|Home - CEO Spotlight - May 06 Issue
CEO Spotlight: Michael Ruffolo, Liquid Machines, Inc.
By Angel Mehta, Managing Director, Sterling-Hoffman Executive Search
Who is more likely to steal your most private documents or intellectual property – a teen hacker, or a rogue employee? The business world is just now waking up to the fact that the biggest security threat comes from the inside, and up and coming Liquid Machines is poised to capitalize on the rude awakening. Angel Mehta, Managing Director at Sterling-Hoffman, chats with Liquid Machines" CEO Mike Ruffolo about the emerging market for enterprise rights management.
Angel Mehta: How did you get involved in business? Were you from a business family?
Mike Ruffolo: My dad had great success both as a Division President for a large company as well as the CEO of a private company that he founded. He still remains very active in business as a Board member and mentor to business school students. Naturally, I was exposed to the way businesses operate through those experiences. In college, I did a couple of business internships and 20+ years later, I have never looked back.
Angel Mehta: Is there any truth to the theory that CEO DNA is 'in the blood'?
Mike Ruffolo: I'm not sure, but I can tell you that I am the fifth of seven kids and we all do very different things in our careers. For example, my oldest brother is a human resources executive in the auto industry while my oldest sister is a professor at the University of Michigan. My next two brothers are very diverse as well – one runs a private law firm while the other is a gastroenterologist. Finally, my younger siblings went in different career directions; my younger brother is a senior marketing executive while my baby sister is a very popular high school teacher. Bottom line, I don't see a pattern there but I can say that we all pursued our different dreams – certainly makes for fun family reunions at minimum.
Angel Mehta: At one point, and I'm sure you've been asked this question before, you served as CIO. Now, having served on both the vendor side and the buyer side, is it your opinion that CIOs today get it when it comes to knowing how to buy and who to buy from?
Mike Ruffolo: The CIOs that are successful – meaning the ones that have established themselves as leaders in their companies – are successful because they have understood both the technology and its application to the business. For CIOs to earn a legitimate seat at the table, they need to understand how technology can help the business win. Those are the ones who are savvy buyers of technology and 'get it', as you say.
Angel Mehta: So do most of them get it, or not?
Mike Ruffolo: Yes, most do get it or they get replaced. The biggest challenge for a CIO is how to best spend their time keeping abreast of both the advances in technology as well as the rapidly changing needs of the business.
Angel Mehta: What advice do you have for a CIO when working with vendors, particularly early stage vendors? Is there anything you feel that they don't really know or don't really understand that they should?
Mike Ruffolo: Early stage companies like Liquid Machines are really the innovation engines of the industry. Frankly, most CIOs I talk to are under whelmed by the lack of original thinking and new ideas that come from their established vendors. CIOs are well-served to take meetings with innovators like Liquid Machines as we are frequently the best source for solving their business/technology problems.
So what I would say to any CIO of a large company today is to do a scan of the marketplace for promising technology that addresses problems for them – it's out there, you just need to look beyond your top 3 enterprise vendors. Of course, evaluating the stability of a small vendor, including their partnerships, etc., is still important.
Angel Mehta: I understand the vendor stability issue – as in, does this company have enough cash to last for a few years – but are partnerships that important? How important has Liquid Machines" alliances with Microsoft and others been to your success thus far?
For example, in our business, having the strong endorsement and co-marketing support of Microsoft enables our prospects to feel comfortable with their software investments in Liquid Machines. Without question, the combination of Liquid Machines and Microsoft gives them the most scalable enterprise rights management solution available.
Angel Mehta: Do CIOs pay more attention to what you say because you've been one of them?
Mike Ruffolo: Certainly there's a kindred spirit feeling… I'd say it gives me some credibility to have been a CIO of a Fortune 500 company where I speak their language. I understand the risks and opportunities associated with investing in technology. CIOs today have a job that keeps getting harder and harder because the demands are much more dramatic. It's not just about maintaining compliance with all the various regulations, but it's about how to use technology to have a meaningful impact on the business. Having empathy for the role helps me a lot.
Angel Mehta: What I don't understand is how you ever rose to the position of CIO when you don't really have a deep technical background.
Mike Ruffolo: Actually it's a pretty funny story, Angel. I was at NCR when I became the CIO and like you said, had come up through sales and marketing. At the time, I was leading our services business and our customers were CIOs in major corporations. Spending time with external IT organizations, I naturally had very strong opinions about how well our IT organization was doing its job. In the end, I got a reputation with our CEO as being the biggest complainer in the company…
Angel Mehta: So whining got you promoted?! [Laughing]
Mike Ruffolo: Sort of. He said to me, "Ok, you know how IT in outside companies works, you go fix our mess!" It turned out to be a great career move for me, but certainly not one that I had planned for.
Angel Mehta: What would you complain about?
Mike Ruffolo: Oh, the normal things every end-user complains about with their internal service provider. Mostly, it was about access to information in real time – the ability to know that you can get to information wherever you need it, wherever you happen to be. Having been a guy that was traveling a lot, it was very important to have easy access to all information to do my job and I always felt like that was a constraint within our company at the time.
CEO: Michael Ruffolo|
Company: Liquid Machines, Inc.
About Michael Ruffolo
President and CEO
About Liquid Machines, Inc.
- Better known as: Mike
- Company Tenure: 1 year 9 months (Joined September 2004)
- Experience: Over 20 years
- Academic Background: Graduated summa cum laude from the University of Dayton, earned an MBA from Harvard Business School, and has completed the Advanced Management Programme at the European Institute of International Business
- Business Background: Global sales and marketing management, professional services, operations and information technology
- Founded: 2001
- Offices: Waltham, MA
- Focus: Enterprise Rights Management
- Competitors: eMeta Corporation, Pinion Software, Inc., SealedMedia
- Stock Market: Privately held company
- Venture Finance: Atlas Venture, Masthead Venture Partners, and Draper Fisher Jurvetson