When most people hear the word “pivot” they imagine the agile, effortless movement of an experienced athlete. But, for CEOs like Chet Kapoor, Christopher Cabrera, and Joe Ruck, pivoting in the business world–making sharp turns in strategy to capitalize on new opportunities–is anything but effortless.
On Thursday, November 21, in a room packed with students and faculty, a panel of three CEOs discussed their theories and hands-on experience in adapting their businesses for growth. The event was moderated by Professor Charles Hill and hosted by Neal Dempsey–the Foster School’s visiting 2013-2014 Edward V. Fritzky Chair in Leadership–who brought the three Silicon Valley CEOs to Dempsey Hall.
The discussion began with each CEO describing how they knew when the time was right to “pivot”–i.e., redefine and reconfigure their business–and how they managed to enact such drastic change. Afterwards, the floor was opened for audience questions. Prompted by students, the CEOs launched into a discussion on the difficulties of managing both internal and external buyin. Cabrera emphasized the need for decisive action: “You’re the CEO; you’re on the ground; you have to make the decisions.” Kapoor mentioned transparency as an effective method of earning internal and external trust, and Ruck underscored the importance of having a core team of true believers.
The three CEOs combined brought over a half-century of experience to bear in the discussion. Kapoor, CEO of Apigee, has spent more than 20 years in leadership positions in innovative software and hardware companies. Cabrera, founder, president and CEO of Xactly, is a seasoned executive with more than two decades of successful senior management experience at both early-stage and public companies. Ruck, President and CEO of BoardVantage, held marketing and executive positions at several software companies prior to leading his company from being a startup to its current position as a technology leader.
Over the course of the evening, Cabrera, Kapoor, and Ruck discussed topics such as how to foster a culture of open dissent, how to react when pivoting goes awry, and what the life of a CEO is truly like. They offered a diverse array of strategies and opinions; however, on the subject of the challenge of maintaining a competitive advantage, the three CEOs professed similar beliefs in maintaining momentum by being open to new opportunities. “You don’t win a race by looking back. You win by looking ahead,” Kapoor said.