My Journey

Human Network

My Human Network

Today I announced that after 30 years of hard work and adventure in the Enterprise IT market, I will be traveling a new path, one that is strikingly different from the past 30 years. I don’t like to use the retirement word, as that evokes living in some tropical plant-adorned planned community like “Del Boca Vista” on Seinfeld. Too young for that! I’d rather say that I’ve decided to step away from my corporate body of work, so I can chase some new contributions. More on that later. 

This is a big change for me, and thus I’ve been quite reflective about my career these days. Very quickly, I realized my assessment of a 30-year career journey was much less about where, and overwhelmingly about who. After all, journeys are all about experiences gained, and thousands and thousands of lessons taught along the way by wonderful teachers. While some are mentors and leaders I’ve worked for, they are also equally business partners turned lifelong friends and brilliant marketers who worked for me. 

One of my favorite Enterprise IT brand campaigns was Cisco’s brilliant “Human Network.” It examines how extremely complex technology brings people together to create memorable experiences. Here is the story of my own human network. And while it would be impossible to chronicle every single person who impacted my career, you’ll read about quite a few here. For those of you who are in the latter stages of your careers, I highly recommend putting digital pen to paper to chronicle your own journey. For me, it has been a blast.  

“The Beach”

I discovered my first true professional love and passion at the beautiful campus of California State University at Long Beach. This beautiful, large, vibrant university is known for world class volleyball, water polo, baseball, Steven Spielberg, Steve Martin (great speaker at graduation!), and back in the late 80s/early 90s, the Daily Forty-Niner newspaper.

I arrived at Long Beach State determined to be a lawyer, starting off as a Political Science major. I also arrived, rescued from what I’ll politely describe as a substandard grade point average with some talent as a competitive swimmer, armed with goggles, speedo, and a spot on the swim team. As I navigated college, I learned that I loved to write, and wanted to be a communicator. This discovery turned into changing my major to Journalism.

I had two jobs at Long Beach. One was my position as an editor at the Daily Forty-Niner. My second job was the swim team, where I spent up to six hours a day in a pool, swimming a lot. In this job, my Coach Tim Shaw taught me about intensity and unyielding dedication to your craft. My teammates, including Tom Siderewicz, Craig Dolley, and many others, helped me evolve from a very quiet, shy kid to – well – someone less so.

Breaking into Business

Timing is everything, and graduating in 1991 with an undergraduate degree in Journalism during a recession meant a quick ticket back home to Silicon Valley to live with Mom and Dad. Finding an opportunity at a newspaper proved quite difficult, as did an entry-level spot in broadcast journalism. What I did discover was, in retrospect, a perfect start for exploring the connection of  journalism with business, particularly in high tech. I was extremely fortunate to land a position at PRx, Inc., a San Jose-based PR agency that served a hybrid set of clients from local government and healthcare institutions to technology companies.

PRx was run by Brenna Bolger, and I loved how she operated. She included every single member of the agency, from Senior Vice President to a beginner like me, in the agency’s weekly business reviews. I quickly absorbed a business model that set discrete monetary value to the often immeasurable outcomes of earned media and creating “buzz”.  She provided all of us a very real, unvarnished view into the top- and bottom-line of a business, which candidly had me wondering if I had a job from one month to the next. Stressful, but darn interesting and educational!

At PRx, I had my first professional mentor in Mary Ellen Sweeney.  I learned about top-notch execution from Shannon Fryhoff. And I was surrounded by a gloriously fun, creative, and talented set of colleagues (and friends) who went on to craft amazing careers in PR, communications, and design: Stephanie Gnibus, Mojgan Khalili, and Eva Zeno.  All were great fun and inspirational to work with every single day.

In 1993, I moved to Miller Communications, where there were two major developments. One career-shaping, and one life-defining. At Miller, I had the opportunity to dig deeper into the world of technology.  After all, it’s not everyday you can do PR for a company renowned for market-leading SCSI Host Adapters! At this point, my aerospace engineer father started to see, perhaps, how his Journalism major son may indeed find a path in the world of tech. 

