I believe that life is not short, but long (at least as long as we have). Rather than making a short-term decision on the opportunity or event directly in front of me, I’ve learned how to put everything into context with my long-term vision for where I am going.
Celebrating even the smallest victories make a difference. Especially during these times of crisis, everyone is working hard and is under a tremendous amount of pressure. Taking the time to celebrate individual and team wins will help keep everyone motivated and feeling appreciated.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Russell P. Reeder.
Russ is a 25+ year tech, sales, product and branding exec. His hi-tech background ranges from start-up ventures to Fortune 500 giants like Oracle and his first programming job at Mobil Oil. Russ has managed high-growth global organizations that have transformed industries and consistently drives customer-centric performance and product innovation at scale. Leveraging his technical background combined with his successful sales and cloud industry knowledge, Russ has the unique ability to drive global growth while maintaining a diverse, fun, and strong work culture.
Prior to becoming CEO of Infrascale, Russ led OVHcloud’s growth into the US. OVHcloud US successfully launched in the US, acquired vCloud Air from VMware and built two additional data centers to bring the total to 30 data centers globally. Russ also led the premium cloud hosting company, MediaTemple (mt), where he was responsible for the company’s global sales growth, brand, strategic direction, culture, and operational execution. Russ helped lead the sale of MediaTemple (mt) to GoDaddy where he stayed on the GoDaddy executive team to help transform GoDaddy and prepare for their IPO.
Before Media Temple (mt), Russ led the growth of LibreDigital, the leader in digital publishing, and helped run the process to sell to RR Donnelley. Russ also led NxTV to the forefront of the direct to consumer Internet TV and Internet video-on-demand. In 1997 Russ started his management career in Redwood City, CA at Oracle when he was promoted to run West Coast Enterprise Application Sales for companies over $1 billion in revenue.
Throughout his career and his life beyond business, Russ has been an attentive student of innovation that drives change. He continues to hone and apply a leadership philosophy first inspired by his grandfather and then his professional mentors.
Read about his leadership philosophy on his blog, http://russreeder.com/h-e-a-r-leadership
Thank you for joining us Russell. Can you tell us the story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I’ve spent my entire career working in and helping grow technology companies. I love the competitive nature of the tech industry, how fast things change, and being able to quickly see the results from modifications and investments in customers, products and team culture. The secret to my success comes from years of working with many great companies, investors and friends. My formula comes down to three main questions: 1) Size and growth rates for the industry, 2) Technology and customer traction, and 3) People and culture. If any one of these three success criteria is not positive, then I stay away. For example, you could have the best technology and work with the best people, but if there is no market, you are dead. Conversely, you could have a large and growing market, but if you have bad technology and a bad culture, your competition will beat you every time.
When I was asked to come take a look at Infrascale, I made sure to take the time to get to know the people and culture, vet their technology, and reconfirm that backup and disaster recovery in the data protection industry were still growing and not too crowded. I knew the market well, so the main areas that I needed to confirm were the technology, customer satisfaction, people, and culture. Once I met the teams and spoke to some customers about the technology, I was happy to see how Infrascale was in the right market, with great technology, happy customers, and a great team.
Can you share one of the major challenges you encountered when first leading the company? What lesson did you learn from that?
Even before I joined Infrascale as the CEO, I could tell they had great technology and a strong culture. What I was not expecting was that Infrascale’s culture in each location was stronger in the individual locations than it was for the entire company. Yes, it’s hard to believe that individually, the teams and global locations had strong team cultures, but what was interesting is that when aggregated with all the other offices, the global corporate culture was not as strong. What I discovered was that the previous management used a command and control leadership style which was more task-oriented. Specific objectives were tactically directed to each team at each location with little information given on how the other teams’ results helped the company move towards our goals. I have found that a servant-based, purpose-driven leadership style produces better results and stronger cultures along the way. In order to leverage the strong local team cultures and bring everyone together globally, we first had to make sure everyone understood Infrascale’s purpose to “create a fun and innovative high-growth technology company, ultimately taking Infrascale to the next level by beating our competition with superior products and outstanding support.” Once everyone understood and agreed with our purpose, we then aligned all their tasks to our top four objectives, or OKRs (Objectives and Key Results); 1) Achieve operational excellence and turn customers into evangelists, 2) Hit our revenue growth targets, 3) Build a culture of growth and improve the employee experience, and 4) Improve product delivery and quality. We would then take management to the next level by bringing in a servant-based leadership approach where managers understand that they are there to make their teams successful and not the other way around.
What are some of the factors that you believe led to your eventual success?
