CW: Bob Muglia has been leading teams of all sizes for decades. His broad experience in the tech world comes in a large part from a career of firefighting, taking over a problem area and wrestling it back into shape. He has touched literally every facet of tech, from databases and tools, to operating systems to applications, even phone and internet properties. Throughout this journey, Bob has built and led teams as large as 10,000, as they face some of the most difficult technical challenges.
Bob is most ardent when discussing what he calls values-based leadership. He firmly believes that what a company does is a direct descendant of how a company does it.
BM: The culture of a company is now embedded in their products and present and I can see it as a guy that looks at and knows these companies and knows the cultures. I know the Microsoft culture and I go, dang, look what they just did. That was stupid as hell. And they did it for cultural reasons. And I know why they did it. Because I know that company. And I can see similar things I don’t know Google or Amazon as well. But I see similar things in those companies when they make mistakes. It’s often culturally rooted.
CW: Bob took that understanding from IBM to Microsoft to Juniper, and most recently to Snowflake. He was the CEO of the startup as it built a revolutionary approach to managing data at scale, and as it prepared for their initial public offering, until the day he wasn’t. And that’s what this is all about.
This is Leading Smart, the show about managing in the brainpower age. It’s a field guide to the joys and challenges of leading and working in the modern workplace. I’m Chris Williams, your guide to the stories and ideas that I hope will inspire you to be a better leader in the world of knowledge work.
This episode’s conversation is with a leader who believes culture is the root of organizational success. This is Episode 238, my conversation with Bob Muglia.
Bob Muglia grew up in Michigan and went to the University of Michigan. In 1981 he was recruited from there to work for Rolm, the leader in taking corporate telephone systems into the digital age.
BM: And I’ve mean I interviewed with a number of companies, I with interviewed Motorola, I interviewed with Texas Instruments, this was just a totally different period of time, right? So I went to Champaign, Illinois, which is where Motorola was and I went to Texas saw TI, I saw a few companies. Rolm was different and wrong was just a different company. And it once I saw it, it was like my god, if I could get this job, I mean, I’ll take this job. And I mean, they were very much focused on a great place to work. They were very ahead of their time in terms of workplace environments. They had they had a rec center, a pool like a full lap pool and it was really neat. It was a neat neat environment and of course Silicon Valley even then had a strong cachet to it.
Not to mention I mean probably the most the biggest thing is that my first trip to Santa Clara, I’d been to California once when I was 10, but my first trip on on for for to go out to see Rolm was in February and it was 75 degrees 20 below in Michigan like it normally is and and and I was like well this if I can get this.
I was a developer on… Rolm made telecommunications systems they call them CBX they were PBX was the category. They were the first digital PBX in the 1970s they they they transformed the industry from analog to digital because AT&T was a dinosaur and really a dinosaur and and and ROM reinvigorated that even though in today’s world It seems pretty simplistic, but it was digital audio. They were the first to do phone mail, phone mail was originated wrong. So voicemail which is of course a scourge on the world but But nonetheless, they invented it. And so it’s a great place to go. I’ve learned a lot.
CW: And and was that the first place you started to do team management and leadership work?
BM: Yeah, I joined as a developer, I wrote code. My first management job was probably ’84, or something like that. So it wasn’t that far out of college. And maybe ’85. And I, I started managing a small team that was doing a system on an IBM PC. We had just gotten bought, actually must have been ’85. Because was right about the time that that Rolm got bought by, by by IBM. And, and so we were developing an IBM PC app to do data to do configuration for the CBX’s.
CW: Do you remember moving from an individual contributor to being a manager? Do you remember that? I mean, for most people, that’s a that’s a…
BM: Yeah. big change that in then then, you know, when you are managing managers, and then particularly once you’re a few generations, two generation two levels away, when you have the distance, those are the sort of the big changes and growth cycles for managers?
Yeah, I do. It was a, it was a very interesting experience I was working with, I was working for a man who’s still a personal friend of mine, I was literally just talking to him yesterday. So I was working for a guy who I we met, in fact, he and his wife are, you know, we we met, you know, as they were getting married, and we’re still close friends with them. I was working with my customer, it was an internal customer. The lady that ran it was somewhat psychotic. She was actually not a bad person. I actually liked her in some ways, but she had very serious challenges. And, and so it was a very, very, very dysfunctional environment. And so my first and I think I have a history of, of, of, you know, entering into or being part of dysfunctional environments. Hopefully, I improved them, not always, perhaps, but hopefully I improved them. In this case, I think I learned a lot. And I, it was my first experience. And we did do pretty well. We certainly succeeded, we succeeded.
