’s our Social Impact program, which is using our technology and people to help nonprofits “do good better”. A component of that program is called Pro Bono where employees directly help nonprofits succeed. Pro Bono is exciting as it not only helps organizations that serve their communities, but also really engages employees. I love it because it tells them that what they offer is not only valuable to the company, but to others whose mission is to improve the world we live in. It truly is a win-win-win where the nonprofit, the employees and the company all benefit.

And now that we’ve expanded the pro bono services beyond just helping them with our products but also to include business services, such as sales and marketing, organizations are learning more, employees are learning more and everyone is helping each other. In the end, it raises the value of the company’s brand, too — as a member of the community, as well as an employer who values more than just the bottom line. That’s very important.

According to a study cited in Forbes, more than half of the US workforce is unhappy. Why do you think that number is so high?

I can’t speak for the entire U.S. workforce, but some companies have fallen down when it comes to employee creativity. I think a lot of organizations are trying to systematize everything to the point where employees don’t have a sense of purpose, where they’re not given the opportunities to grow or to see the connection between what they’re doing and how it improves the lives of others.

To me it all comes down to the elements author Daniel Pink called out for what motivates us — autonomy, mastery and purpose.

Autonomy: We listen to employees’ ideas about how they can best accomplish their goals, and we give them the space to use their best judgement. We also listen to them in how they can make our products better, and how we can improve our company culture.

Mastery: We’ve implemented programs to help people learn and grow. Not just traditional management training, but also training on next-generation technologies. For example, most of our development team has taken a class on machine learning because even if it doesn’t impact their jobs today, it will eventually.

Purpose: We arrange field trips for employees to visit customer sites so they can see the products in action and how what we are doing at NetSuite is impacting the daily lives of our users. Likewise, we also bring employees to our annual user conference, SuiteWorld, so they can hear directly from customers. In addition, our social impact program shows how they can impact not just for profit customers but charities and social enterprises also.

In short, we want to offer them an environment that fulfills their needs today, but also prepares them for tomorrow.

 Based on your experience, how do you think an unhappy workforce will impact a) company productivity b) company profitability c) employee health and wellbeing?

 In all honesty, this is the easiest answer of the bunch. If people are stressed or frustrated at work — where they spend the majority of their waking hours — then their performance will be poor and it’s only a matter of time before that impacts the health of the company as well as the employee. If you think about it, it’s almost a public health issue. If more than half of the workforce is unhappy at work, that’s going to have an impact on their personal lives, whether it’s their personal relationships, their interactions with others or just their general well-being. They’re all connected.

Can you share 5 things that managers and executives should be doing to improve their company culture? Can you give a personal story or example for each?

1. Don’t be consumed by the definition of your role. Encourage people to think not just about the things they do on a day-to-day basis, but also take time to think about how the company can operate better. My favorite example is from of one of the most well-run organizations, the Golden State Warriors. It was the 2015 NBA Finals and the Warriors were down 2–1 in the series with no clear answer for how to handle Lebron James. Then comes the idea to start Andre Igoudala…and the whole series changed. That idea didn’t come from head coach Steve Kerr, but rather the special assistant to the head coach, Nick U’Ren. Kerr was the first one to give him credit. This behavior is what improves work culture. Push your employees to contribute beyond their role, and when they have a great idea, give them credit.

2. Connect with your co-workers. Having a variety of ways for people to engage with their coworkers is super helpful. At NetSuite, we offer after-work French lessons, “the zen of knitting” classes, bingo, poker and game board nights. It goes back to the idea that you spend a lot of time with the people you work with. The relationships you build with them definitely has an impact on your sentiment towards work.

3. Communicate, communicate, communicate. When people don’t understand where they fit in they are almost always going to be unhappy. At NetSuite, we go through the vision, mission, strategies and metrics within every one of our groups. That way, not only do they understand where the whole company is trying to go, but they understand where their team is trying to go and how that fits into the bigger picture. I think it really helps our work culture.