Having a long-term vision — I believe that life is not short, but long (at least as long as we have). Rather than making a short-term decision on the opportunity or event directly in front of me, I’ve learned how to put everything into context with my long-term vision for where I am going.
Having a goal after a goal — I learned a long time ago from one of my mentors to have a goal after a goal. So many of us set out to accomplish a goal but then are without a plan for what is next when they get there. The phrase “catching a tiger by the tail” is a perfect example. Everyone works so hard to accomplish their goal, only to find out that once they accomplish their goal, it was not everything they thought it would be. Having a goal after a goal helps me continue my commitment to my long-term vision and keep everything in perspective.
Always remembering my personal core values — Many think that core values are just a workplace activity and fail to take advantage of understanding and documenting their personal core values. My personal core values are to build a happy and healthy family life, personal health, and remembering what my grandfather, Colonel Red Reeder, told me, “It takes a lifetime to build your name, but one mistake to destroy it.”
Celebrate every success — Celebrating even the smallest victories make a difference. Especially during these times of crisis, everyone is working hard and is under a tremendous amount of pressure. Taking the time to celebrate individual and team wins will help keep everyone motivated and feeling appreciated.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became CEO”? Please share a story or example for each.
Not everyone will like your choices — The first time I was CEO I remember feeling bad that the choices I sometimes had to make would not please everyone. I guess this anxiety came from growing up trying to please everyone, but I was now in a position where pleasing everyone was not possible. As CEO, many of your decisions will not please everyone. This is how I realized the importance of making sure everyone understands the company’s purpose (why you are here), goals (steps along your journey), and values (rules of the road) that you all share.
You get what you inspect, not expect — This took longer for me to learn. Even though I grew up in management at Oracle, being CEO of a company was much different. As a manager, it’s easier, and people expect you to be more focused on the actions and key results. But as a CEO, you have so many more objectives and levels of reporting that you have to manage through. It’s critical that everyone understands what success means and what you expect to happen to get there. You also have to set the expectations that you are going to be involved to make sure things are moving in the right direction. But just because you may have more “check-ins” you are not micromanaging. This is still probably the hardest part of being a leader, making sure the team is delivering without having the team feel like you are trying to do their job.
You can’t do everyone’s job — One of my biggest failures as a first-time CEO was learning that I could not do everyone’s job. Especially in the stressful times where we needed to deliver, I thought that since I knew the answers and could do the job better that I should just get more involved. Obviously, I soon realized that the more I did, the less people would do. Driving performance while motivating your team to do their best work is definitely more art than science and has come with years of trial and error along the way.
Cash is king — I think everyone can understand this one, but you never really know how important this is until you are the one who has to make the tough decision to lay people off because your cash reserves are getting too small.
It’s all about the data — Having started my career as a computer programmer and then moving over to sales, I’ve always been more data-driven but never at the level that I would need to be a successful CEO. You will fail if you are trying to run your company without access to clear and accurate data. It would be like driving a car blindfolded and not knowing the difference between the gas pedal, brake or steering wheel until you hit a wall.
What advice would you give to your colleagues to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Stress, fatigue and “burn out” are real, especially in these uncertain times of COVID-19. What has helped me from not burning out over the years is to keep a longer-term view and to take the time to step back and appreciate all the positive things that are happening with and around us. I would also remind my colleagues that they will not be able to accomplish their tasks or help others if they do not first take care of themselves.
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?
There is no doubt that I would not be where I am today if it were not for my wife. My wife is my best friend and has always been there as my true partner along this great journey. Even before we had kids, she was always there to help me work through the toughest decisions. Especially now that we have three wonderful children, my wife is the true foundation to enable me to take the time and focus on what it takes to be the leader in the office that I need to be for my team. She believes that there is really no such thing as a “work-life balance” but really just a “life balance.” Having the right partner on this journey has made all the difference.
What are some of the goals you still have and are working to accomplish, both personally and professionally?
I have so many goals left to accomplish, both personally and professionally. For my personal goals, I am focused on creating great memories and lasting relationships with our children, both individually and as a family unit. My goals on the business side are all focused around continuing to lead and grow great technology companies for years to come.
What do you hope to leave as your lasting legacy?
My focus is around my wife, children and generations to come. The legacy that I would like to leave with my family is a long life of happy memories, mutual respect, health, and education. The business legacy that I would like to leave is to have everyone who has worked with me raise their expectations of what good leadership looks like and to carry on my people-first leadership style.
If you could start a movement that would enhance people’s lives in some way, what would it be?
Everyone is born with so much potential. Just think what we could do if we set up programs for everyone to have access to proper nutrition, education and healthcare. Not only would we immediately change people’s quality of life, but the lasting effects would be enormous and exponentially positive.