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Episode 5 | May 19, 2021

Dan Krantz, Keysight Technologies CIO

Dan talks leadership and startups, while also managing to bring up nuclear launch codes, 6G, and much more.

  • From Los Alamos National Laboratory to HP (0:51)
  • Lessons from serving as CISO (4:21)
  • Generating leads with IT (8:58)
  • Why CISO’s should “stay in the pack” (13:06)
  • Changes Keysight made to better work with startups (15:34)
  • What comes after being CIO? (20:35)
“The startups that find some companies like us to partner with are going to be the most successful because now they're going to get real world input, tailoring their solutions to fix real world problems right then and there, and it'll take off.”
Dan Krantz
Keysight Technologies CIO

Episode Transcript

Luke [00:00:00] This is Atolio conversations, I’m Luke Alie. Dan Krantz is the CIO at Keysight Technologies, a Fortune 1000 company making equipment and software for testing electronics. I’ll keep this intro brief because Dan does an excellent job talking about his background. But I will say that in this conversation about his approach to leadership and working with startups, we do manage to talk about nuclear launch codes, 6G what lies beyond being CIO and more. And with that, over to my conversation with Dan Krantz. Dan, thanks so much for coming on the show.

Dan [00:00:50] Happy to be here.

Luke [00:00:52] So I want to start by asking you about your background and how you arrived at quayside, which you’ve been at since it first spun out from Agilent Technologies, is that right?

Dan [00:01:02] So key site spun out from Agilent, which spun out from Hewlett-Packard. But how did I get at Hewlett-Packard? I mean, this is this is the story of who I am. I grew up in Los Alamos, New Mexico, which is the site of the Manhattan Project, the invention of atomic weapons. Really unfortunate predicament, but I joined the National Laboratory as a software engineer and classified high performance computing. And that was at the end of the Cold War. And my mission was to digitize our nation’s nuclear weapons codes. And what I learned at that point in time was that the difference technology can make in making our world a better place, because the challenge for us at that time, the destruction of the Soviet Union and the threat of nuclear proliferation throughout those states and coming together as a as a world to stop nuclear proliferation using digital technologies. High-Performance Computing was a game changer for my career in terms of what you can do with technology to make the world a better place. So after that time at the National Lab, I pivoted over to the private sector, which is Hewlett Packard, and that was at the age of 3G cellular technology. We’re talking about 5G today. Right. But 3G was the first time we put data on our cell phones, those giant bricks you see in old 1990s movies. And I joined HP to work on that pursuit and spend three years trying to get a solution set out. And eventually, 70 percent of the world’s cell phones were produced, designed, tested by equipment. And again, I could see technology was making a difference in the world. And so I stuck with HP. We became Agilent. Agilent became a key site. And throughout that journey, my goal was to take the technology inside our company and make our company that much more successful. So the technical computing role that I did for 11 years was entirely focused on the R&D labs, all of our engineers and scientists in our company. After that 11 year run, I got a knock on the door from the CIO that said, be really good for your career if you do a role in our I.T., in our corporate functions, finance, HRR, logistics and supply chain. And I thought, how boring, right? It’s like the excitement of R&D and scientists and changing the world. And so I said, no thanks. I was twenty eight. So then the CFO called me and said, didn’t you hear what your boss said, the CEO, maybe you should really consider this role change. And so I thought, OK, if I got a CIO and a CFO saying I might want to consider this other opportunity, maybe I should listen. So that’s the turning point. That’s the pivot. Yeah. Let me go ahead and take a run at doing some applications and some work in these corporate functions, which I thought would be kind of boring. It was anything but because what happened in 2008, we head into the Great Recession, a massive disruption in our economies. And I’m in charge of all the applications that are basically feeding the data and the insights to the CFO of the company and how to navigate through that. And and look, that’s kind of where we just took off in terms of then rotating around to every parts of every part of the organization to kind of see the role that it can play in every facet of the company, not just in the R&D labs, but now every part of it.

Luke [00:04:17] Yeah. So I know that the first couple of years you say you hold CEO responsibilities as well. So I wanted to ask how that now informs your perspective as a CIO.