But it was really interesting, because I remember, you know, in that case, I used the beginner technique in management that you still pull out occasionally. But it’s almost always the wrong thing to do, which is us against them. And yet it was almost essential, in that case, sometimes it almost is because and I saw this at Microsoft a number of times, because when you have people that are out to do things that are just not correct, you sometimes have to do that. But it’s almost never the right thing. I mean, when you’re in that kind of dysfunction, when you’re in that kind of dysfunction, you have fundamental problems. And I was actually in my first situation was actually I would characterize as pretty much that.
CW: It’s not good, because it doesn’t last right? I mean, you can you…
BM: It never ends well, never ends particularly. I mean, even if even if it even if you succeed, it’s a very shallow victory at some fundamental level. And usually it’s the cost of someone else. And that’s never a good thing. I much prefer the win win scenarios where everybody, I tried to create situations in my career where everybody wins, I always try and do that. And I, you know, and interestingly, I rarely find situations where that is not possible.
And one of the things I’ve sort of learned over time is it is not a zero sum game, the world is far too big. And we used to I mean, it Microsoft, oh my god, where we zero sum. I mean, oh, my God in the 1990s. I mean, that was that largely is what got us into the whole DOJ trouble. Um, and, and just isn’t that way in the world. I mean, it’s not worth it.
CW: So how did you end up getting to Microsoft?
BM: So, it is an interesting, interesting story is actually a great story. I Rolm offered sabbatical after seven years, three months, which is great, great deal. My wife and I met at Rolm. We both been there for like five and a half years when we met so we got married and took a sabbatical. We both decided that after we got back — this is the problem with sabbaticals as people leave — and and we both decided we would leave afterwards on we were working at the time for still in Rome, but it was IBM, right? It was IBM, IBM and a which was terrible that that was the 80s it was Akers days. I mean, IBM was I mean it was a dinosaur, I mean Akers was killing the company. And so it was a terrible place to be.
Laura had been looking at Microsoft, my wife, Laura, Laura Ellen had been working at Microsoft, she’s a she’s a you know, she went to she’s to college and Stanford MBA and she was out at Rolm in marketing and she was looking for a marketing role at another high tech company and she found me she scouted out Microsoft and said, you know, in 1985, at least that, you know, PCs, I mean, a little was words were PCs at the future. Microsoft has both the applications and the operating system were Lotus, for example, or Ashton Tate, at the time had only the applications. And so her view was Microsoft was the place to be. And so she focused on getting to Microsoft. And we had made a decision as a couple, believe it or not, in 1987, that the Bay Area was too crowded. And we didn’t want to raise a family in the Bay Area. So we decided we’re going to move out of the Bay Area, that was a decision we had made. And so with Microsoft and stuff, we’re you know, and then I had this other company here, we’re targeting Seattle,
CW: You come and you’re working on SQL Server, and then you ended up in the OS/2 arena. That was a frothy time was that interesting, invigorating, challenging, depressing, nerve wracking…?
BM: Oh it was amazing, it was amazing. It was amazing. Um, one of the most amazing experiences of my life. Because, you know, we’re like, just come out of IBM. Remember that? And, and I didn’t tell you this when I was at Rolm, the project I was working on was transferred by IBM to Boca Raton. So they said, Okay, we’re not going to develop this in in Santa Clara anymore. We’re going to do it in our our facilities in Boca Raton, and it was a huge facility there. Cavernous, really very unpleasant in my experiences, just a very unpleasant environment for it’s like what you would build in the 60s for it, you know, it doesn’t look, it looks incredibly old.
And that and that process of transferring the project to Boca was so depressed, that was depressing. That was depressing. Because the people we were working with, had no interest in working. I mean, literally, as I said to my team, I said, literally, the people that we’re transferring this to have on their 3270 terminal, because that’s what they had in front of them. A every day when they came in, and these are people that are 30 years old, they would I said, these are people that have the first thing it says is you have 15,482 days til you retire. I mean, it was literally like that’s, you know, it was really a very negative and people did not have the energy was an energy free environment.