And the life-defining development? Meeting my future wife of 26 years, Jeanette Gibson, my ultimate partner and teacher.

Building a Bridge

I always credit my early years at PR agencies for creating a compelling foundation for a marketing career. How else can one get exposed to such a broad range of products and technologies? I learned about positioning, messaging, and communicating the value of everything from nostalgic sneakers (PF Flyers relaunch) to terminal emulation software (Wall Data, with a clever “Rumba” branding). From dental laser manufacturer Sunrise Technologies (CBS This Morning PR hit with another mentor, Carla Zaccheo!) to an industry consortium formed to reinvigorate companies’ growth in recession (Joint Venture: Silicon Valley).  

At this point, it was time for me to cross the bridge to the client side, so I joined 3Com. Eric Benhamou was running a company with a great computer networking business and a strategy to expand from the “edge” to “core” to take on the likes of Cisco and Bay Networks. It was a wonderful, fun culture to be a part of, with great people and a lot of fun PR execution.

At 3Com, I negotiated another “bridge” (network industry pros will appreciate the geek humor) into the world of product marketing. 3Com had acquired an Israeli-based startup called NiceCom Systems to gain a foothold in the Asynchronous Transfer Mode (ATM) switching market. It took a leader in that newly formed business unit, Amir Eldad, to take a chance on a PR guy who had partnered with them and negotiated some nice launch positioning in a broader enterprise switching portfolio rollout. Thanks to Amir for opening me up, literally and figuratively, to a broader human network.


The second half of the ‘90s was a surreal time in the industry, with hyper growth and a lot of hype. Remember Y2K? Upgrade everything!  For me, this time was made particularly interesting by joining Cisco Systems. Susan Scheer-Aoki hired me as a product marketing manager on the IOS marketing team. There, I had the fortune of meeting some great technical marketers in Martin McNealis and Paul McNab, among many others. I also remember great partners-in-crime in Kelli Schiffer-Belanger and Trisha Gouvea. And I am grateful to Maciej Kranz for betting on me for a subsequent role that connected me to a special business at Cisco.

Part of my first tenure at Cisco was my time with the Desktop Switching Business Unit. Established with the acquisition of Grand Junction Networks, “DSBU” featured an excellent product and engineering team which ultimately, with smart silicon design, go-to-market opportunism and great execution, screamed upwards to become a multi-billion dollar, massive margin contributor for Cisco.  

There were two colleagues on this team that made distinct impressions on me: Jason Matlof and Ish Limkakeng.  Jason was this incredibly smart, fiery, Harvard-educated product manager that balanced technical aptitude with business acumen. I saw in Jason a product manager who stood independently as a true GM of his product, with the passion to take on all competitors, whether in the market or even within Cisco, as situations sometimes required. 

Ish was an uncommonly effective product manager. I remember listening intently to his business reviews, and in particular, his accuracy in forecasts. For a multi-billion dollar hardware business, forecasting was truly a high-wire act to ensure that the supply chain was calibrated properly. Both Jason and Ish were wholly impressive MBA graduates who were world class at their jobs, and I admired them greatly. 

Those years (1996-2000) were a crazy and special time at Cisco. I recall being in awe of the leadership team. John Chambers stands apart for me as a charismatic, competitive, incredibly positive CEO who could inspire and set the mission with evangelical zeal. Every day he gave a masterclass in motivational leadership. I watched and learned from outstanding leaders like Jayshree Ullal, Mike Volpi, Charlie Giancarlo, and many more. I just wanted to try and keep up with it all, until the size of Cisco began conflicting with my desire to embrace the “fuller stack” of marketing. But was the timing right in early 2000 to change?

Scar Tissue

Short answer: in hindsight, maybe not!  The next five years of my career were spent at five different companies. These were my Foundry Networks/Atrica/Procket/Proxim/Meru years, with a quick return visit to Cisco thrown in the mix. I was clearly grasping for the right direction where I could take on a broader range of marketing disciplines.

