Kurt Hansen talks to CXO about leveraging his military background in a technology company, sticking to core competencies and why attitude is everything.
What’s the elevator pitch on F5 Networks?
F5 provides application and storage delivery so organisations can create an agile IT infrastructure that aligns with their business demands. With F5 solutions, businesses gain strategic points of control wherever information is exchanged, from client devices and the network to application servers, data storage, and everything in between. For example, instead of users accessing an application through a fixed, static connection to one physical server, a pool of physical and virtual servers can provide the services they need.
Organisations can use this control to add capacity and services, move existing resources, and optimise performance, security, and reliability, all while minimising the costs and impact of these changes on their business.
We are like the “smart and strategic piece of real estate” in the customer’s data centre.
What makes F5 different?
F5 itself is small and agile and totally focused on application and storage delivery. There is a lot to be said for being focused on what you are good at in business these days rather than being a Cisco, or EMC etc.
Where do you see your company heading over the next five years?
Growth in our core markets, growth in developing adjacent solutions. F5 is probably one of the few IT companies that has the ability to double its business in the next few years.
What’s the biggest challenge for the company at the moment?
It’s good being a small company in the IT sector in terms of Agility, but the challenge is to ensure we have the right support mechanisms in place when larger opportunities present themselves. Fortunately we have developed a substantial go to market with partners including global SIs like IBM and HP, as well as many excellent local companies who are well trained to sell and support our products.
What’s the biggest opportunity for your industry at the moment?
Cloud computing is big. This is where virtualisation is driving efficiency, but also where companies need secure and non-stop application delivery, a cornerstone of F5’s solution.
How did you get to where you are today?
I spent my early part of my career as an officer in the Royal Australia Signal Corps, so the mix of dealing day to day with people, technology and organisational processes was drummed into me early. I guess moving into the Telco/IT industry in names like Ericsson, Cisco, Motorola/Symbol Technologies as well as a stint acquiring and running a small systems integrator has been a good background to realising the opportunity that exists here at F5 Networks.
Who’s your hero?
John Chambers at Cisco in the late 90s. John was a great leader and an awesome salesman. He made every customer and partner, no matter how large, i.e. Telstra, or the smallest customer feel important and gave them the utmost attention even for a short 5 minute meet and greet. He would even ask account managers for feedback on how he did after presenting to one of their customers! John inspired many people to go to extraordinary lengths to make good things happen. As a leader this is one of the fundamentals.
What’s the best business advice you’ve ever recieved?
My step-father was a Korean and Vietnam veteran serving 27 years in the Army culminating as an RSM. He told me when I became an officer, “If you can just do one thing for the soldiers Kurt, even if you don’t know what’s going on due to a lack of orders from above at the current time…just go tell them exactly that.”
I think communication and transparency is key – even more so in organisations today.
What are the skills that you promote and most respect at work?
I focus more on attitude than skills. Attitude is everything. Providing you hire and promote people with intelligence, most skills can be learnt. Even in the Army the expert SAS soldier is mostly just an average marksman and infantry man in terms of skills but his attitude is always spot on to make it to the SAS and be able to perform amazing things, as history has shown all too recently in the Middle East. Attitude to work, customers and team mates is everything.
What has been your greatest challenge to date as far as your career is concerned?
I think taking on teams where the culture and attitudes has been poor and being forced to make hard changes is always tough. Satisfying to get the results as well, but sometimes it take a lot out of you to convince the company that it takes time to rebuild.
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