Today marks the 10th anniversary of my taking the reins at GSX.
It’s understandable if you aren’t aware of this day’s significance, but it’s anything other than “just another day” for me. While I am not tempted to celebrate by buying a fake Time magazine cover with my picture on it, I thought it would be a good occasion to look back and share the most crucial elements of these last ten years.
- Learning to read the market
I spent at least ten years at IBM, a large organization if there ever was one. I loved the library as well as all the research and resources that were within my reach.
I spent one year in Business Development at IBM Europe in 1993. Our mission was to develop external growth opportunities. I remember having to assess, in a short time, the potential for specific service companies, such as software for geographical mapping before Google maps. We looked at many different companies and technologies, and nine times out of ten, I would find gold in the reports that were available.
At GSX, I have the same need to assess market data, but I do not have access to my old sources, so I have adapted to rely on encounters with customers. This is more anecdotal evidence, but I now feel closer to understanding what the market really needs.
- Losing social status
This is often a source of surprise, but I lost some social status when I went from working in a large organization and became CEO of GSX.
Very few people have heard of GSX. Everyone has heard of companies such as Microsoft, Google, Oracle, and IBM; it was far easier for my wife and children to explain my profession when I worked at one of the most easily recognizable tech companies. My calls were returned much faster when I was at IBM.
If you leave a large organization, be warned that it will not be simple for others to understand what you do. Title and responsibilities are distinct secondary elements.
- People are key
In these last ten years, what has mattered the most to me are people. If I asked some to leave GSX, the choice came only after hours of careful deliberation. When it concerns others, none of my decisions are simple.
My job is difficult, but I look forward to going to the office because I deeply enjoy working with my team. I have most likely made some of my deepest connections with any individuals via my customers.
I mourn the loss of Robert Henderson, who was the global head for Infrastructure Monitoring at Ernst and Young. He passed away last month after an unbelievably courageous fight against cancer. I learned so much from him, from both a personal and professional standpoint. Several people at his company have described him as a mentor, a sentiment which I share. His legacy lives on through the team he built.
It is my position which has enabled me to develop a deep relationship with him, my team, and many others.
- The sheer brutality of the job
One of my favorite authors is Albert Cohen, who, like me, lived in Geneva. His book, “Le livre de ma mère” (French for Book of my mother), starts with the following quote: “Chaque homme est seul et tous se fichent de tous et nos douleurs sont une île déserte”. Essentially, this translates to: “Every man is alone. No one cares about anyone else. Our sorrows are a deserted island”. I think of this sentence every time things are getting difficult, which happens often.
To prove my point on a lighter note, I am a huge fan of the TV Show “Silicon Valley”. Socially, I am much more at ease than Richard Hendricks, but he can definitely code better than I can. In certain episodes, the ordeals that the show writers put him through leave him in a fetal position on his bed. My life is not as bad, but I know what the show wants to say.
I discussed these scenes with many of my peers and they, too can relate. The brutality of this job can be quite terrifying.
- Last but not least: the difference between small and large companies is just their size
Last summer, I went to the 25th Reunion of the Harvard Business School. I attended a fascinating conference on the decisions made by the likes of Bill Gates, Andy Grove, and Steve Jobs given by Professor David Yoffie. A lot of his findings can be read in “Strategy Rules: 5 Timeless Lessons from Bill Gates, Andy Grove, and Steve Jobs”, which I highly recommend.
One of my friends asked if small companies go through the same types of deep strategic decisions. Yes, we do.
When I joined GSX, 100% of our business was on performance monitoring for the IBM Lotus Domino Platform. In 2015, this was still 70% of our business. Last year, 70% was on the Microsoft Office 365 platform.
We have had to reinvent ourselves to understand the evolving world from a technology standpoint as well as from a channel and branding perspective. When we thought we had mastered performance monitoring, Cloud-based technology forced us to drastically reinvent ourselves.
We know that we are onto something because of our great success with the GSX Robot Users that we developed for Office 365. We are being increasingly asked if we do some for Salesforce or Symphony or … and we are realizing that this is the very type of technology to help CIOs which are going to deploy an increasing number of Mission-Critical Applications in the future. No one has such technology today.
Yes, there will be challenges but GSX is here and alive after as many shattering changes in the marketplace as those famous Tech Execs have gone through in the last 25 years. And like them, we have plans to grow. But in the end, I love my job. I encourage everyone who feels that they are ready to live their dream to do so.
If we (or when we) grow and GSX is “less small”, there will still be bigger companies around anyway, but the fun and thrill of the uncertainty are marvelous, and I am looking forward to the next ten years.