On the Tech Trail: Walks with Strategic Leaders

8. Sharp Minds and Warm Hearts - Sam King & Dave Krupinski

August 27, 2020 MassTLC & Matter Season 1 Episode 8
On the Tech Trail: Walks with Strategic Leaders
8. Sharp Minds and Warm Hearts - Sam King & Dave Krupinski
Show Notes Transcript

A conversation between Sam King (CEO, Veracode) and Dave Krupinski (Care.com).

SHOW NOTES
A time period of much change. (3:23)

Restore a sense of agency (5:10)

Another year of change (7:43)

A greater degree of awareness, and a stronger response (11:41)

Closing the gap between performance and potential (14:50)

Being a woman leader in tech (17:41)

Tom Hopcroft

Hi, thanks for joining us as we take a journey on the Tech Trail. I'm MassTLC CEO, Tom Hopcroft. This podcast series takes you inside the minds of remarkable leaders to better understand their journeys and to gain insights from their strategic decision making to help us along our journeys. In today's episode, we're On The Tech Trail with Sam King and Dave Krupinski.

Dave Krupinski

Hi, Sam, how are you? It's great to speak with you today.

Sam King

I'm doing great, Dave, how are you doing?

Dave Krupinski

I'm doing well. Now, you are the CEO of Veracode. And before that you were the GM of Veracode. Maybe you can give us just a little bit of background on what brought you to that role, and also, maybe talk a little bit about Veracode and what the company does and who your customers are.

Sam King

Great. So let me start with what Veracode does. We're in the business of application security. So we've worked with customers of all different sizes across all different industries, to help them secure their software applications.

 

What you will recognize Dave, is that everyone is engaging in digital transformation projects, especially with the current climate. And as people engage in those transformation projects, they're making use of software and software applications, to find new ways to continue to carry out their business. And while that is a really innovative way to maintain business continuity, if there are security vulnerabilities in those applications, it can put them at risk.

 

So that's where Veracode comes into the picture. We worked with our customers to secure their software applications, regardless of whether they're building them or if it's open source code they're reusing, or if they're buying software application from third parties.

Dave Krupinski

Great. And tell me about your journey to the CEO seat at Veracode.

Sam King

Yeah. So it's an interesting journey because Veracode has had an interesting journey as a company, and I joined Veracode right when we got started in 2006. As a matter of fact, we were in stealth mode when I joined the company. And my role, my first role at the company was to be responsible for customer success. The only challenge was that we actually did not have any customers at the time. So it was an interesting role and I realized pretty quickly that we need to go get some customers if I'm going to keep that job. And of course, over the course of the 14 years or so, that I've been with the company, I've had a number of different roles and sat in many parts of the organization.

            

But in 2017, Veracode was acquired by then, CA Technologies, to add to their security portfolio. And it was a great transaction for Veracode and for CA, and that's when I assumed the role of general manager for our business unit. And then just year later, or about a year and a half later, it was announced that Broadcom was going to be acquiring CA Technologies. And that then presented this opportunity for Veracode to get divested and become an independent company again. And that is what Broadcom chose to do, so as of Jan. 1st of last year, we became an independent company one more time, and that's when I took over as CEO.

 

Dave Krupinski

So that's a lot of change in a short period of time. With that much change, what lessons have you taken away about leadership, about culture, about managing an organization through such significant change?

 

Sam King

It has definitely been a time period of much change. Over the course of 18 months, we had three owners. So CA Technologies then Broadcom, and then Thoma Bravo is the software investment firm that helped us become an independent company again. And that is a lot of change for an organization to go through.

 

And as a leader, one of my main areas of focus was to keep our team engaged in the business of our business and not let them get distracted with all of the change that was happening around them. Because when this type of change in particular; corporate takeovers, mergers, and acquisitions, when these types of changes happen, one of the first things that occurs is that a lot of people feel like they have lost their agency. It feels like it's a change that is happening to them, versus a change that they have some control over.

 

So for me, what was most important was to restore a sense of agency to our employees and really do that by reminding them that as far as our customers and our partners were concerned, they were doing business with Veracode. They were looking for us to solve their software security problems. And whether we are owned by CA or Broadcom or an independent company, the value proposition that we were looking to deliver to our customers didn't change. And so if their expectations of us didn't change, then our execution with regard to what we look to deliver for them every single day should not change either.

Dave Krupinski

Yeah. And having gone through a number of mergers and acquisitions myself, I know how uncertain times can be when that happens. What specific and concrete things would you do to guide your employees and guide the company through that process, so that they did feel a sense of agency, that they did feel a sense of control in the midst of uncertainty?

Sam King

And that's really what it was all about for me, Dave, is to restore a sense of agency. And I use this framework with our team and I used it during all of those transitions and continue to do so when we're going through time periods of change, or when we're dealing with challenging circumstances.

