What it Takes to Become a Technology C-Suite Executive

Executive meeting

By Martin Mackay

The path to becoming a C-Suite executive is often challenging, filled with both remarkable achievements and formidable obstacles. It’s a journey that shapes leaders, tests their mettle, and often defines the very businesses they lead.

In this interview, Martin Mackay, CRO of Versa Networks, shares critical insights from his 30+ years of experience as a tech leader. Martin’s story is one of resilience, strategic foresight, and strong commitment to his team and business objectives, which can be a great inspiration for the current generation of leaders.

What is your greatest achievement and the biggest challenge you have ever faced?

One standout achievement was leading a significant acquisition valued at $500 million. This endeavour required an intensive due diligence process completed in just four days, followed by a rapid 30-day integration of the business. The eventual outcome of this acquisition was that the parent company I worked for achieved a highly successful exit at approximately $2 billion valuation to private equity.

But what truly resonates with me is how I was able to lead during an acquisition process where there was looming uncertainty. Significant changes in the organisation were clearly coming. During this challenging time, I wasn’t just focused on the business metrics. I prioritised the well-being of our team, customers, and partners. Our collective efforts culminated in a remarkable 30% year-on-year growth in our final quarter. What is very special to me is that the bonds forged during those trying times are still there and stronger than ever. Five years on, my leadership team from that era remains in close contact with each other.

In any business, success is almost always defined by how individuals work as a close-knit team to deliver value. A supportive and cohesive team fosters an environment where individuals feel valued and motivated. This, in turn, contributes to business resilience and adaptability, especially during times of change. 

On the other hand, probably the most significant challenge in my career was taking over as CEO of a struggling business in 2012. Despite its strong technology, the company faced investor fatigue, and an unexpected termination of a key OEM relationship with a much larger technology vendor pushed us into crisis. Leading the company through this critical phase was very difficult and required significant resilience and calmness to make the right decisions. Together with the management team, we navigated these rough waters, focusing on maintaining customer relationships and avoiding bankruptcy.

A large part of this success was also due to the incredible support from my wife, who kept motivating me throughout that difficult period. At the end of the day, having a strong support network always pays off, both professionally and personally. Without effective support and motivation from your peers or close ones, your mental strength might crumble and affect your decision-making.

How would you describe your management style?

I’ve always tried to lead from the front. I firmly believe that a leader should be the first to confront challenges and the last to withdraw in the face of adversity. This style is guided by three fundamental principles: integrity, competence, and benevolence.

As a leader, integrity is everything to me. It’s about maintaining a moral compass and being honest, both in success and in failure. Competence follows closely; it’s crucial that a leader is not just trustworthy but also capable and effective in their role.

Benevolence, as I define it, does not mean weakness. Instead, it’s about treating people with respect and kindness, even in situations where accountability is necessary or when difficult decisions must be made. It’s essential for people to trust their leader and believe that the leader can deliver on promises.

Finally, I always emphasise creating a memorable employee experience. I feel a great sense of self-satisfaction when an employee comes to me and says they will always remember and cherish their experience of working with me. It’s important to regularly communicate with your team about status updates, objectives, progress, and expectations.

What are your three top tips for becoming a C-Suite executive?

The path to becoming a C-Suite executive isn’t going to be the same for everyone. However, there are fundamental principles that have been instrumental in my journey and may serve as valuable guidelines for aspiring leaders.

The most important principle is integrity, it’s non-negotiable. This is more than a virtue; it’s a cornerstone of effective leadership. Integrity builds trust, and trust is the foundation of strong leadership. In the complex and fast-paced world of business, those around you, be it your team, peers, or stakeholders, must believe in your honesty and moral principles.

Then comes mentorship and advocacy. You need someone to look up to. A mentor is not just a guide; they are a challenger, an encourager, and a critical part of your support system. They provide invaluable insights from their experiences and assist in your personal and professional development. Most importantly, a mentor can act as a strong referee in your career journey, which is essential if you’re going to be a C-Suite executive.

Last but not least, a strong work ethic and deep resilience are mandatory. It’s about showing dedication and commitment to your role and responsibilities. Beyond just hard work, it’s the ability to deliver tangible results that sets you apart. Success in your current role is often the most compelling testament to your potential as a C-Suite executive. This track record of achievement is often what catches the eye of decision-makers.

What advice would you give to someone wanting a career in tech?

To be successful in the industry, one needs to first develop a strong passion for technology itself and innovation. This passion fuels curiosity, which is critical for always being up-to-date with the latest trends and developments in tech. Embrace the pace of change in the tech industry as it offers a unique opportunity to constantly learn, grow, and reinvent yourself.

One would also need to focus on effective networking, and I can’t overemphasise this enough. In my experience, every significant career move has been influenced by my professional network. Building relationships within the industry can open doors to new opportunities, provide insights into emerging trends, and offer guidance through the complexities of tech careers.

Most importantly, one needs to find a genuine sense of enjoyment. The tech industry is fantastic. It’s not only global and dynamic but also financially rewarding. However, it’s important to acknowledge that it can be equally challenging and stressful, with high expectations set for professionals. To succeed, you need to be resilient and truly enjoy what you do. Embrace the challenges as part of the journey and find fulfilment in your role, whether you’re developing new technologies, solving complex problems, or driving innovation. The satisfaction derived from making a meaningful impact through tech is what makes a career in this industry truly rewarding.

About the Author

MartinMackayMartin Mackay leads the Versa global sales organization and overall go-to-market. He has a track record driving growth in security, networking and SaaS enterprise software. Prior to joining Versa, Martin has held senior leadership positions with Proofpoint, CA Technologies, Verisign, NorthgateArinso and PeopleSoft and has lived and worked in multiple countries.

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