Dan [00:04:29] Yeah, it’s well, on one hand it kind of freaks me out because now I know just how dangerous the world is. But that was one of those where I actually intentionally raised my hand as I was finishing the different rotations around the CIO staff in the Agilent days. The one area that I had really not gained much experience along that journey was in the cybersecurity space. And so as we spun out and became key site, it’s a great chance to say we’ve got a clean sheet of paper. Who’s going to do what said, hey, I’ll I’ll give that cybersecurity thing a shot. You know, would you have me as the CEO? The answer was sure. Let’s go for it. And and so it absolutely interesting to see a couple of things. One, to kind of look at just how much risk is out there and that we are confronting and and and started trying to quantify what that means and think that through across the entire horizontally, across the entire not just I.T. landscape, but our entire technical landscape. Because typically, see, CEOs are not just responsible for the core IT stack, it’s even the other intellectual property and other technical environments that may be, especially in tech companies, are highly prominent in R&D labs. So it gave me a real good horizontal view across the company, around information, what it takes to protect it. And the second thing that it did, it really opened my eyes to how to communicate about it with the board and just realize it’s so much stuff. They absolutely do not care about that. I wanted to tell the story about all the nuts and bolts and the technical stuff and use all the hacker terminology just right over the heads. Does not matter, does not resonate, and learning to be able to communicate in in a way that makes sense to them about business risk. That was the probably the biggest learning for me as a CEO as to how to communicate with the non-technical crowd, even though some of the board members. Absolutely. In their career super technical as well. But this cybersecurity stuff is just so different and the jargon that’s thrown around and it changes a lot to then translate to business risk. And what we’re doing about it was the key insight for me.

Luke [00:06:42] Gotcha. So how does that inform the relationship that you have with your CEO now?

Dan [00:06:47] Yeah, so the our current CEO works for me, so he’s on my staff. And when I hired him, I went into it with a very different view, kind of rather than thinking about trying to recruit a cybersecurity technologist, I was looking for a team player, someone that could really rally the entire troops, not just within it, but across the business, someone that could build coalitions and basically deputize everybody in the company to be a cyber warrior on the defense. And so it completely changed what I was looking for, having done it and realizing it takes a village to protect the intellectual property. And so when I hired Scott, I could see in him that he’s the kind of guy that builds coalitions.

Luke [00:07:32] Would you say that that’s like a wider, like, rule of thumb when hiring a CEO? Is this idea of prioritizing coalition building over like hard core subject matter expertize?

Dan [00:07:44] I think there are circumstances where you you may need a disruptor. In our situation. We’re a very relationship rich company. We get things done through relationship. And knowing that that that’s in our culture, we’re number one. And number two, knowing that we already had very talented technologists in the cybersecurity team informed my opinion that a relational coalition builder and a translator of techno speak and techno geek into business language, that’s what I needed. I would I would bet that in most tech companies that that that’s probably what you want to you want to find, it may be different in the non tech sectors where you may need your CEO and your other leaders of the CIO staff to be pretty hardcore technologists, as well as business leaders in case I needed someone that could could rely on on the technical expertize because we have such breadth of technical expertize, being a tech company and it’s rallying all of that, that brainpower that is is the key to our success.

Luke [00:08:55] So zooming out from these individual titles, do you have any thoughts on the broader role of it, specifically at a tech company?

Dan [00:09:06] Well, I don’t have as much experience or exposure to what it’s like to run the tech department in a non tech company, but I do know what it’s like in a tech company and trying to have the IT team feel valued when in most tech companies do you live or die by innovation. And that comes out of your R&D labs and you innovate product, innovate solutions out of your R&D teams. Those are where all the dollars go to make a difference. And it makes perfect sense to me strategically because you may have a world class I.T. platform, but if you’re not bringing new technology products to market, what’s the point? You’ll go out of business. You need to perpetually innovate. That’s why in Key Site, we were working on 3G in the 90s, working on 4G and in the in the 2000s we’ve been working on 5G wireless technology since 2013 where the leaders in 5G. But guess what? We’re already working on 60 terabit downloads, terabit per second downloads, which is unheard of. We can’t even get we’re just working on gigabit download speeds on our phones for 5G, but we’re already working on inventing 16. We’re working on quantum computing. These are super smart people. So my challenge in running it in a in a company surrounded by that is elevating its game to be on par with these brilliant people. And we’re pivoting to having it actually play a little bit on offense because Kissi does play in the IT industry. And so I’m considering it as a lead generator, talking to CEOs and see CEOs out there about the solutions that kiss I can help bring to them. To do that, I have to have a really strong technical team and that’s been part of our transformation in the last couple of years is is really upping our our technology bench strength in the IT organization to really keep pace with the technologies we’ve got in sight.

Luke [00:11:03] You mentioned it being a source of lead generation. Can you tell me more about the.

