Tom Axbey came to Boston to immerse himself in the high tech ecosystem and two CEO gigs later, it’s fair to say he accomplished his goal.
Axbey, CEO of CloudHealth Technologies, which provides cloud computing services, started in an entry level position and eventually worked his way through the ranks. He worked for a startup that got acquired by Cisco and another one that got bought by IBM. The latter got him on board as a VP at IBM in charge of a very large line of business.
After that go-around, Axbey went back into the startup world as CEO of Rave Mobile Safety. He helped turn around that company before handing it off to his hand-picked successor, Todd Piett. He then went to CloudHealth, which was acquired by VMware in October. Axbey will remain CEO of CloudHealth, running it as a separate business unit while enjoying the resources and capital that a company like VMware can provide.
Axbey recently spoke with Chief Executive about the arrangement with VMware, challenges the company is facing in the cloud sector and more. Below are excerpts from this interview.
What would you say you’ve learned over the course of your career that you’re applying today?
I’ve always had fantastic mentors. I was always part of teams that have had exceptional leaders. I realized quickly that exceptional leaders make it about the team and make it about the people they hire. And then they empower them. They’re not scared to lead from the front, but they also empowering their people. They’re not making consensus decisions, but they’re listening to their teams and they’re listening to them as trusted advisors. But they’re also only going to take that trust so far and will look at the data elements as well, and then make an informed decision.
I think that that’s one of the things I’m doing. It’s all about the people you put around. I’ve worked for great CEOs and I’ve learned from them. I always felt someone installed in more trust in myself than I probably would have had in myself. And that gave me a feeling of empowerment and a feeling of confidence.
I’ve always tried to do that in my career as well. You want people to have the opportunity so you give them the opportunity and then you don’t set them up for failure, you set them up for success. So what do they need to do? What are the things that indicated they were the right person for the job? What kind of mentorship do they need and also what kind of subject matter experts are they? How can you empower that and make it so they are even more valuable to the company? To me it’s always been a people based business.
Talk to me about this structure with VMware and how it’s going to work?
It’s a perfect fit on many levels. The shared vision we both have on where the public cloud is moving to and the importance of it, as it starts to permeate and dominate the enterprise. It completely aligns with us. Joining with VMware, it was not just a technology or a money decision, but also a cultural decision. We have very similar cultures when it came to caring about people and investing in our employees. There’s a reason why it’s routinely ranked as one of the top 50 companies to work for.
VMware has a fantastic hybrid cloud story. They’ve got assets in the public cloud. They really wanted to have a cloud management platform for the public cloud. And that’s really what we are. We’re going to be a separate business unit. We’re going to be CloudHealth by VMware and that’s our official name now. We’re going to be given the autonomy to grow. We’re going to be invested in and augmented it by staff and also putting underneath our corporate umbrella on business unit umbrella, some of the other SaaS and public cloud assets that VMware has. We make up a fully integrated story about this cloud management platform, which can really facilitate rapid business transformation for the enterprises. So it’s a really exciting opportunity for us. We are a separate business unit, but we’ve got that VMware blood. It’s the best of both worlds. It really is.
What are some of the big challenges that CloudHealth is facing and your clients are facing—especially in terms of cloud implementation?
For us it’s anything that slows down our agility. Moving at cloud speed is a real thing when you’re trying to manage it and keep up with all the releases and functions and features of an AWS, a Google or an Azure. Let along [other public cloud products] and you’re trying to understand all the various use cases that can run across all the different segments you serve. It’s very complex. So managing that complexity means you’ve got to be very agile, you’ve got to have complete interlock and we’re a SaaS based company, so you’re only as good as your unhappiest customer. I have healthy paranoia about anything that slows down agility. Anything that impedes our ability to execute.
That’s why we’ve got to have very streamlined processes from hiring, onboarding, and enablement. We’re very agile, we’ve built great customer context throughout the whole organization, which is really important. And I think that’s really key. I think on the other side of that, the complexity is what all of our customers are struggling with. Deploying on the cloud may not be difficult, but managing it from a governance and visibility and insight standpoint, as you’re spinning up different departments, different geographies, different personas who want to use workloads or start initiatives in the cloud, it becomes very, very complex. And that complexity is not just a 2x, it’s a 10 x when you have a multi-cloud environment.
We always say complexity is our friend because we embrace that. But we can only embrace that if we’re agile and nimble and we’ve got a customer context. Anything that takes us away from our agility is the enemy at this point.