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CEO Spotlight: Dave Peranich, Centrata Inc.
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Angel Mehta: What are some of the ‘fixes’ you had to make immediately upon joining Centrata as CEO?
Dave Peranich: When I first got here, there were very little sales and marketing, so the first thing was building up that team. The next challenge was the company’s approach to the market. Centrata was a classic engineering-led company and its approach to the market revolved around features and functions. If you look at what Centrata has, it can be pitched as either an infrastructure tool or as a solution to a specific business problem. The tendency of most engineering centric companies is to build a product and be proud of it, talk about it and show the features and function. What we really needed was to elevate the message beyond the technology infrastructure and focus around solution sets to solve the customer’s specific problems.
Angel Mehta: Sounds like the basic problem that most infrastructure companies have.
Dave Peranich: Exactly.
Angel Mehta: How does the experience of serving as a CEO of a company like Centrata compare to being a General Manager or a Business Unit Manager within a larger entity like Siebel? What took you by surprise?
Dave Peranich: Overall, I enjoy Centrata much more. I suppose that in a larger entity you have the security of knowing that there’s going to be money to fuel what you need to do. You don’t have to worry about running to Kinkos for copies or anything like that. However, at a larger company, you don’t have the autonomy you want to get things done. You’re dependent on shared services from everywhere and you can put all the plans in the world in place but you can’t necessarily execute them because of these dependencies. Whereas in a start-up you have much more finite resources…you always feel like there’s never enough support. But at least you have the autonomy to decide how you want to allocate resources. Siebel was an incredible organization, and decisions are made all the time above you. You sit there as an armchair quarterback, question the decisions and say, “I wouldn’t have done it that way”. But at a company like Centrata, you finally get a chance to actually make the call and observe whether you were right or wrong. I would have to say that overall this is much more fulfilling.
You asked about surprises….and really, there weren’t any negative ones. The only surprise was how quickly the market evolved to the point where the need for a solution has been accepted…it’s been surprising how quickly demand has increased. But that’s really it.
Angel Mehta: You said that your key motivation in going to Siebel was to prepare yourself for a CEO position later on. Looking back on the time at Siebel, what kind of impact did it have on the CEO you are today? What are some of the things that Siebel did really well at?
Dave Peranich: That’s a great question. Siebel was by far, bar none, the best at tactical business execution and sales focused execution that I have ever seen in a software company. The focus of the management team on core metrics around the business, around fixing problems, around reporting on them, as well as the core focus of every single executive being involved in sales, was outstanding.
Angel Mehta: My other question would be, what were some of the weaknesses of Siebel’s culture?
Dave Peranich: In the early days, although the new management is changing this now, there was a challenge around control and the fact that Siebel was a very strong central decision-making kind of an organization, which often made it a challenge to get things done. So I learned that when you hire great people you’ve got to give them some autonomy. That’s what we’re very much trying to do here. I can’t solve every problem in this company nor do I want to. I want to be apprised of them and have visibility, but I want my team to drive the answers to the challenges and not me.
Angel Mehta: Do you find huge differences in the nature of the culture between organizations that are already well established? For example, are there severe differences between the culture at Remedy and say, Siebel?
Dave Peranich: Absolutely. The difference between a Remedy and a Siebel is like night and day. The culture at Remedy was a very family-focused culture. You felt like you were part of a family, a team that was fun to hang around. They accomplished great things but took the time to have fun while they were doing it.
Siebel probably got a lot more done in a shorter period of time. Siebel was very much a place where you went to do business, not focused on fun, not focused on family, but always focused on the objective of the day. At Centrata, we’re trying to strike a balance between the two cultures; we focus on the execution element that we need to solve today but try to have a good time while we’re doing it.
Angel Mehta: If you’re running a division in a larger company for most of your career, how do you know if you’re ready for the challenges of a smaller software company? What advice would you have for other executives that may be considering that same move?
Dave Peranich: You know what, Angel, every time I’ve made a move I’ve never known if I was ready. But I’ve always assumed that I could get the job done if I surrounded myself with the right kind of people. You can’t do this job without a fair amount of general management experience across sales, marketing, products…but I think the key is being able to focus on what’s important at the time. I mean you see some guys who’ve gone into this with much less experience than I have and they come out shining. Other guys who have much more experience end up failing. How does either person know if they’re ready? They don’t. The real question is, are you ready to make the sacrifices required to succeed? Because once you become the CEO, it requires more than just ‘commitment’. It requires ownership. You are owned by your commitment to the company. That is way different than being a VP in a large organization.
David M. Peranich is President and CEO of Centrata. Dave has over twenty years of experience in sales, business and product development for some of the world's largest enterprise software companies. Most recently, Dave was vice president and general manager of worldwide alliances for Siebel Systems, the industry's leading CRM provider. Under his leadership, the alliance organization drove well in excess of $300m in revenues annually. Dave can be reached for feedback at: email@example.com
Angel Mehta is Managing Director at Sterling-Hoffman, a retained executive search firm focused on VP Sales, VP Marketing, and CEO searches for enterprise software companies. He can be reached for feedback at: firstname.lastname@example.org