Dheeraj Pandey is Co-Founder, Chairman and CEO of Nutanix, Inc. (Market Cap of ~USD 3.5 Billion) that had an IPO in September 2016. Nutanix is a cloud computing software company that sells what it calls hyper-converged infrastructure appliances and software-defined storage. He grew up in Patna and is an alumnus of IIT Kanpur and UT Austin.
In our conversation, Dheeraj spoke about his early formative years and the rationale behind some of the initial career choices (writing JEE twice, going for a PhD instead of job and subsequently dropping off the PhD programme). He also talks at length about 4As - Antifragility, Authenticity, Ambition and Attention to Detail that are core to him and the character of Nutanix. He also discusses how he has grown as a leader over time and has scaled up as the organisation has grown over time.
This conversation was published in October 2017.
Nuggets from the
Early formative years (including re-attempting IIT-JEE)
Dheeraj talks about his childhood and how his parents have given him an interesting mix of resolve and humility. He talks about how he thinks about parenting given his context. He also talks about how he processed the trade-offs (including the notion of taking the plunge when the worst is not bad enough) when he retook JEE in 1993 despite getting through in 1992.
Building optionality during early career
Dheeraj talks about the distinction between process and substance in the context of making career choices. He also talks about how he built optionality at various points in his early career.
Relationship between Co-founders and Company
Dheeraj talks about how the relationship between him, the co-founders and the company has evolved over a period of time. He also talks about 4As (Antifragility, Authenticity, Ambition, Attention to detail) which are at the core of how he looks at himself and others he works with.
Evolving as a leader with the company
Dheeraj talks about how he looks at the company like a combination of multiple sub-companies that are building, scaling and maintaining all concurrently. He discusses the notion of arcs of destruction and pursuing multiple arcs at various stages of maturity.
Building an anti-fragile culture
Dheeraj talks about the parallels across the fragility spectrum (that Nassim Nicholas Taleb refers to in his book Anti-Fragile) and the Honesty spectrum (that Mike Robbins refers to) and talks about the similarities across the two. He discusses how he has gone about building authenticity and anti-fragility in every aspect of the business.
Perspectives around career choice
Dheeraj discusses his perspectives on how students and professionals should think about choices and learning. He underscores the criticality of having unfettered curiosity across disciplines similar to Da Vinci who showed equal curiosity to matters of art and science across disciplines.
Hiring senior leaders into Nutanix
One of the key challenges as one moves from a start-up to a scale up includes getting senior talent from the outside and setting them up for success. Dheeraj talks about how he looks for the "operating system" of a leader to see if that fits with Nutanix. He also underscores the importance of focusing on the HOW and not the WHAT in the first 6-9 months.
Work, life and success
People often look at work and life as two different compartments that do not intersect. Dheeraj talks about how he tries to weave in work and life, learns from one and applies in the other and has osmosis going on across the two.
Leadership Development in a turbo-charged environment
Dheeraj talks about how he thinks about evolving as a leader and discusses the criticality of breathing and staying present even during challenging times. He describes his approach to pause and remind himself of the key elements that are core to him and his effectiveness. An interesting insight in the context of the overloaded lives that a lot of leaders are living.
In Summary - Playing to Potential
Dheeraj talks about how businesses and leaders need to have clarity around the interfaces where they have strengths (man-man, machine-machine, man-machine). That self-awareness at an organizational and an individual level can be tremendously insightful in guiding growth and strategy.