Q&A with NetApp CEO George Kurian

George Kurian, NetApp CEOYou’re coming up on two years as the CEO of NetApp, leading the team through major industry disruption and internal transformation. What lessons have you learned?

Transformation is an ongoing journey for any company. The global economy is changing rapidly, and customer priorities are evolving to keep pace. We’ve already seen that if organizations, especially in the technology industry, stop driving to constantly reinvent themselves, they fail to stay relevant.

 

Our own transformation journey has been around aligning disciplined execution of our strategy with the changing needs of our customers. We are making good progress, and our business performance is clear evidence of NetApp’s ability to pivot to the growth areas of the market and help our customers deliver against their digital roadmaps. Today, we've improved our agility and are delivering innovation at an accelerated pace.

 

Where do you see market opportunity for NetApp?

Customers continue to reinvent their businesses digitally and to leverage their data to accelerate their business transformation. We are focused on helping our customers manage their data for competitive advantage. To succeed in a distributed diverse world, we believe that customers need a Data Fabric. We’re focused on executing our Data Fabric strategy and being the industry leader across all-flash, hybrid cloud, and next-generation data center opportunities. In the all-flash array market, there's no question that we're growing faster than our competitors and the industry. In cloud, our ability to help customers seamlessly manage their data as they adopt the cloud is a clear differentiator. We recently shared our intent to deliver the next generation of hyper-converged infrastructure (HCI), built on SolidFire innovation, which will be the first fully cloud-integrated, enterprise-ready HCI solution in the industry. It will bring enterprise customers the flexibility to run multiple workloads without compromising performance, scale, or efficiency.

 

What are your top priorities as CEO?

One of my biggest priorities is to successfully execute on our strategy and deliver solutions that enable the next phase of digital transformation for our customers. We are constantly thinking about how we can innovate to help them modernize their data centers to lower costs, increase agility for innovation, get more value from their data, and integrate the cloud into their IT and digital architectures. Our Data Fabric portfolio means that our customers can have seamless data management across all their deployment models, whether traditional, private cloud, or public cloud environments.  This enables customers to accelerate their ability to integrate their data for a competitive advantage.

 

Another key priority is to continue to transform NetApp to emerge as the strongest company we can be. That’s the best way to reward our employees and shareholders and to deliver value to our customers. Core to that goal is nurturing a strong culture of innovation, putting customers first in our thinking, encouraging risk taking, and giving our talented employees the freedom to bring their best thinking. Perhaps most importantly, it is holding ourselves accountable to tirelessly seek and ceaselessly endeavor to be the best we can be every single day.

 

How do you approach decision making?

I strongly feel that you cannot shy away from making difficult decisions, especially in leadership roles, because otherwise you end up reducing the institution for which you are responsible into mediocrity. For example, in the definition of one’s strategy, the most important decisions are what one chooses not to do. 

 

I try to look at decisions from the perspective of the people who are most impacted. It’s important to communicate difficult decisions to your teams through open dialog, and with empathy. Tough decisions invoke varied reactions, because they inherently involve a measure of risk and timing. If everybody is happy about a decision, it clearly was an obvious choice that involves no risk or was made too late. However, while driving to make a decision a difference of opinion should be handled with sensitivity. A disagreement should never turn into disrespect.

 

Having a clear vision becomes a guiding light in the decision-making process, but it cannot happen by ignoring changing market realities. What matters most in the decision-making process is how you embrace the opportunities ahead of you. We made some difficult choices as a company, and thanks to the entire NetApp team, we remained focused on execution through those decisions, even against difficult market situations.

 

Diversity and immigration have been hot topics these last few weeks.  How does NetApp approach this?

NetApp has always celebrated diversity as a fundamental component of our business strategy. We are a global company with customers, partners, investors, and employees from all over the world. To serve our various stakeholders best, we must reflect the full diversity of the countries, communities, and cultures in which we serve and operate.

Additionally, the free exchange of ideas and the ability to collaborate with others from around the world allows us to understand and contribute to the progress of the world in which we live. 

 

I recognize that sometimes diversity can be complex and a struggle to manage, especially to understand the disparate points of view that are often espoused; but it is in embracing that struggle that the best ideas come forth and we are able to progress.