And so when I when I’m, I was at SQL, so I came in into SQL Server and got the first version of that shipped, and then almost immediately transferred shortly after transfer to do OS/2 program management. And again, that was with IBM in Boca Raton. Okay, so I knew that facility, even though I actually didn’t do travel for Microsoft down to Boca. Paul Maritz if you remember, Paul was traveling there frequently. And so, you know, that was an opportunity where I had to opt, I was now able to sit in on a lot of very serious executive and strategic conversations.
But you know, OS/2 was supposed to be the next big thing. And everybody was writing about the press, and you know, all the rags and everything. But it was terrible, because because the same situation that I had experienced at Rolm, we were experiencing at Microsoft were the people that IBM were putting out, we’re just not capable of doing the job. And there was, you know, there was just amazing conflict between the companies. And, and it was fascinating because, uh, you know, I was in the room when, you know, Paul declared, I mean, it was just, it was a small group of his closest associates that work for him, when he had just arrived that morning. You know, you just come in from Boca, he’d spent the day there the day before, and he arrived, and he said, it’s not going to work. At that moment, in my opinion, it was done. And it was just, it was everything from there on.
CW: In many ways, that was a cultural problem, right? I mean, Microsoft was, was incredibly high energy and focused and, and, and technologically pushing the envelope and IBM was old and, you know, as …
BM: And concerned, about compatibility with the main for the worst. I mean, you look at these things, this makes me realize, and these things are super related, okay, especially when you’re doing technical technology development, the strategic decisions and motivation and things are all deeply intertwined.
So like, a strategic decision that was death, death, for all was to was to make Presentation Manager. The thing is the focus point that the point zero of it, instead of the upper left hand corner, like everything else was in the lower right, because that’s the way the 3270 did it. And it was just like, oh my god, everything was upside down and backwards in presentation manager and every other decision, essentially, I mean, I I’m sure there were 100 other terrible decisions that got them into the state. But things like, I’ve learned that decisions like that are, are irrecoverable. Because the technology people could not stand it, I mean, they were, they went nuts with the whole thing. And so there was this whole windows, I mean, everything you, people want it to work and the way this thing was working was not correct. And again, these are decisions that were strategic decisions that were made in order to maintain existing businesses that that did not allow them to properly transcend into the new world. And then it has the overlay that the people are, are, they have this weight on their back. And so they’re not able to succeed.
Now, I think in IBM, there’s deep cultural issues that go way beyond this, because I have had, I mean, I literally have only hired one person in my career, this is a terrible thing, I’ve really only been successful in hiring one IBM person in my whole career. I mean, the DEC people Oh, my God, I love DEC people, they’re all very old right now, unfortunately, mostly retired.
CW: I’m a DEC alum.
BM: You know, that says something. DEC was a great company, Digital was a great engineering company, that was a great company, you know, died for a variety of reasons. But, you know, just like, I think you can hire people from Amazon today, and you get a set of training associated with running businesses that you don’t see replicated anywhere else. Um, or Google, you get crazy technology, and usually craziness in general, but crazy technology, you know, if you’re really looking for super technical stuff, you Google people are the best.
So, you know, DEC people were good. IBM had a culture. And I think still does, frankly, I don’t think it’s ever left. Because, you know, when it got transformed into more of a services company, it it never get regained the technical document, and in fact, that has been atrophying consistently. And I don’t know if there’s anything left there. I mean, the question is, what’s left there.
And this comes back to one of my fundamentals about these things, which is companies are not immortal. They grow, they, you know, successful, and most companies are not successful, but even successful companies, they reach a pinnacle point, and they stay there for some period of time, maybe, maybe days, maybe months, maybe years, maybe decades, but rarely more than decades. And, and then they decline and, and eventually, they disappear. And I would not be surprised if IBM disappears in 20 years. I mean, it may not, but I would not be surprised. And just like HP is in the process of disappearing, it hasn’t disappeared, but it’s broken in two.
CW: So you moved into PM, is the opportunity to be more involved in those strategic conversations was that a key?