 

Imagine this visual that has three concentric circles. And at the core is what I call your sphere of control. These are things where you have the ability to take action on. So really there's no excuse. Go execute, because nobody else is going to go do those things; it's up to you. And obviously, the bigger that you can make your sphere of control, where you have direct agency, and most times people don't realize how big their own sphere of control is, the better it's going to be for you, because that will ultimately dictate your performance, which helps you with the second sphere, which is your sphere of influence.

 

Now, this is an area where you may not have the direct ability to drive change or to execute, but you have the ability to influence things in a favorable way for you. And the better your performances, the better you are acting within your sphere of control, guess what? The better you're going to do in your sphere of influence.

 

And then the last circle that I draw around this, is your sphere of knowledge, because you always want to make sure that you are grounding yourself in the right worldview, the right context of the business, the right context of what matters to those that you're trying to influence, what matters to those that you're trying to serve, such as your customers and your partners.

So through a combination of those three things, what I really tried to do with our management team, was to bring everybody back to their sphere of control, help them execute there with a great sense of agency, perform really well, and in doing so, increase our sphere of influence and ultimately drive things in a way that we were able to become an independent company again, which we were extremely excited about. 

Dave Krupinski

Sounds like an extremely important lesson for managing through uncertain times and changes of control. With that behind you, as 2020 kicked off, you probably saw a clear runway ahead to once again, build and grow the company. No one was able to predict what would happen in 2020. And I've heard you say that there's no playbook for managing through or leading through a pandemic. Now that we are well into 2020 and the challenges that we're facing in light of COVID-19, maybe you can talk a little bit about how the lessons you learned from the past few years prepared your organization for the challenges we're facing now in 2020.

Sam King

So, we came into 2020 saying, "Okay, that year of change is behind us." And then, the pandemic happened, which of course, none of us had expected. The good news is, that we had a lot of practice managing through change, managing through an environment where there are a lot of things that are still in your control, but some things that are not in your control. And as you can imagine, I use this same framework with our team. And the harder part this time around was that with your sphere of knowledge, you didn't know what you didn't know, right? We are business executives. We are operators. We are not epidemiologists; certainly I'm not. We're not economists, although you read about the economy. So there were a lot of things that were unknown, both when it came to what we need to be doing from a public health employee wellbeing perspective, as well as what do we need to be doing from an economic perspective and managing through the economic climate.

 

Just because there's a pandemic going on, doesn't mean that our customer's expectations of what we need to deliver for them are any different. If anything, they're probably looking for us to show up in an even stronger way, as they are put in a position where they have to go adopt digital platforms and digital technologies and other software applications, at a faster pace than they were even going to do earlier. And then the third piece was, our businesses well being. Where do we need to be more prudent around where are we going to make investments, and where are we going to be a little bit in wait and see mode to see how things ultimately transpire?

 

The interesting thing is, we look at the volume of software security testing that is going on on our cloud platform. And because we're a cloud platform, we do everything that we do for our customers remotely anyways. So that helped us; being in the cloud, allowed us to continue to serve our customers. And the interesting thing that I observed was, that as people went into lockdown mode and the distractions of travel and all of the other time losses that come with that went away, I actually saw people making greater use of the platform. Our scan volumes in the month of April and May, and even March, were the highest that we've seen in the last 12 months.

 

So I was very encouraged to see the resilience, both in our employee population, but also our customers that are trying to make a difference in this particular area.

Dave Krupinski

And I think as the pandemic has accelerated digital transformation, it's also accelerated the need for application security, software and testing, and the types of services that Veracode provides.


Sam King

That is absolutely the case. Because those organizations that were digital ready or that had advanced further along with their digital transformation projects, found that they were able to continue their operations, when almost overnight, they were put in a place where everybody is working remotely, nobody is going anywhere to see anybody, nobody is going anywhere to install anything. And that was a great lesson, right? And so anybody that was maybe sitting on the fence around how did they go about their digital transformation project or how fast they should really be pursuing that agenda, there was no hesitation after this.

Dave Krupinski

In addition to dealing with the pandemic over the course of the past six months, we've also been dealing with the civil unrest and the protests around the country that have followed in the tragic killing of George Floyd. I wanted to speak a little bit about that and how you and Veracode are responding. And then more generally, the role that you think business leaders play in responding to participating in and responding to social movements.

Sam King

That's a really interesting question, Dave, and it is certainly a question that people have reflected on a lot over the last few weeks and months, as this situation has unfolded.

It is sad to see what is going on around us, but one of the things that I see is that there appears to be a greater degree of awareness with these issues as they have played out and more importantly, a stronger response. And perhaps the response is starting with people making their voices and their positions known. But that's what gives me hope that as we make our voices known on this, that it will also translate into action.

 

So in terms of how we've responded to it, first and foremost, we issued a strong statement. I issued a statement that I put up on social media platforms. I sent a note to our company, reiterating our support for the black community, reiterating our commitment to diversity and inclusion. The other thing that I did, which really I did together with the technology community and MassTLC in particular, is get very involved with other technology leaders in the Boston area in particular, to talk about what are all the different things that we can be doing as business leaders to bring awareness on this topic, and then to ultimately have some action on this topic.

