Alteryx CEO Mark Anderson: ‘Figure Skating Made Me A Better Hockey Player’

In this episode of Corporate Competitor Podcast, Anderson applies some surprising lessons from the competitive world of Canadian youth hockey to the craft of leading a rapidly growing data science and analytics company.

As a kid growing up in Toronto, Mark Anderson played a lot of hockey—enough to get his nose broken seven times. So you could say that the sport literally shaped Anderson’s life. As far as shaping his future as a business executive, the very least hockey taught him was to keep his head up. But, as he told Corporate Competitor Podcast, maybe his greatest lesson came from cross training—learning about balance and agility from a figure skater.

“Reaching out and asking for help actually makes you stronger, not weaker, and that’s not something that comes easily to a boy growing up in Canada’s hockey culture,” said Anderson. “But that was a turning point for me in my development as a strong skater and I haven’t forgotten it as a business leader. Going outside of your comfort zone to learn makes you a better leader.”

Anderson continued to learn how to flex “unfamiliar muscles” early in his career as a middle manager at Cisco Systems, where he got in the habit of bringing along some of the company’s leading lights — including legendary leader John Chambers — with him on long drives to sales calls. “Before each call, I loaded up with questions that I’d thought about and prioritized the night before. Then I’d take advantage of the windshield time to be able to learn from an executive. They were generally very open to talking to me about how I could progress my career.”

Now a CEO himself at the advanced data analytics software company Alteryx, Anderson has made professional development—or “upskilling,” as he calls it—a centerpiece of his leadership agenda. In this podcast, Anderson discusses the role upskilling has in allowing Anderson and his leadership to grow Alteryx exponentially by focusing on developing unfamiliar muscles among his team. Listeners will learn:

  • How Anderson implements his doctrine of “zero ambiguity” during projects
  • The employee training program that’s so good universities around the globe are adopting it
  • How Anderson manages stress and signs of burnout in his team
  • Why one size does not fit all when it comes to success.

“You always have to be sharpening the saw,” said Anderson, although in his case it might be more accurate to say sharpening the algorithm. I hope you’ll take the time to sharpen the tool set you rely on in this episode of Corporate Competitor Podcast.

Check out the full Corporate Competitor Podcast interview archive and subscribe to new episodes.


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