"I am a big student of history," said Nutanix's founder and chief executive Dheeraj Pandey, "and I am a fond believer of the adage that the more things change, the more they stay the same."
The CEO's chosen maxim might seem a little out of place for a young company such as Nutanix which, in the scheme of things, has only just started to make waves in the hyperconverged space. But for Pandey, the phrase resonates with his ambition to turn the vendor's early success into something long lasting.
History lessons have become regular events for Nutanix employees. The CEO said he regularly gathers his leadership team, often sitting on beanbags and couches, to learn from the biggest successes and failures of the industry over the last 30 years.
"They're informal gatherings of our leaders. People call them off-sites but for us it is about doing a real, fun, content-rich activity which garners a lot of camaraderie. We do it really differently, and it is real production-quality stuff," said Pandey.
"We bring a lot of people from outside the company - speakers and advisers and board members - and a lot of the time all we talk about is the history of IT in the last 20 to 30 years.
"There's a lot to learn from what went on in that time. A lot of the off-sites are about learning from others who went through their own sagas to discover how things were back in the 90s or 2000s, and to learn about the highs and lows of other giant companies."
Nutanix is only nine years old, and has been publicly listed for a little over 18 months, but it is clear that Pandey possesses an acute awareness of what it will take for Nutanix to become a long-lasting monolith of the IT industry.
He draws inspiration from the term "antifragile" - coined by author Nassim Nicholas Taleb in his book Antifragility - in his ambitions for what he hopes Nutanix will become.
Pandey explained that antifragility stems from a system which thrives on volatility and disorder, only to emerge stronger than ever before. He almost welcomes, and is excitedly anticipating, hardships that Nutanix will inevitably encounter, and aspires to be the CEO of a company that has stared down the barrel of failure, in whatever form it may take.
"One thing we absolutely have a conviction on is companies that grow from small to mid-sized to large firms. One thing that is common about these companies is this idea of staying power. How do you actually get staying power? The only way you get staying power is if you understand that there are highs and lows in life, and when the lows existed for many of these companies, they knew how to improve and how to get better from the lows," he said.
"Antifragile is a state of mind; it is part of the journey, not a destination. If you think about Amazon as a company, their stock went down by 50 per cent three times in their journey. They've had to face two big shocks - one being the recession of 1999 and the other the financial crisis of 2008. If you think about Microsoft and its own antifragility with the Department of Justice, there are all sorts of things that the best companies in the world have gone through."
"Even Facebook, just six months ago, with privacy and Cambridge Analytica, going and asking for forgiveness, look what they're going through right now."
Relearning how to lead
Something that Pandey shares with the CEOs of industry giants Amazon, Facebook and Microsoft is his tech pedigree. Having studied computer science at the Indian Institute of Technology in Kanpur, Pandey went on to study at the University of Texas in 1997, but dropped out after a year. He then worked as a software developer at Trilogy Software, and took on various engineering and developer roles at Zambeel, Oracle and Aster Data Systems before founding Nutanix in 2009.
Discussing the general trend of many vendor giants choosing tech-oriented leaders, Pandey observed that the role of the CEO, as well as the boardroom environment within tech companies, has drastically changed over the last five years.
"Back in the 90s, boardrooms were very different - it was all about chest thumping and braggadocio and it was actually a very inauthentic environment," he said.
"In the last five years, with social media and millennials, for a lot of different reasons, CEOs today are really supposed to connect more with Main Street as opposed to just catering to Wall Street.
"When you have to stay connected to Main Street, you have to be humble, you have to be hungry and you have to be paranoid, and be very honest about things. Because Main Street doesn't give a hoot about what your stock price is. It is demanding more authenticity from itself - from CEOs down, we are having to think about the consumer all the time. That is a great development for our industry."
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