BM: I think so cuz that’s where I think I excel, I, you know, I, my, my sort of strength is, is is in lies in understanding product well enough to know what to do. And then, you know, providing and then communicating that in a reasonably articulate way to people so that they’re willing to follow. In some ways, that’s, that’s probably my strongest secret to successes is, I think my mind is structured to be intuitively capable of understanding technical content to a level of detail that I need to which is not expertise by any means. It’s always miles away from expertise, just to be clear. I’m just deep enough to be dangerous. And then to leverage that to find strategic things, and then to help explain it to people. I think I did you know, if you look at what I contributed at Snowflake, a lot of that was that was taking the work that Benoit and Tierry did the fundamental work they did, and translating it into language that people could understand and, and get excited about frankly,
CW: There’s a there’s a tension in management between Amazon calls it the deep dive other people call it micromanagement. But there’s a tension that you were just talking about that is a really interesting distinction that that leaders have to figure out how to make. Do i do i go all the way down into the gory details and override, you know, something that I just know is wrong in the details? Or do I need to know enough of those details to be able to, to say that the Presentation Manager’s 0,0 point needs to be in the lower right and not the top left? Or, I mean, you know, or or is it sufficient to rely on your team to know the better answer. That’s a real tension. How do you draw that line?
BM: It’s not sufficient never sufficient rely on the team. It is however important to be judicious about, about where you apply oversight. And again, I think it comes back to that intuitive, intuitive understanding of strategy. And and focusing on strategy and what matters there and only overriding when it has strategic importance. Right? If it’s tactical, you’re better off letting them execute. And, you know, A number 1, I find that at least, at least 40% of the time, at least 40% of time, maybe more. I’m wrong.
Talk about how often I’m wrong on and by the way, the simplest thing is, you know, and I said this to one of my to a CEO, that that I’m on the board of recently is that, that, that when I push on something I’ve learned after 30 years of this mistake, that when I push on something, and it doesn’t go anywhere, it’s always because I’m wrong. And not usually, by the way, I’m wrong on timing, I want to point out, I mean, sometimes I’m wrong, just wrong. But probably more times than not, I’m just too early. And the team isn’t ready for it.
CW: Is it the team’s not ready for it. Are you one of those people who tends to have the have the technology vision farther in advance than the market?
BM: Sometimes Sometimes it’s the latter. More often than not, the team is ready for it. And the market would be ready, I guess, because I try. And I try and put my focus when Well, first of all, when I have focused on things that the market wasn’t ready for, those are the examples where I am wrong. I mean, those are you know where I’m just wrong at that. That is an example where I’m wrong. Because if the market is not ready, then it’s not right. It’s not the right time. And Microsoft is filled with examples, many of which I have fingerprints on of things that were done too early. I mean, the tablet being perhaps one of the most simple, iconic examples, where we were the first and we obviously screwed it up.
So no, usually it’s usually it’s because the team is just not ready. And the market could be ready for it. And if you know and and then usually just you wait six months or a year, you know, you can make it happen.
CW: You spent an inordinate amount of time, you said it before, and it’s something that struck me about you even back when we first started to meet each other. You picked up a lot of fires… you ran, it seemed like I So did you run to fires? Or were you…
BM: Oh my gosh, I never run to them. No, my career at Microsoft, I was placed pretty much, Paul, Paul for a long time, moving from one spot to another. And then so one trouble spot to another and then and then I did that little bit, you know, later in my career also my…
CW: That had to feel pretty good that you were that there was enough confidence in you that you could you were the guy to go fix that.
BM: Sure it did feel good. You feel great. I mean, look, I love my career. I still love Microsoft, I think Microsoft’s a great company. And, and Satya is doing a fantastic job there. And I think, you know, although I do admit, you know, when I look back at Microsoft, and I’m fairly sure of this now, I’m super sure that the Microsoft I remember never really happened. It’s very rose colored. You know, the most of the memories are rose colored. And then I step back and go Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah, I remember that. Oh, that wasn’t so pleasant. Wasn’t that hurt. There were a lot of very negative experiences at Microsoft. But But there was also a lot of great. I mean, it’s a great company. And it went through a lot we went through a lot together.
CW: The thing that is surprising to me is that you were a guy who saw the good in people, you were the guy who was warm and supportive of people, you were a guy who really led by by building a team of a group of people to get along in an environment that was you know, hallmarked by lots of prickly people who were, you know, and
BM: Oh god, it was very conflict oriented.
CW: Yeah. And it was an interesting thing that somebody said to me, I was talking to somebody at Amazon and they said, The problem we have with the Microsoft people is that they all have sharp elbows, which I thought was a really interesting way to put that. So how did you? How did did? Did you feel like you were pushing against something? Or did you feel like you were in the right all the time being that kind of a leader?