Dan [00:11:08] In the past, quayside had largely sold its hardware instruments, its products to electrical engineers and RF engineers in in our in our customers over the last three or four years, we’ve continued to do that. And we’ve layered on top of those hardware products, a suite of software portfolios and a suite of capabilities for companies to do a lot of test and measurement of their applications stack. That starts to cater to the IT departments of our customers, so when we used to call on the electrical engineers and RF engineers and those labs in our customers, now we’re also calling on the CEOs. And so we have capabilities that we now offer in the marketplace that IT organizations would be interested in network visibility, software test capabilities. And so it’s now me reaching out to my peers and saying we use this. It’s key site on key site where the first customer of this capability, it was a game changer for how we run it. Do you want to hear our case study? I’m not on quota. I don’t get any commission. It’s just me talking to my peers about what’s worked well for us. It’s one of the things that CEOs that I, I love doing is kind of swapping stories about some of the technology we’ve been playing with. What’s worked for you, what blew up in your face? It didn’t work so good. And now I just have some of our own portfolio of solutions to talk about that we are we’re playing with as well. So that’s what I mean by lead generation, is because if I find a partner of mine, a CIO that says, wow, that’s really interesting, tell me more. I could then bring in the general manager of that product line and say, hey, I’ve got a friend. The CEO’s interested in learning more about what you guys are doing and basically hand it off to them to see if there’s any value to continue the the exploration they’re.

Luke [00:13:03] Speaking of those peer to peer relationships, we had a great conversation with use of Khan, who talked about how valuable those can be and a lot of different ways.

Dan [00:13:13] It’s a it’s a life saver because it’s why I joined a group called CCI that’s and there’s a group of predominantly from the Bay Area since we’re headquartered in Santa Rosa, California. So there’s there’s peers of mine from Bay Area companies. And and so we meet once a month and at least once a quarter for a little bit longer period of time. The CEO role can be a lonely role in your company companies where there’s a single CIO, some companies are a little bit more federated. You may have a CIO for each division, but a lot of us there’s one. And so who do you go to for ideas and commiseration and advice? And so this particular community, when we get together, we start off with just a free form roundtable and just say what? What’s going on for you? What’s the what’s the problem of the day that you want to share with the group? And then the rest chimes in with, hey, I’ve got an idea. You should try this. Here’s here’s a suggestion. It could be things like, hey, we just found out that we’re being acquired. How do I navigate this? Because typically there’s only one CIO and I’m getting acquired. What’s the. So my my time may be may be limited or I’m concerned about my own people and ensuring they all land in a good spot in the within the acquired company. What’s the advice you guys have for me. Has anyone been through this before. Someone might raise their hands, say, yeah, I just went through that a couple of years ago. Here’s what here’s how I navigated through it. Here’s some here’s some things that I wish I’d done. And you just can’t get that on your own. You’ve got to you’ve got to join a community. I find also that in the Sisso community, it’s also equally important. Sisso roles can be very lonely as well. And it’s almost like the predator and prey analogy. Would you see the wildlife documentaries? And it’s the one animal that didn’t stay in the pack. They got the wandered off. That’s the one that got picked off. So I always encourage Sisco’s to stay in the pack, keep keep with each other and strengthen your defenses together as a collective unit against the the threat actors that are out there. That’s probably the best defense.

Luke [00:15:31] Another topic I wanted to be able to talk to you about is your work with startups. How did you start leveraging them?

Dan [00:15:39] So when we became Kissi 2015, I wasn’t the CIO then. So the first couple of years, of course, I was the CEO. And this is kind of an interesting role. I actually had a split personality and I ran our customer facing applications. So I was trying to do both same time for those first couple of years. And so I thought, you know what, I’m just going to play to the extreme of Amisi. So worried about risk on the application side. Let me just go extreme on the risk. And rather than go with the tried and true big application vendors out there that start to take a look, since we’re in the Silicon Valley area, are there some startups that actually have applications, capabilities that as a new eighty five year old company? Because we’re new, but we’ve had the heritage. Could we experiment with with a few things? We took one of our first experiments was with an application to do financial close and consolidation of all things, something you don’t want to take a risk on. But when we had been partnering with a large entrenched partner that be one of the top tier applications companies, finding it just so complex to work with them. And then along comes a small company that has maybe 30 customers still in startup mode, has pretty good capabilities, but was very open to saying, but let us know what you need to be successful. And they would listen and they would have their development teams do a couple of sprints and a few weeks later we got some code and some new capability. Wow. I’ve kind of got almost my own my own R&D team to kind of create custom software because we’re a fairly large multinational company. If if they can meet our requirements, they can market it and and they know that they’re going to win more customers. So it’s a win win. We get somewhat tailored feature sets that we need, that they turn around and market and they’ll make money off of with additional customers. And I thought that’s a magic formula. So then we thought, well, let’s take a look at analytics, another space where there’s some great, interesting Bay Area startup activity, different approach to how you do analytics as opposed to the traditional business intelligence. And so we partner with another company who again said, well, tell us what you need and and we’ll go develop that. And latest example was just some months ago. This is a company named in Corta that we’re working with. And we really wanted some features on the user interface. And this is more of a back end game changer technology, not designed to be the usability and visualization layer, but we wanted some of that anyway. And so they reluctantly in talking with the CEO of the company. All right. We’ll have some of our developers work on the UI then that came out. We were happy with we’re using it and they called us up just last week and said some of it’s just taken off. Our customers are loving this new feature set. So we’re so glad we listened to you, even though you twisted our arms. It’s been awesome. So it’s an example of we’ve got some really unique features in this solution because we’ve been partnering with them and they’ve been bringing it to us. And then then they’re turning around and getting more customers and clients on board because of the work they’re doing with us. So I think it’s been a great partnership. You know, and the startups that I think find some companies like us to partner with are going to be the most successful because now they’re going to get real world input, tailoring their solutions to fix real world problems right then and there, and it’ll take off. And I have to tell you one thing on doing that, the key ability to do that partnership with startups was a change in our operating model. So as it when I became the CIO, we were largely an outsourced operation, 80 percent outsourced. And when you have your when you’re outsourced, you go to your large managed service providers and you’d say, we’re going to work with our analytics is going to be this unheard of unknown company, our financial close and consolidation, another unheard of unknown company. And we’re going to start to do some of our Web development. And again, a completely startup technology stack. None of the managed service providers out there have that qualified in their offerings. So you can’t stay in a large, outsourced model. So we had to pivot to strategic insourcing and having our own technologists, our own software engineers, our own network engineers, our own data scientists do some of our own work with our own staff. Not that they would actually code up the product, but that they could then be the applied technologies for what these startups are creating. So if anyone is interested in doing taking this approach of working with with startups, make sure you’ve got the right skill set in your own team and your own internal staff to. Be able to to make that work, I think that’s the key.

