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Friday, Jun 9, 2023

Leaders Tell How to Form a Team

Executives involved with three local tech-related firms gave pointers on how to build a successful senior management team at a Gold Coast Forum gathering on Nov. 10 in Camarillo. The approximately 100 people attending heard from Dirk Gates, the CEO of Westlake Village-based Xirrus, Inc., Jeff Pullen, the COO of Westlake Village-based ValueClick, Inc. and Susan Lundeen, the vice president of human resources for Thousand Oaks-based Activus Healthcare Solutions. They advised the members of the group on topics such as the right types of managers to choose, how to build a corporate culture and how to manage rapid growth, among others. Gates was the first of the trio to speak and drew upon his experience not just at Xirrus, Inc. but at Xircom, the company that he co-founded and led to yearly revenues of $500 million before selling to Intel in 2001. “One of the keys to our success at Xircom was getting a great venture capital firm to give us not just funding but the connections and help that our growing company needed,” Gates said. “Thanks to the firm that we enlisted, Greylock Capital, we got help in hand-picking our entire first management team. They came from the connections that the venture team had and helped us attract a wonderful outside board. We didn’t even have any misfires in hiring until we hit the $100 million mark.” But Gates admitted the difficulties that occurred when he attempted to grow his former company from $100 million to $500 million. Gates said that he used a professional search firm to help him build his team, which only led to about half of his hires being effective. “If I had to do it again, I’d get rid of these bad hires as quickly as possible,” Gates said. “You need to react rapidly to success or failure at the management level. The majority of the time when you finally cut the bad hires loose, the rest of the management team says ‘thank god finally.’ You always need to have your finger on your team’s pulse.” Pullen, who joined ValueClick in December of 2003, after it purchased his previous company, Commission Junction, equated building a strong business team to sports. “You need to have solid chemistry in the interactions between the members of your team,” Pullen said. “You need to know your team’s strengths and weaknesses. Know what buttons you can push and what you can’t and learn how to get your players in the right positions. I believe in the best athlete philosophy and want people that are good at lots of different things on my team.” Lundeen, who formerly worked as the senior human resources director at Amgen until approximately five weeks ago, drew on her past experiences there for the panel. “At Amgen we went through a dynamic over-engineering of assessing the different executives that we had there,” Lundeen said. “We boiled it down to a simple nine-block grid which our CEO looked at and analyzed with our top 15 leaders. It allowed us to figure out what we needed to develop and we did quarterly assessments of the management team.” Another topic that the speakers extensively discussed was how to build corporate culture. “We’ve done a lot of acquisitions at ValueClick and when we’re thinking about purchasing a company, we extensively analyze their employees and their corporate culture,” Pullen said. “But it’s always important to match culture with people. I’ve seen lots of leaders be effective in creating a culture unique to them. But you need to reinforce it from the top. If you don’t they’ll build it from the bottom, and it might not be what you want.” Jeffrey Harris, the vice president of secure transcript services for Los Angeles-based secure transcript firm Docufide, said he was impressed by the speakers. “I think it’s amazing when people from a small business like Docufide can hear from seasoned executives like the speakers today,” Harris said. “I was especially attracted to Pullen’s words because of his experiences with acquisitions and how to build corporate culture. ValueClick has had so many acquisitions and I’d always wondered how they managed to do that and still keep their momentum going.”

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