At Foundry, I learned a critical lesson: Bigger titles and bigger paychecks don’t matter if you don’t have the right fit with the company’s future nor chemistry with the leadership team. It was my shortest stay at a company, measured in months. But with all stops in a journey, there is always something to take away from each. For me, I met Ben Schechter, who became my close friend. Personally, that was a huge bonus. Professionally, he may not realize it (because I enjoy doling out advice to him…), but I listened intently to his career experiences and have gained significant B2C and B2B insight via his own adventures as a General Manager at Homeaway, digital marketer at Box, and now marketing executive at Adobe.

At Atrica, we were selling Metro Ethernet gear to a range of CLECs, post .com collapse. I was laid off – the only time in my career – after a year, though I did meet a longtime, trusted colleague in Lori Hultin. More on Lori later. Proxim marked the first time I owned the entire Corporate Marketing stack, and for a time, Investor Relations, at a company that was attempting a difficult turnaround in a tough market. Layoffs. Irate investors. All scored deep scars professionally. But in the midst of it all, I met Lynn Lucas and Annie Headley.  More on those two later as well.

Meru Networks was one of the upstart enterprise Wi-Fi companies taking on Cisco in the surging wireless networking market. I remember running a dynamic marketing team, with some clever product marketing by Joel Vincent that scored us a Best of Show award at the all-important Networld+Interop trade show.  

So when I’m asked if I should have done it all differently and stayed at Cisco throughout those five years, my final answer was no. I came to realize that while it indeed was so, I had also gained a good deal of valuable scar tissue that made me better. They helped shape me as a leader.  But in 2005, I felt like my career was in trouble. Then I received a phone call that changed everything.

Back Again!

The phone call was from Alan Cohen. At the time, Alan’s company, Airespace, had been acquired by Cisco. I must have made a reasonably intelligent comment during one of those competitive vendor panels that made an impression. Alan called to ask if I wanted to return to Cisco to run marketing for the Wireless Networking Business Unit. Alan was the kind of creative, brilliant, high-wattage leader I wanted to be around. And I sorely needed to get my career stabilized, it turned out at a world class company I knew so well. So back to Cisco I went, with an extra push by Alan to help overcome my prior five-year zig zags. Human network personified.

Life back at Cisco was exhilarating. While 2005 wasn’t like the late 1990s, Cisco remained an outstanding company. It had brought marketing functions together as a “super agency” Central Marketing Organization that delivered great outcomes for the company and a wide range of business units. Thriving in the middle of the vaunted Cisco sales organization and, at one point, 53 autonomous business units was a tall order but I think, all-in-all, mission accomplished.

How? It started with our Chief Marketing Officer, Sue Bostrom. Sue came into the role from building and running Cisco’s Internet Business Solutions Group. I think this success, and her background as a business consultant, served her quite well in the CMO role. I’ve always felt that the best CMOs are business strategists first, and marketing leaders second.

Sue was definitely that CMO. And I will never forget the pride and emotion I felt when she introduced Cisco’s Human Network campaign at the Senior Leadership Offsite in Monterey, CA. This signature moment brand campaigns, headlined by a beautiful anthem video, was state-of-the-art. Here was Marilyn Mersereau showing why she is, in my humble opinion, the best brand marketing leader in our industry.

The great fun here was a team of outstanding marketers, inspiring each other to do great things. Alan Cohen. Kara Wilson. Lynn Lucas. Marie Hattar. Inbar Lasser Raab. Peter Alexander. I could go on and on.  All brilliant. I feel that this organization, led by Sue, produced some of the most impressive marketing outcomes I’ve seen from a large industry player.

One of my “clients” was Cisco’s Data Center Line of Business, with an array of highly competitive business units. This was a wild adventure, which included helping the company scale its foray into the server business, compete in the fast-evolving data center switching market, and the biggest adventure of them all, the politically fraught VCE (VMware, Cisco, EMC) Coalition, and its VBlock, which ended up as a nice precursor to Nutanix. 