Luke [00:20:34] It’s great to hear that you’re so deliberate about those relationships. So last question. What is the best question I haven’t asked you?

Dan [00:20:45] Well, that’s a really good question in and of itself. Well, the question that I’m asking, of course, I’m only going into my fourth year as a CIO, so three, three plus years into it, the question I’m I’m at and I’m not anywhere near close to retirement. So the Question of the Day for me is what what’s what’s the career path once you’re at the CIO level? Where do you go from there? Do you rotate and become you just kind of Sarah? I’ll leave my company behind and I’ll just go Bisio of the day, kind of go several companies at a time, two or three years here and there, and kind of finish out your career as as a string of CIO positions in different companies. Is that the journey or do you just CIO and then you ride that into the sunset for the next 10 years with that with the same company or or does the CIO then start over time, take on additional business roles? So that’s the question I’m now asking is, Will, what is the career path for CIO? Have a call with with a former CIO, Broadcom, Andy Philippon. And just after I talk to you and Andy as the CIO, what what was Avago? It is now Broadcom, but he’s now taken on a new role as the CTO and the head of software operations. So he took the CIO role and he’s taken on a broader executive leadership role for the company. Question I’m going to be asking him is, how did you cross that divide? Because there’s a lot of tech companies look at a CIO as the business systems person. You’re in charge of the business systems and and so stay in your corner kind of thing. That can be that can be where you get pigeonholed. And there are CEOs that have broken through and take on broader business roles in their companies. And I’m really curious to learn a little bit more about how people do that successfully and what that’s like. So that’s a question you could ask me that I don’t have the answer to yet, because it’s something I’m starting to look into.

Luke [00:22:55] Yeah, I get the sense that that topic is on the mind of a number of CEOs.

Dan [00:23:00] Yeah, because it’s what we what we do as CEOs is is like a general manager working. We’ve got clients. It’s our stakeholders in the company that we work with. We’ve got this horizontal view across almost every I can’t think of a single department in the company that doesn’t work with it. And you think that’s a lot of expertize that you develop over time. And so I wonder what CEOs are doing with that, expertize in a very creative way and kind of taking their their value, add their contributions to the next level.

Luke [00:23:31] And I imagine that a lot of that has been pretty heavily accelerated by the pandemic as well.

Dan [00:23:37] Yeah, yeah, you know, like even in quayside, the thing I really appreciated is there was a lot of appreciation from the executive team for the role that it played to help the company pivot to to remote work and to collaborate globally and continue to keep the innovation engine running because we’re, as a tech company, got to keep that innovation humming. So a lot of appreciation that came in that maybe they do the back of their minds, that it played that role, but it just was brought to the forefront of everyone’s minds, just how how critical it can be for companies.

Luke [00:24:15] Well, Dan, thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me today.

Dan [00:24:19] Great question. It’s been a pleasure to talk to you.

Luke [00:24:24] Thanks again to Dan Krantz for the conversation and to Tom Tierney for the music, please make sure to subscribe to all your conversations wherever you get your podcasts. And we’ll be back in two weeks.

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