BM: Well, first, remember I was a product of the Microsoft culture, right? I mean, let’s just start with that. Right? I mean, I wasn’t, I didn’t come out of school to Microsoft, um, you know, I’d had I’d had, you know, seven or eight years of background in, you know, in an industry outside of college and that I was I did work when I was in industry when I was in college, but, um, but I was definitely a product of the Microsoft culture. I mean, I was weaned at Microsoft, I often say that
Um, I rose a little differently. I think the thing that I think the thing that makes me that allowed me to do, what I did is I have security in my technical intuition. You know, I believe in my intuition. Now, again I’m not always right. And I’m often wrong by timing too. I mean, often, you’re right, but you’re wrong by timing. But But I believe in the intuition, and that was something that allowed me to create a basis for me to operate on everything, right, because the thing about technical companies, it’s really important, you can talk about culture and everything else. But nothing matters like the product, let me just be as clear as I can be, it’s always about the experience and product of the customer.
I mean, the world is all services. So you’re delivering something all the time. So the service you’re delivering is everything. But then it turns out, that’s the what, you’ve come back to the what. And then there’s the how, what is the how, and, and I believe the how it really matters, it really matters. And I especially believe it matters for technology companies, because we have a very different set of obligations to the world than companies that build bricks. Now, companies to build bricks perform a crucial service to the world, we need bricks, but technology is affecting the way people live and operate in a very, very fundamental ways. And it and the morals associated with it are deeply intertwined.
The the culture of a company is now embedded in their products, and present. And I can see it as a guy that looks at and knows these companies and knows the cultures, I know the Microsoft culture, and I go, dang, look what they just did. That was stupid as hell. And they did it for cultural reasons. And I know why they did it. Because I know that company. And I can see some things I don’t know, Google or Amazon as well. But I see similar things in those companies, when they make mistakes, it’s often culturally rooted.
And so to me, you know, in particular, this what and this how are particularly tightly integrated in technology companies, because the how, in some ways regulates the what. So these two are deeply intertwined. And I believe very strongly in the how, and, and I sought to demonstrate that, in what we created at Snowflake, I think, quite successfully, although it had a rather dramatic turn of events, that changed the culture pretty substantially. But, you know, we definitely built a culture at Snowflake that was a very focused on how, in addition to the what, and it was very oriented towards the values that we that we define.
You know, I feel very strongly about the importance of building value-based companies. You know, and I distinguish now this what and the how, in a way, that way, you can actually turn this and discuss this in much more business terms, is to talk about how you balance values-based cultures, with performance-based culture. Because Historically, the world has been managed through performance-based cultures. And I think the Romans figured this out with whips are very effective. A couple 1000 years ago, it worked, it does work, whips work, they work and, and threatening and having a, a culture that is defined by you achieve performance, or you’re out, which is historically what a lot of companies are, many companies still are. Um, I don’t think that’s the right thing for tech. But I also believe that performance-based attributes are critical inside every culture, including values-based cultures.
CW: So you had an opportunity to go and essentially, I mean, not start from the very beginning, but you were early early at Snowflake to establish its culture and its values-based culture.
BM: You know, when I joined Snowflake, we were pre-revenue 00, you know, revenue was easy to declare it was 00, the company had been in existence for just under two years. Benoit had built a database, the SQL database was functional, although many features were missing. And the and with the infrastructure around it was all scaffolding and had to be redone. So there was a lot of work that went into that and, you know, to some extent, you know, you’re talking about my fixing things at Microsoft, I got tired of it, I have to admit, and and I realized how I was tired of picking up other people’s broken stuff.
And you know, when we went and when I joined Snowflake, it was a great group of people with the fundamentals of values that were just deeply correct. Deeply correct. There was nothing really broken at Snowflake, it’s nothing was broken, very little was done. I mean, it was very early, but nothing was broken. I mean, you know, except the scaffolding layer that had to be written, which the, the engineering team was effectively doing. And, you know, I came in there, and, you know, so it was a sort of a ragtag group of great people.
We tried to do a mission statement, which was a complete failure, because I worked with my founders on it, and we were not ready for it, we’re just not ready. And it turned out to be kind of a mamby pamby, little bit of everything, you know, horrible mission statement. So we sort of shelved that, and I put that aside, and then you know, what happened, there was a natural uprising of a desire to express the values of the company and write them down. And that was driven predominantly out of several people in engineering, but it was very infectious across the company. And so, you know, I just encouraged that. And, you know, from that came the first seven values of Snowflake. And, in generally speaking, they’ve been almost unchanged, we enhanced it a little bit. We, a year later, you know, when we did that, those the first seven values, which I’m very proud of those values, and then we realized we were missing something on inclusion, we didn’t we had it in there, but it wasn’t enough. So we added an eighth value.
