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CEO Spotlight: Burton Goldfield, Ketera Technologies, Inc.

By Angel Mehta, Managing Director, Sterling-Hoffman Executive Search

Who would leave an SVP role with a market leading software company (Hyperion), in the middle of a record quarter, for a tiny software startup that most people have never heard of? Burton Goldfield, CEO of Ketera Technologies, talks with Angel Mehta, Managing Director of Sterling-Hoffman, about letting the best ideas win, what he learned when Big Blue acquired Rational, and what every sales executive should know – if they want to be CEO.

Angel Mehta: I noticed you graduated with a biomedical engineering degree… that realm is cutting edge today, never mind back then – so how did you end up in software rather than the medical industry?

Burton Goldfield: I went to an on-campus interview for American Hospital Supply Corporation, which was a multi-billion dollar company some 26 years ago. The interviewer asked me to talk about what I believed in and what I was interested in. I went over my vision about why computers were going to change the world and how having information at your fingertips fundamentally changes processes and the ways things are done. After a short thirty-minute interview, I never expected to hear from them again. Two days later, I got a call and a plane ticket to fly to their Chicago head office. They said, “We’re building a new division to provide automated order entry and financial systems for our client hospitals using the greatest new technology!” This great technology was 1,200 BAUD acoustic coupler modems and 10 MB disc packs that they picked up in cars at the hospitals each night for processing.

The morning after I graduated from Syracuse University, AHS showed up with a giant moving truck and started packing and loading my Flintstone jelly glasses, old couch and milk crate full of record albums. When I asked the guy, “How much are they paying to move me from Syracuse to Chicago?” They said, “Maybe $5000.00.” I remember thinking, “Everything in my apartment together is probably worth less than $100.00.” That is how I got deeply involved in the software industry and I have never considered leaving.

Angel Mehta: You should have just asked them for a $5k signing bonus and left everything behind [Laughing]…

Burton Goldfield: I’m a lot smarter now, Angel. That was one of those epiphanies that you get later on in life.

Angel Mehta: Let’s talk about Ketera… what motivated you to join the company?

Burton Goldfield: The Ketera business model was very important. Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) offers a delivery model that allows complete alignment between the company and the customer. I’ve been in this industry for 26 years and this really is disruptive technology. SaaS allows for getting customers up very quickly. Having a single well understood code base, one operating system and middleware layer allows for quick innovation in the products. The payment model is such that we get paid for delivering value over time. The traditional software model required charging large sums of money from customers, months or years before they see value because of the long implementation time.

The second thing that excited me about Ketera had to do with customers. I spoke to several of them and they were thrilled… United Airlines… BP… American Express… Pepsi. I spent years in field management and can tell you that establishing those relationships is one of the toughest things to do and Ketera had gotten over that hump.

Angel Mehta: What caught my eye is that Hyperion was doing incredibly well when you left. They finished with a record quarter and you left right in the middle, didn’t you? It wasn’t like it was a sinking ship…. Was that a tough decision?

Burton Goldfield: Yes, it was a very difficult decision. I loved my team at Hyperion. The investors in Ketera had a lot to do with my decision to join the company. Each time I met with the investors from Kleiner Perkins, Foundation Capital, and Emergence Capital, I became more excited and I realized I was thinking more about Ketera than my team of 1,800 people at Hyperion. I knew it was time to go.

Angel Mehta: Tell me about the first 90 days.

Burton Goldfield: My first priority was to meet the team. Ketera has a substantial portion of the employee population in India. We have a wholly owned subsidiary in Bangalore. I committed to getting over there within my first three weeks and spend time with them, which was a phenomenal experience. We have a unique product management operation that is vertically integrated and wholly owned. It’s totally different from the classic outsourcing software development or testing model, which I was very familiar with in the past – both at Hyperion and at Rational Software. Our Bangalore operation has a level of energy that I haven’t seen since the boom in Silicon Valley during the late ’90s - when people worked 24 hours a day and totally focused on building out cool products. My goal was to meet the entire worldwide team and let them get to know me. It was important that they understood why I had come to Ketera, which was to build a great company over the long-term.

The second priority was to meet the major customers face-to-face and begin to understand where we add the most value. What I found at Ketera was a team of very strong individual contributors that I call ‘heroes’, focused on delivering this value, but not a lot of sharing of information, not a lot of leveraging of business processes across the company – so people keep stumbling over the same rock. I had a lot of experience solving this problem in bigger companies by driving repeatable processes. Once achieved, you can bring people on quickly, get them up to speed and have them add value to the customers in a very efficient manner.


Chief Executive Officer:
Burton Goldfield

Ketera Technologies, Inc.

  • Favorite movie: Lawrence of Arabia
  • Favorite activity on Weekends: Riding my bicycle in the hills of California
  • Favorite book: The End of History and the Last Man by Francis Fukuyama
  • Favorite food: Philadelphia Soft Pretzels

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