It was here where I worked with Soni Jiandani, where I saw firsthand the intensity and drive that has produced so many successes for the fabled “MPLS” (Mario Mazzola, Prem Jain, Luca Caferio and Soni) team. I also honed my EQ skills, working across demanding business units inside of Cisco, and across alliance partners (or soon-to-be competitors?) in EMC and VMware. And then some side activity with NetApp for what turned into FlexPod. It was quite a ride, highlighted by countless sleepless nights and a great deal of diplomacy practiced both across Cisco and across alliance partners. I look back on this as the time when I solidified my foundation to be ready to do the “big job” at the right company.

Biggest Small Company

When a recruiter called and told me Aruba Networks was looking for a Chief Marketing Officer, I was intrigued by the profile and size of the organization: a feisty company that had just crossed $250M in annual revenue, taking on a giant in Cisco in a fast-growing market. I certainly struggled with the competitive nature of such a move, but also was drawn to the opportunity to run the “full stack” of marketing.

At this point in my career, I had spent 10 of my 20 years at Cisco, and the other 10 at ten different companies and agencies: quite the track record, with some positives, some negatives. I felt that I was ready to run marketing at a company small enough to avoid endless matrix scenarios, but also big enough to have true impact in the market. Aruba Networks, described by its founder Keerti Melkote and CEO Dominic Orr as the “biggest small company”, felt like a great fit. I interviewed, and Hitesh Sheth (thank you!) offered me my first Chief Marketing Officer position.

Aruba was a wonderful company. Dom was an electric, customer-obsessed CEO. I simply loved being around him. He was so, so smart, and I did my best to soak it all in when we talked. Equally so, I loved being a part of Keerti’s company. He was a great visionary for the industry, and had founded Aruba with the simple and cool idea that “people move, networks must follow”. Most importantly, both Dominic and Keerti were true gentlemen, and created an amazing culture based on the tenet “Customer First, Customer Last.”

Aruba was indeed FUN! It started with a dynamic, brilliant marketing team. Chris Kozup, who I lured over from Cisco with an opportunity to run EMEA marketing, was perfect for the role.  The incomparable Beverly Lu ran APAC marketing with flair and perfect execution. Kevin Lee, and later Sylvia Hooks ran Americas. All three of these roles were reflections of what I strongly believe: to scale, your theater marketing leaders must operate as theater CMOs. It wasn’t just about field marketing. These three roles made decisions, in partnership with their sales leaders, to drive go-to-market strategy and overall marketing mix. Each was perfect in their roles.

I also enjoyed amazing leaders who served as catalysts to make our marketing fly. Manav Khurana was one of the best marketers (and beyond) I had ever worked with in the industry.  He was creative, ambitious, competitive, and was the spark for one of my favorite campaigns, “Gen Mobile.” This campaign was all about connecting Aruba’s core business – WiFi – to the huge trend of “Bring Your Own Device.” We had a unique take here that asked business executives if they were ready to attract and retain the next generation of mobile savvy professionals. It was awesome marketing.

Dayle Hall also joined me from our time together at Cisco. Dayle launched Aruba’s Airheads Community Platform, with the core principle that educating and connecting customers to enable them to do their jobs better and bring more value to their employers, creates the most loyalty to you. Dayle and his team built and innovated on our new platform, creating not only a powerful marketing engine, but also a significant support cost offset. And it was all done with his unique eye and ear for creative marketing. He did it all so well that it propelled him to CMO roles at Lithium, and now SnapLogic. Dayle and I tested the notion that close friends could work well together in a reporting relationship. When we focused .. I mean REALLY focused .. it sure did. 🙂

Annie Headley was an amazing corporate marketer who led the rebranding of Aruba, a brand creative system I can proudly say endures today with HPE. Pavel Radda was our master PR lead, working with Lori Hultin and team. Tonya Chin ran a world class IR operation. Greg Murphy was our meticulous, strategic COO that made sure all of the functional trains ran in concert. And Lory Hopkins, Dom’s trusted business partner for years, always kept me honest, with ego firmly in check. 🙂

I think I would have stayed at Aruba for the rest of my career, had it not been for a rather big change: HPE acquired Aruba in 2015. We announced the acquisition on the first day of our annual Atmosphere user conference.  It was a very tricky, emotional feat to pull off. How to get our loyal customers, who had embraced our “challenger” brand, to feel great about joining such a big company? Well, it’s another story I’ll write about, but simply put we pulled off the introduction of this new Aruba, a Hewlett Packard Enterprise company in wonderful fashion.