And I really love some, some of them, you know, like, like, the seventh value is make each other the best. I love that value. Because what else can you, what else do you really want in team and, and and then the last value we added, which I just love these words, I can’t imagine better words is celebrate our differences. And it talks about differences and, and what that means in terms of diversity. And it was fascinating, because about a year later, it’s almost the same timeframe might have been from it was 2016, or 2017. I think it was 2017, when the whole James Damore, I think exploded at Google. And, um, you know, there was all these issues about conservatives inside inside Silicon Valley companies, and, you know, and, and whether their voices were actually heard and stuff. And, and it was a real mess. You know, it’s really problematic for Google. And so I spent a ton of time looking into that, and discovered something fascinating that almost nobody knew. But but but has been what has always been true, which is, Google has no values. Google has no values. They have 10 things we know to be true.
CW: And they have Don’t be evil, you know?
BM: Well, that’s in the 10 things we know to be true. Okay. And 10 things we know to be true is brilliant, but it’s not values, okay. And they also have a code of conduct, which is required, but certainly is not values, that’s thou shalt nots. Values are different, because values are aspirational, or, or maybe not aspirational, but they are, they are not, they are something we always seek to live up to.
And, you know, the thing that’s important about values is we violate our values all the time. We don’t like I don’t like it when I do it, but people do it all the time. And, and sometimes, you know, values or judgment calls, really. Um, so sometimes that’s okay, that they’re, you know, they’re, they’re not, you know, they’re not thou shalt nots, they’re different than that. They are things to attempt to do in the way you live your life, and, and the things that you’re trying to achieve as you interact with everyone, including your customers and your fellow co workers. But we sometimes fall back on that, and we don’t, and we don’t live up to it. But but it’s not a crime. To say I made a mistake, and didn’t follow our values, I did that a number of times, I would get in front of the whole company and say, I don’t think I followed our values here, in this case, and here’s what happened.
And you know, and having that example that says that, hey, you know, when you make a mistake, you will make mistakes on this. You will, um, but you want to work to not your objective is to, is uphold these. And honestly, I will take those those eight values of Snowflake, I mean, you know, you can, as I work with every company I work with, I talk to them about the values they said, and they should set their own values. They’re not… Snowflake, isn’t god given and correct, but they’re darn good. They’re darn good.
The other thing about values, it’s really important I had this conversation with Satya is is that is that they need to be clear. They’re not one word, okay? You can’t explain a value in one word or two words you need a sentence or two. It really matters to put a sentence or two underneath it, to give people guidance. The purpose of values is guidance, to provide guidance to people you have to be they have to understand what it means to be guidance. So if you will look like if you look at the words underneath the values of Snowflake, sometimes they’re surprising. Sometimes they’re not what you would expect. You know, in integrity, we talk about conflict and resolving conflict in integrity. Because that’s what it’s really all about. That’s really where integrity matters. It’s in conflict. Right? And, and so the words you can say, you know, integrity everywhere great integrity ever where great.
But What the heck does that mean? And I think that’s very important these things, and I think was an important part. Again, one of the things I think I’m helpful that is, I think, I am good at understanding what needs to be done in strategy, and then articulating it to people in a way they can hear it.
And you know, in doing that, you have to be clear, simple, simple, simple, simple. And you have to be repetitive, you have to do it again. And again. And again, every time you talk. As a leader, you talk, I didn’t get up once, not once, once, in in five years at Snowflake, did I get up in a team meeting and not mention our values? I don’t think there was a single time.
CW: When snowflake then went to go IPO, they felt like they needed a different, they turned a little to a different form of leadership, a performance-based leadership as opposed to a values-based leadership. Yeah. And you, you, if I could put words in your mouth you you sort of understood that change, but felt it was not a change, not the right thing to do.
BM: Well, yeah, it was it was not communicated to me well. I mean, it was one of the things that in this case, the board at snowflake did not follow our values when they made that transition. Let me say it that let me say it that way. It was it was not a values-led transition. And it was not done in a way that was values-based. There was a great irony of this, which was, I was totally taken by shock. I was shocked. I had no idea. I mean, I should have known if, in retrospect, there were enough challenges I was having with at least one board member, but um, I should have known but I didn’t. Fact is I didn’t.