 

And I was very encouraged to see the very vast array of recommendations and suggestions that people came up with. Everything from creating awareness, by doing things like unconscious bias training in our organizations, to what organizations can be support from a financial perspective or giving our time to, as well as how are we thinking about hiring practices, retention, even how do we start to gather some data on what the demographics look like for technology companies in our area?

 

And on a more personal note, what gives me hope is, I live in a fairly small town. Most of the town's population I would say is not ethnically diverse. However, I've lived in this town for over 14 years. And for the first time in my memory, I saw our high school students organize a demonstration in support of Black Lives Matter, and in support of all things diversity and inclusion and racial and social justice. And when I see the next generation and our youth, the next generation of leaders, express their voice so strongly, that gives me tremendous hope that we're going to see change from this point forward.

 

Dave Krupinski

Yeah and Sam, I think you make a really good point that these events are creating a greater sense of global empathy and global connectedness and the ability for something happening in one country to spark interest and response in another country, just because we've built those pathways now through the sense of connectedness with the pandemic. And we're exercising a new sense of togetherness, I think, across the globe.

 

I've heard you mention in a panel discussion earlier this year, when speaking about the culture at Veracode, that you focus on building sharp minds and warm hearts. Tell me a little bit more about that.

Sam King

I love the topic of leadership. I find it fascinating, because a leadership ultimately is about helping people close the gap between their performance and their potential, right? So our potential is generally always higher than our performance. And if we can help people keep closing that gap, then we're just going to get people developing faster and better and feeling more fulfilled in what they're doing every single day. So I find the topic of leadership really interesting. And I read a lot on this topic and I love to talk to other people a lot about this topic.

 

And so, one of the books that I've read, and there are obviously a lot of great books on the topic of leadership. But one of the ones is, Trillion Dollar Coach, and it's written by some executives in the Valley about an executive, Bill Campbell, who coached a number of very successful technology executives and leaders in the technology space.

 

And one of the things he talks about is create a community of sharp minds and warm hearts, because in technology, we love to recruit the smartest brains. We have people that are doing a lot of innovation and breaking the mold in a lot of different areas. But we also have to create an organization that is connected, that understands where every different part of the organization is coming from, that has empathy.

 

And another great book I read on the topic, which is Good Leaders Ask Great Questions. John Maxwell, the author of that book said, "People don't care how much you know, till they know how much you care." And so that is why that particular leadership principle for me, create a community of sharp minds and warm hearts, is so important. Because ultimately, if people in an organization know that they are cared for, they're going to care a lot more about the organization. And that intellect is going to drive the closing of that gap between performance and potential in a much more engaged way, than if you don't create that environment.

 

Dave Krupinski

And Sam, you're a female CEO in an industry where the overwhelming majority of CEOs are male. Myself, I was a chief technology officer in a company that also had a female leader in the role of CEO. Maybe you can tell me a little bit about your experience and if you have any advice for female leaders and aspiring CEOs.

Sam King 

My experience may have been a little anomalous on this front, because I grew up with very strong women in the family. My grandmother had a PhD at a time when a lot of women did not even have the opportunity to go to college. And then when I entered the field of cybersecurity, the first company I went to work for had a female CEO. And for me, it was not an anomalous thing to have a female leader.

 

So for the longest time, when somebody would point out that I was a woman in technology, the fact that they were reminding me of my gender always struck me as odd. I thought, "I know I'm a woman and I'm in technology, but what's the big deal about being a woman in technology?" And as I started to ascend in my professional life, as I got to more senior positions, I looked around me and there were fewer women. And then I got why people are talking about women in technology.

 

A lot of times people will say, "It's really tough to get on a board, a board director position, if you haven't first been a CEO." And people might not say this out loud, but they'll imply that it may be harder for women to do that. And I got the opportunity to go interview for a board position a couple of years ago, and I was sort of holding myself back a little bit, because I hadn't previously been a CEO. I'd been an operator at a senior level, but not a CEO. And then I thought, "Let me just go try. And what's the worst that happens? I get experience doing this? That would be great, and I'll meet some interesting people." And I ended up getting placed on that board.

 

And so, there are stereotypes that exist around us, and I think sometimes we can do ourselves a disservice. So that's the advice that I would give to women. The advice that I would give to men is to be an ally in this area. And I benefited from having a great mentor, my predecessor, who was the CEO of Veracode prior to me, who was a great ally for diversity and inclusion for the development of women. So it really, again comes back to that partnership. And that's how I think we can make a lot of progress in this area, and we do need to make progress in this area in technology.

Dave Krupinski

Wow Sam, that's really great stuff. Thanks for speaking with me today. I really appreciate it.

Sam King

It was great talking to you, Dave. Thank you so much. Those were great questions.

 

Tom Hopcroft

Thanks for joining us today on the Tech Trail. We hope you've picked up some new insights to help you on your journey. Please tweet your key takeaways with #techtrail and be sure to subscribe to get the latest episodes. Special thanks to our production partner, Matter. We'll be taking our next journey with Pariss Chandler and David Delmar. I look forward to seeing you out there on the Tech Trail.