New Scenarios

With the acquisition complete, I was searching for the right role at the right company. I had a choice: take some time off until the right gig came along, which felt risky, or take on an interesting and new challenge that was put before me, to help Veritas spin-out from Symantec. I had never done this before: essentially relaunch a well-known industry software company brand from an iconic security company. The merger seven years earlier had never truly meshed, and there was an opportunity to spin the business out and realize some value.

And boy was that hard and incredibly complex! More scar tissue and education, but with some great camaraderie and fun with two excellent executives: Matt Cain, who is now CEO of Couchbase which recently went public, and Ana Pinczuk, who plays a key leadership role at Anaplan. We spun out Veritas in a private equity transaction priced at $8B. I can’t say it was all that fun to stabilize the recently split company and make a lot of bottom-line decisions but it sure did teach me a lot about managing through tremendous disruption and change.

After the Veritas spin off, I took on the CMO role at F5 Networks. Based in Seattle, I found myself doing constant Alaska Airlines laps — I think 40+ at the end of my time there — between San Jose and Seattle. I had great fun with two marketers in particular: Steve McChesney, who always made me smile, and Preston Hogue, who scared the heck out of me while he taught me the ins and outs of cybersecurity threats. 

I remain very proud of the campaign work the team produced: “We Make Apps Go: Faster, Smarter, Safer.”  I’ll never forget the standing ovation we received when we introduced the new campaign at the F5 sales kickoff. I was grateful that new CEO Francois Locoh-Donou gave me the opportunity to work on shaping the new strategy for the company, as it looked to extend its business into cloud-native offerings. The job required me to spend more time away from home than I had bargained for though. And that, along with an ask from a Founder/CEO with whom I had signed on as an advisor a few years back, prompted one more change.

Greatest Challenge, Toughest Lessons, Greatest Reward

The company was Nutanix, and that Founder/CEO was Dheeraj Pandey.  I had met Dheeraj several years earlier, and had the opportunity to be an advisor for the company which essentially meant that I enjoyed delicious pancake breakfasts with Howard Ting and told him what I thought, with zero execution responsibility behind the advice. I was able to observe Dheeraj, Howard, and team build an amazing company, and with uncommon drive and innovation, establish what has emerged as a $10B+ market category, Hyperconverged Infrastructure, with Nutanix as the pioneer.

When Dheeraj asked me to succeed Howard, I had some hesitation. Honestly, I had been admiring Nutanix’s marketing execution – particularly in demand generation – and didn’t want to break it!  Dheeraj was very persuasive, and I accepted. What a ride and education these last four years have been!

I’ve told Dheeraj that I learned more in the three-plus years working for him than in the previous 27 years combined. He challenged me intellectually. He defied conventional wisdom. It was not always, well actually, never easy working for him. It was also never dull nor predictable. At the end of the day, Dheeraj Pandey showed me the incredible work ethic and intellect and passion it takes to build a company. I will always be grateful to him for his generosity in lessons learned, in the opportunity he gave me, and in the end, how he truly made me a “full stack” CMO. 

I miss working with Sunil Potti. He was a fun, highly charismatic, visionary Chief Product Officer. I paid close attention to Sunil’s rare ability of setting a vision, crafting the narrative, and pursuing an ambitious organic and inorganic R&D strategy to bring the vision to life. I count myself as lucky to have worked with him and learned a lot by his example. Duston Williams, our CFO, represented to me the best combination of “back office” functional excellence through several business model transitions, and uncommon “front office” skills as a communicator. That, plus a wicked, dry sense of humor made it a true pleasure working with him. 