And the reason I didn’t was very simple, because and I remember a conversation with my head of sales, literally the day of when he was worried that something was coming. I said, That’s not going to happen. He said, Well, how do you know that I said, because they would have talked to me. Maybe they could, I think this couldn’t can’t be happening because no one said anything to me. And so I was totally taken aback when it did happen. And that put made an impossible situation. Because I was, I was literally in an impossible situation.
I, the day before, I had just given a talk, which was in my opinion, perhaps the finest speech I’ve ever given in my life I gave the day before. Um, it was certainly one I will remember the most. And it was a team meeting. And it was literally all about the how and the what. The entire meeting has been 45 minutes talking about the what and the how and how it’s Snowflake. It’s not just the what we do. But it’s the how we do it. And we do the how in a values based way. And I brought that back. And the reason this was important was because we were about to do our first conference in June of 2019. And this was just two months before then I was preparing for my, my biggest talk at Snowflake, which was our conference talk. And I you know, I’d worked with my marketing department and I try to put a whole set of slides together, that literally the next day, I was going to LA to present to some customers as a dry run for this, for this conference, it was coming up in another month and a half.
And the talk was really about the transitions in the world and how technology has affected the world. And how we’ve gone through, you know how we went from I mean, literally going back to the 1700s when we had the Industrial Revolution, and how the combination of water-based power and then ultimately coal and steam, you know, built locomotives and then the electric light bulb, and then all these things and that we’re now in a period of information, we’ve now transitioned into the information age. And you know, Snowflake is a leader in the information and the whole talk was about in this new world we’re moving into, which is all about information and data, Snowflake is a leader in this and therefore how we operate with data because data is so important and it’s so it’s so intertwined with privacy and people’s people’s personal information, how we operate is just as important as the one and this is how we as a company are going to be different because we’re so much our How is so much stronger, and I was fired the next day. And they brought in a performance guy who changed the culture tried at least to change the culture completely.
You know, the company culture has changed considerably. And it’s much more you know, there’s a recent article in Forbes where this was super clear, it’s like, you know, you get one chance. And if you don’t get the chance you get thrown off the boat, he fail, you get thrown off the boat, you don’t get a second chance. And so that’s a style that is a style of management, like I say it goes back at least to the Romans. And it and it is known to be effective. I think it’s very regressive. I think it’s very, I think it’s very yesterday, personally.
I think performance is important. And performance attributes are critical in every culture, they were clearly proudly present in snowflake, we never missed a number, by the way. I mean, in the entire time, I ran the company, we never missed a quarter. And we and we were literally doubling or tripling every year. So you know, we were the little the fastest growing, you know, private company on the planet. We never missed a quarter. And now, you know, they so far they haven’t missed a quarter. Yet. So I hope they don’t miss this quarter.
I think in this performance thing, I do think is a fascinating lessons to learn. Because, I mean, look it, Snowflake has kicked butt! OK, I mean, since, … it’s doing great. It’s where it is today because of the work that was done before Frank got there, unambiguously, and I don’t think anyone questions that, and yet he has done very well, OK, he’s actually been exceedingly successful.
I learned a little bit, I think I learned some things about performance and the importance of interacting with performance, you know, inner dovetailing performance into values. But I again, I don’t think they were absent. I mean, I, you could dial it up a little bit more than we did. But I’m not sure. I mean, again, the results were positive. So I’m not sure any result I’m not sure what what thing I would change except my interactions with the board.
That was the most difficult put aside when my dad died. You know, that’s, it’s that it was that level of an experience. Let me that’s what I compare it to is the loss of my parents. And ah, because it was I lost my I lost my I mean, I lost my family basically. Because Snowflake was my other family. I mean, I had my I have my family, which is wonderful. But but it was my other family.
CW: Bob Muglia has spent a career being a thoughtful and passionate leader with the technical skills and values focus to help teams excel. I want to thank him for his time and for sharing his experience with us.
Leading Smart is from me, Chris Williams. You can find out more about the show and discover other resources for leaders that my website CLWill.com.
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That’s it for this episode. The next episode wraps up this series on organizational culture. We’ll look at how you as a leader can make change happen. I hope you’ll listen. Until then, please remember that each of the several dozen decisions you make today are part of Leading Smart.