4. Commit to diversity. A diversity of viewpoints is incredibly valuable and I think a company with a commitment to diversity is automatically more attractive as a place to work. It’s one of those things that’s a win in so many different ways. To get there, I think you have to get creative about how to reach audiences that you normally wouldn’t when you’re recruiting.

5. Don’t be afraid to fail. I think you have to set a culture where people are going to try things outside the box and that they understand that it’s OK to fail. That kind of thinking is inherently riskier, but that’s what can give you an advantage as a company. Of course, the risk needs to be aligned with the company’s objectives, but I think we should celebrate people who tried something different and that means you have to be willing to accept that some things aren’t going to work. It’s the marketplace of ideas. Some things will win and some things won’t, but you have to have diverse ideas.

It’s very nice to suggest ideas, but it seems like we have to “change the culture regarding work culture”. What can we do as a society to make a broader change in the US workforce’s work culture?

When you view corporations as people, then you also need to say that they’re members of the community and that we all need to think about each other and how we can improve everybody’s lives.

When companies think holistically about how they can improve the lives of their workers, workers will not only be more loyal, but they will want to invite others to also work for the company. Sites like Glassdoor are already providing transparency about what it’s like to work for a company and those types of mechanisms are going to force companies to put more focus on providing a great employee experience.

 How would you describe your leadership or management style? Can you give us a few examples?

I believe in the people I work with and generally do work via consensus. I’m confident in the things I do know and the first person to admit the things I don’t. I also am steady. A true testament to that point is that I started NetSuite more than 20 years ago and our vision then is our vision now. This consistency has provided a workplace where people feel confident in the mission we have and are executing accordingly.

At the end of the day, with a bunch of very intelligent, well-informed, passionate people, you’re going to come to good decisions, you’re going to come to a good consensus. It’s not necessarily decision by committee, it’s decision by consensus. There is an important distinction between the two. Decision by consensus often has a leadership component to it where a passionate person that comes in with a great idea will drive people to get behind it. If it’s just like everybody raising their hand whether we should do A or B, that’s not how you’re going to get great results.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

Larry Ellison. In the early years, after I left Oracle, I ventured into the startup world and finally launched what would become NetSuite. Larry was more than an investor, he was an advisor and a supporter who understood my challenges and helped me focus my vision. He is still a trusted advisor to me to this day.

I also have to give a nod to my sister Elaine who told me, when I was first heading out to Silicon Valley, “Well, if you’re going to California, you’ve got to work for this guy Larry Ellison. What he’s building is going to be huge and he’s going to be a tremendous leader of the industry.” I listened to her, so thanks, sis.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

Professionally and personally, I’m involved in a variety of charitable efforts where I’ve been able to utilize the resources I’ve been fortunate enough to attain to help with certain things that the world needs help with. One is cancer research and the other is children’s health and education. I’m on the board of a foundation for cancer research and I’ve helped grow that organization. I’ve also started an after-school Squash facility for low-income youth.

It’s about helping both people you don’t know and people you do know. That’s where I start, but I then try to share some of my unique personal and professional resources and experiences. My family’s been affected by cancer personally. I’ve had children that have had health issues and obviously, all my children have gone through school. I’ve seen the benefits that come from great schools. Everybody has an opportunity to make an impact.

 Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

 “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” Whenever you do a startup, just taking that first step is hard. That first step is quitting your job. For me, I had to say goodbye to Oracle. It wasn’t easy, especially with a new family. But after that first step, it all comes naturally. I mean, it’s a physical principle. You have to actually apply more force to get something moving than to keep it moving. Not being afraid to start with the first step on that thousand-mile journey is probably the best advice I can give anybody.

 You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?

I would like to inspire a greater commitment to and investment in girl’s education around the world. Michelle Obama’s Global Girls Alliance highlights data from a World Bank report that found limited educational opportunities for girls and the barriers to completing 12 years of education cost countries between $15 — $30 trillion in lost lifetime productivity and earnings. We’re finally starting to see more momentum around women and the impact they can have when they have the same opportunities as men, but when you think about this on a global basis, the potential impact is really astounding.

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