David Sangster built a customer support organization that stands as the soul of the company’s brand, as does he as a leader. Rajiv Mirani is a warm personality, amazing innovator and deep thinker. The incomparable Wendy Pfeiffer, our CIO, is just as amazing with her back office practice as she is as a thought leader and market force. The entire Nutanix leadership team navigated through challenging business model transitions, in the midst of a highly competitive market. It was an honor to work with all of them.

Replacing a founder/CEO can be a tremendously difficult task.  One must honor the history of the company and grab the hearts and minds of the talent that brought the company to where it is today, and yet be willing to make tough decisions that challenges conventional wisdom.  Rajiv Ramaswami has done a noteworthy job of achieving both. He has set a clear vision and direction for Nutanix, and is navigating the company through the last business model transition to subscription, and into the cloud. I think It’s working, and I look forward to watching Nutanix reap the rewards of this arduous transition work.

The marketing team I inherited from Howard was a true gold mine of talent, creativity and “GSD” (Get  S)*@! Done).  Julie O’Brien and Tonya Chin were two amazing builders. They set the standard for the marketing organization by being creative, dedicated to exceeding the numbers, and through teamwork. Julie showed me how to create a true culture of support and recognition across her team.  No one, and I mean no one, was better and more relentless in advocating for her team members. She is also a brilliant, creative marketer, who is now doing amazing things at Attack IQ. More on Tonya below.

In the spirit of theater marketing leaders being true CMOs of their patch, Cheryl Knight, Jordan Reizes, Mark Wheeler and now Yacine Kharbane fit the bill perfectly.  Cheryl’s love of data, work ethic, creativity and ability to partner flawlessly with sales leaders was thrilling to watch. Jordan combines deep industry expertise with a real mastery of the marketing mix. Mark proved to be a brilliant strategist, and is now applying his skills as CMO of LeanIX. Gleb Brichko was an amazing teacher for me, from digital marketing to demand generation strategy and execution.

I’m a firm believer that you need someone FAR smarter than you by your side as your strategy and ops leader. I hit the jackpot with Jeff Yuille here, and then Mike Higashioka. Both have made me significantly better as a data-driven CMO. Monica Kumar taught me late-in-professional-life lessons about the enterprise software market, and well-proven go-to-market models that are hard to build, but well worth it once achieved. Jennifer Massaro and Ken Kaplan brought “The Forecast”, a true media outlet for our industry, to impressive life.

I could go on and on about this amazing team. Suffice it to say, at Nutanix I was blessed to have a marketing organization that I consider best in the business. Thank you all for making the last four years thrilling and deeply rewarding.

Must Haves: My Human Network

I am thoroughly convinced that to thrive as a leader, one needs a short but potent list of “must haves.” They are people whom you have worked with multiple times, and would give anything to work with, again and again.  People who teach you invaluable lessons, whether they know it or not.  Ultimate business partners. Outstanding advisors. Absolute trust.  Here are mine:

Alan Cohen: As I mentioned earlier, Alan literally rescued me from my mid-career chaos. He is the most dynamic marketer, leader, and investor that I have ever known. You talk to Alan, and you quickly get ten high-wattage ideas. He’s generous with his advice, and hilariously insightful in his takes on the industry.  More than that, he has been a constant supporter and advocate for me throughout the years.  

I love movies, and connecting scenes with real life scenarios. The movie? Apollo 13. The crew is trying to get their craft back on target to return to earth. They are hopelessly off-course and at huge risk of drifting off into deep space. With some quick thinking and brilliant engineering from Houston, the crew executes a white knuckle fuel burn and manually steers back on course.  Crew returns home, thanks in large part to the brilliant innovation and guidance from mission control. That was Alan’s impact on my career. Thanks, buddy.

Annie Headley: I first met Annie at Proxim, waaay back in 2004. Since that fateful meeting, Annie and I have worked together at Meru Networks, Cisco, Aruba Networks, F5 Networks, and now Nutanix.  She has been a constant in my professional career, and always willing to take on hard problems and new challenges. She is a wonderful Corporate Marketing leader who combines work ethic, right-brain creativity, and left-brain sheer execution.  

