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CEO Spotlight: Gregory P Burnell, 6th Sense Analytics
By Angel Mehta, Managing Director, Sterling-Hoffman Executive Search
'A bit untypical’ is how he likes to describe himself when it comes to his various work experiences. Greg thinks differently – even when it came to starting his own company, he chose an area where few had ventured before. Angel Mehta, Managing Director of Sterling-Hoffman, speaks with Greg Burnell, CEO, 6th Sense Analytics, on the company he co-founded, his shortcomings and the part of the job that he dislikes the most and yet embraces.
Angel Mehta: What were your biggest influences growing up? Did you see yourself as an entrepreneur when you were younger?
Greg Burnell: In a way. I grew up in a family of somewhat modest means…we had what we needed, but not much else. In general, though, my family was very entrepreneurial. They all worked independently their whole lives and they never really worked in large companies. I grew up in the mountains of West Virginia, so a slightly different lifestyle in early childhood than most entrepreneurs, I suspect. Running in the woods, hunting and fishing, and doing things like that. And it was a pretty idealistic lifestyle to grow up in. I always laugh because I kinda felt like I was born in the wrong place. I wondered if I wasn’t supposed to be in New York City. Always had big dreams.
Angel Mehta: So if you remember feeling like you were born in the wrong place…do you think that a feeling like that tends to be intrinsic in people, or was it something about the influencers in your life that would have caused that kind of spirit?
Greg Burnell: Good question. I’m not sure if it’s intrinsic or not, but I grew up with three brothers…and with having a lot of brothers around you, you have people pushing you, demanding you be the best you can be, beating you up…. (Laughing)…almost all of them own their own businesses, or several businesses.
Angel Mehta: I know very few sales executives who ended up creating software companies of their own; most founders are the technical wizards hidden deep inside the bowels of big companies that aren’t getting the creative freedom they want. How did you come to found 6th Sense Analytics?
Greg Burnell: All the companies I’ve been part of were in the technology world…we’ve sold a number of the companies, we’ve merged, we’ve grown, we’ve created some world class enterprises. But at some point you get this urge to sit down and take an idea and bring it to fruition and see if you really have the moxy to make it happen. In my Co-Founder, Todd Olson, I found someone that I could work with; that we had a common view of certain things that we thought were possible. We believed we should take on challenges that other people weren’t willing to do and that’s sort of what we did. So that’s how we landed here.
Angel Mehta: How do you feel the various work experiences you’ve had have contributed to the kind of CEO that you are today?
Greg Burnell: The big contribution is the fact that I’ve worked in so many of the functions that now report to me…Sales, Accounting…having led software projects…worked in IT…I’m a bit untypical in that way. I feel like I can bring at least some value to just about every function because of how
diverse my background has been.
Angel Mehta: Do you ever feel that you’re lacking in any areas as CEO? What part of the job do you feel least comfortable with?
Greg Burnell: Well, until you actually start a company, you really don’t know. I think until you sit in the chair, I don’t believe you realize how hard it is or what the opportunities are. I will tell you that venture capital is its own animal, if you will. So understanding the venture capital markets and how you navigate those and make the right decisions for your company, bring the right people into your company, put the right people on the board, I think those are experiences that you need to do several times before you really get a high degree of confidence, I’m like everybody in the world, I have my own shortcomings. Time management is always a challenge for a CEO and keeping your priorities in front of you and it’s a daily challenge to try to keep yourself focused. But I work on those things like I hope everybody in my organization does. And I think those are fundamental skill sets that we constantly improve upon as we go through our careers.
Angel Mehta: What was the genesis for 6th Sense Analytics?
Greg Burnell: I’ve spent a lot of time in my career on application development…the infrastructure surrounding software projects. And my Co-Founder and I sat down and the conversation that really became the impetus for creating 6th Sense Analytics was: What is the largest challenge that no one seems willing to take on? And we came to the conclusion that visibility and understanding the dynamics of a software engineering process is still a very nascent thing. People don’t really know how software is built – it’s so complex. That was the ‘why’ behind 6th Sense.
Angel Mehta: What part of your job do you dislike the most?
Greg Burnell: I think when you’re CEO and you care about the people you work with, you always want better for everybody. You want everyone’s performance to be better; you want the company to be more successful. I think I’m probably more humanistic than some people in that I take things very, not necessarily, personally, but I take them to heart and I want the best for everyone at 6th Sense Analytics. I take my obligations and responsibilities very seriously. As CEO, I am not just responsible for the company, but also for the people that choose to come and work here and put their careers in our hands. I both dislike and embrace this responsibility because it’s what I wanted. But it’s what keeps me up at night and is what challenges me to do the very best I can on a daily basis to ensure that I’m not letting anyone down and that I’m doing the things that I should do to help everyone achieve their individual goals.
Angel Mehta: Have you found that the IT Department is becoming more or less relevant, let’s say over the last five to seven years in the buying process for software?
Greg Burnell: Well, not necessarily less relevant, particularly for us. I mean, ultimately someone that owns the success of a piece of software, that person is key in the buying process. To that extent, I think that we’re intimately involved with both the business user and the technology user. The information that we hope to bring to light really serves both constituencies. Ultimately, software development is all about three things: On time, on budget and meets the needs of the user. So, in serving those three goals, the final one is always that the application in fact does what it’s supposed to do. So as a software solution for software development teams, we need to make sure that we’re aligned all these goals. In deployment, in the day-to-day utilization of the technology, certainly the engineering teams and the product management teams are the ones that are...consumers are large, but ultimately what it comes down to is strategically making decisions – what stays and what goes, what gets built, what software projects go offshore, what stays onshore – all of the dynamics of the business that happen financially is the software. At 6th Sense, we believe we play a very strategic role in all those positions.
Greg Burnell is Chairman and CEO of 6th Sense Analytics, a pioneer in improving software development metrics. He is a twenty-year industry veteran with a broad background in all aspects of business operations, finance and sales. Prior to co-founding 6th Sense Analytics, Greg was Worldwide Vice President of Sales with Worksoft, a functional testing company based in Dallas, Texas. As part of the executive team, he played a significant role in securing a Series D funding round of $12 million to assist the company in executing its growth strategy. Greg was Chief Operating Officer at TeamShare, a workflow automation software company, and initiated the acquisition of TeamShare by Serena Software in 2003. Prior to TeamShare, he was the Vice President of North American field operations at TogetherSoft, where he was instrumental in leading the company as a key executive team member in the execution of TogetherSoft’s acquisition by Borland Software in 2002. Prior to that, Greg was with Rational Software Corporation, as a District Manager serving the Eastern US. Prior to Rational, he was with Pure-Atria, Pure Software and Performix , where he served in various roles from Account Executive to Regional Manager. For interview feedback, contact Greg at
Angel Mehta is Managing Director of Sterling-Hoffman, a retained executive search firm focused on VP Sales, VP Marketing and CEO searches for enterprise software companies and lead investor in
www.softwaresalesjobs.com , the #1 site for software sales jobs. Angel can be reached for feedback at