I’ve often said Annie makes all of the pain go away. She is the most dependable, dedicated leader I have ever seen. I think the best compliment I can give Annie is how much her peers love collaborating with her. She is the ultimate team player, and has been a major part of many successes I’ve realized in my career. And as much as she accomplishes in her professional life, she is equally giving and dedicated in her personal life, especially with her beloved pups Bo and Mo … and her family too!  🙂 Thank you, AH!

Chris Kozup: I first met Chris in 2001 when he was a very sharp analyst at the Meta Group. Several years later at Cisco, Alan Cohen (another major career assist, both for Chris and I) let me know Chris was looking for a position at Cisco, and asked me to meet with him to explore an opportunity on my team.  When we met, Chris expressed an interest in an international marketing role, perhaps in Latin America. If anyone knows Chris, they know that he’s very much a world citizen. Alas, I didn’t have anything there, but I did have a lead product marketing role for the wireless portfolio. Luckily for me, I was able to convince Chris to join us. We shared the same eye and ear for creative product marketing. Beyond that, Chris was a highly disciplined execution machine. Always the highest quality. Always ahead of schedule. Always thorough. This is Chris. 

Our professional association continued at Aruba Networks. This time, I had an ace up my sleeve: Head of Marketing for Europe, Middle East, and Africa. He was absolutely our CMO of EMEA, and I believe set a standard for filling the role that is rarely achieved. Chris and I also worked together at Nutanix, where we implemented our shared vision of theater-based marketing, where mix strategy and the “full stack” are set in-theater, in tight partnership with sales leadership. Now, I’d say my once “student” has become the master, as CMO of Zscaler, where he and the company are absolutely crushing it. I couldn’t be more grateful to Chris for close to two decades of partnership, advice, and friendship.  And I couldn’t be happier for Chris and his many successes.

Lori Hultin: Lori is the ultimate PR pro. An excellent writer. Technically savvy. Great reporter relationships. Never afraid to give the proper feedback and right advice. I learned this from my longtime association with Lori, through her wildly successful consulting practice she built, LSH Communications.  She helped me get the Atrica job, which started a partnership that spanned Atrica, Proxim, Meru, Cisco, and Aruba.  Lori showed me how to build your own business, and maintain the highest standard of client service. Doing the right thing for the client always came before financial compensation. I always told her she should charge far more for her uncommonly great services and results. She reminded me that by not focusing on billable hours first, but rather on client outcomes, the result was loyalty and longevity. She was right. Worked wonders with me. Thank you, Lori, for two decades of amazing partnership and friendship.

Lynn Lucas: Lynn and I met at Proxim. Since then, she has been my professional advisor, mentor, and great friend.  As a CMO, Lynn has truly rare technical depth combined with marketing savvy. I’ve often said in speeches that the most important skill of any marketer is the ability to listen: listen and process before amplifying. Lynn taught me how to think first and ask the right questions.  I learned from Lynn that my intuition to provide a great deal of autonomy, while usually a nice idea, can sometimes be overdone. Occasionally there are team members who may want a more hands-on approach, but don’t want to admit it and ask.  Like any great sports coach, Lynn is a master motivator, evaluator and teacher, and knows how to apply each at the proper moment. Just ask the scores of people who have worked for her. She is absolutely beloved.

I firmly believe that every leader needs a “go to” for advice. Lynn and I called these sessions together “Doctor’s Hours.” Over the years, these sessions have revealed that Lynn and I have had stunningly similar career experiences. It has been great to lean on Lynn, and vice versa, to problem solve, to test-market, and sometimes just to have a good old-fashioned vent. Lynn has definitely been that valued counselor for me over the past two decades. Thank you, Lynn, for being such a great role model for me, and for taking on that European press tour when I couldn’t make it. A lifetime debt of gratitude. 

Nicole Hall: I met Niki while at Cisco, working on the wireless networking business unit. I was running product marketing, and Niki was our analyst relations manager.  Since this fateful meeting, Niki has become a trusted friend and ongoing business associate. Niki is a master at building relationships that last, and connecting different people together just when it makes the most sense. She is literally a human network.

Niki is also a fighter, in the best sense of the word. I have watched her grow her career, from analyst relations to corporate marketing and now as Chief Marketing Officer at ContentSquare. In each role, she has taken on new challenges and experiences where others may shy away.  She is never afraid to ask questions, and is constantly looking to grow. Niki has taught me how to push doubt aside and pursue worthy achievements. She has connected me with many wonderful business contacts and friends. And now I have the honor of serving on an advisory board at her company, ContentSquare.  Lucky for me, I ran into Niki.

Sylvia Hooks: Sylvia and I go all the way back to Miller Communications in 1994. We were account managers together in the early years of our careers. I’ve worked with Sylvia longer than with any other person across my career: Miller, 3Com, Cisco, Proxim, Cisco again, Aruba, and Nutanix.  Sylvia started her career as an industry analyst, and has an amazing grasp of our industry. She is truly a “full-stack” marketing leader, equally as strong a product marketer as she is a demand generation pro.  

Sylvia is a wonderful storyteller, writer, and creative genius.  During our time at Aruba together, she pulled off one of the greatest feats: producing a stunningly successful Atmosphere user conference the same week that we announced the acquisition by HPE. We left that week with thousands of customers ready to double down on us, despite the shock of the acquisition. It was a true signature moment, authored by Sylvia. And today she is applying all of her skills as the CMO of Aruba, a Hewlett Packard Enterprise company. It makes me smile to see her carry on the Aruba brand. 

Tonya Chin: I met Tonya at Aruba Networks, where she ran investor relations.  I was immediately struck by her mastery of her IR practice, and her command of our company narrative.  Outside of Dominic Orr and Keerti Melkote, I felt no one could tell our story and position the company like Tonya could.  She reminded me of Blair Christie at Cisco.  Blair rose up the ranks from running IR at Cisco, to Corporate Communications, and ultimately served as Cisco’s CMO.  I’ve always seen Tonya in the same mold.

During our time together at Nutanix, we brought together the “Rs” (public/analyst/investor relations) under her leadership. Later, we added Corporate Marketing to her remit. Through it all, she has thrived as an evangelist, a leader, and a caring advocate and teacher for her team.  And she is an absolute riot to work with on a daily basis. Tonya, thank you for being such a great business partner. You care deeply about your team and Nutanix, and it shows in how you show up every day. What a ride it has been with you by my side.  

Next Step

My father once said at my wedding reception that the best measure of a man (or woman) is to look closely at the company he/she keeps. His rule applies personally, and definitely, professionally, as well.  My “human network” shaped my career, and I couldn’t be more lucky to have made my journey with all of those mentioned here, and many more. As I captured my thoughts of the past 30+ years here, I was surprised at how many memories came flooding back into my mind. And my heart was full of gratitude for all of the people who worked with me, bet on me, and achieved great things for our companies. I concluded that my answer to my father’s measuring stick question is a resounding “things look pretty darn great.”  Thank you everyone for that gift.

So what’s next for me? Last February, I started as Head Coach of the Leland High School Swim team.  After a bit of separation from the industry I’ve called home for the past three decades, I’ll take on some more advisory roles. I’ll ramp up my own masters swimming training to prepare for the National Championships this Spring and Summer.  And I’ll be writing. Next up: a 12-chapter blog series on top lessons learned as a Chief Marketing Officer.  I hope you’ll enjoy reading my thoughts, and perhaps find some ideas and experiences that resonate.

So it’s goodbye to Nutanix, and goodbye to a 30-year wild ride!  And it’s hello to new adventures, in and out of the water. I can’t wait to explore it all with Jeanette by my side. I get to enjoy my younger son’s senior year of high school, and find more time to visit my older son in Washington DC. And finally, please make sure you root on the Leland High School Chargers this spring in the pool. They’ll have a new, rookie coach at the helm. Wish me luck!

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