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Top executive in Networking shares her views...
Interview by Stephen Ibaraki, I.S.P.

 

This week, Stephen Ibaraki, I.S.P., has an exclusive interview with Trish Gulbranson, President and CEO of NetPro Computing Inc., www.netpro.com.

 

Ms. Gulbranson was named Technology Leader of the Year and sits on the Board of Directors of the Arizona Technology Council. She has co-chaired the Investing In Innovation Venture Capital Conference for six years. Prior to joining NetPro, Ms. Gulbranson was a CPA with the “Big 4” accounting firm of PriceWaterHouseCoopers.

 

NetPro is the leading provider of directory assurance software and delivers the only comprehensive suite of solutions designed to manage network directory services 24x7. NetPro’s partners include Microsoft Corp., Novell, Inc., and Hewlett-Packard, and its customer list features such respected companies as DaimlerChrysler, Wells Fargo, Bank One, EDS, and General Motors.

 

NetPro has accumulated more than 35 awards and recognitions including: Soft-Letter’s Top 100 Independent PC Software Companies; Software Magazine’s Software 500; GSPED HTIC Innovator of the Year Award -- DS Analyzer; Network World Magazine -- Top Ten Products; AzTech 50 Fastest Growing Technology Firms, and many more.

 

Discussion:

Q: Trish, with all the time demands, thank you for coming in to do this interview. Your many years of proven leadership, software and financial industry success will be of great benefit to our audience.

 

A: Thank you for your interest in NetPro. I am thrilled to share my thoughts.

 

Q: Your record of accomplishment provides many valuable experiences. Can you share some stories and lessons from your challenges and successes?

 

A: The core lessons I would like to share speak to my extensive background in finance. And the first is: Cash is king.  Growing fast and gaining market share is great, but what difference does it make if you run out of cash?  Make sure you raise enough funds to hold you over while you grow quickly.  At some point, get back to profits; after all, that is why shareholders invest.  It also helps create discipline for you and your organization. 

 

The second lesson is: When you do have cash, watch how you spend every dime.  Measure everything, from employee productivity to return on marketing campaigns. It’s tempting to spend when you have money and are trying to gain recognition in the marketplace, but small companies must spend in areas that can be tied back directly to revenue.  How many companies did we see in the dot com era that blew through $20MM, $30MM, $40MM in money in one year?   Always stay with the basics of business.

 

For example:  While NetPro built cash reserves in 2002, it was difficult for the company to understand why we were building a big reserve of cash and taking so much to profit when the goal was to grow quickly.  Later, when sales results failed to meet expectations, we needed it. Because we had ample cash reserves, we were very secure and able to weather the rough times.  

 

Lesson three is: Be sure you have the right people in place – ‘A’ players.  You would be surprised how many successful people want to work for a small company where they can truly make a difference.  My recommendation is, recruit people who are smarter than you are.   Remember that people work hard when they believe in the company and care about the people they work with.  Create an environment and culture that honors its employees.

 

Q: As president, what are your top ten qualities and processes that make for great leadership?

 

A: The first responsibility of a leader is to define a vision.  The last is to say “thank you.”  In between the leader is a servant.  -- Max DePree

 

1) I hire smart people. (Hire smart as opposed to managing hard.)

2) I fire people quickly.

3) I recognize that everyone recruits.  (It’s about people more than strategy.)

4) I empower people. We work very hard to honor our employees and care about them.  If they’re treated well, that’s the way they treat our customers.  It’s contagious.  An empowered employee does not need to be motivated, managed, or leveraged with top-down power.

5) I coach at the top and the bottom will spring up.

6) I know that it’s not about my personal ego and me.

7) I have enthusiasm and passion for life and what we do.

8) I implement accountability.  (Talented people like to be held accountable. Things that get measured get done.)

9) I exhibit and promote honesty and integrity in everything we do. 

10) I laugh as often as I can and encourage others to do the same!

 

Q: From a context of past, present and future, what drives you to do what you do? 

 

A: People. I’m very social and like to be with others. My philosophy is that life is about relationships. Business is a side game, or what we do in life while we build relationships. And those relationships are built on trust. Customers buy from us because they know us and what we stand for; we’re passionate about technology, efficiency, and providing only the best for our customers and employees.  

 

Q: Can you detail the history of your company and what five business and five technical factors plus practices make your company so successful?

 

A: NetPro was founded in 1991. We began with Banyan network management products, then added Novell and Microsoft products to our solution line up. We’ve evolved from what was once a “network toolbox company” to what is today a true enterprise software solution provider with an emphasis on business-critical network directories.

 

By way of additional background, NetPro reinvented itself in the mid-90s as “The Directory Experts.”  We worked with the analysts to educate the market and create a category for directory management that we could own.  It was key, at that time, to establish a leadership position and differentiate NetPro from other mainstream network management vendors.  The directory management space was a niche we could claim and own, and one where we could truly excel as a result of our core competency in managing widely distributed, complex services.

 

It worked.  We never waivered from our focus, and over time, we have established an exceptional reputation in the market, not only for our technically superior products, but also for our directory expertise.  As we grow, we will expand beyond this focus, but today it is a great position to be in.

 

Q: What are your corporate vision, mission, strategies, goals and values? How will your strategies evolve over the next two and five years? What advice would you give to other corporations?

 

A: My advice is simple: Don’t overcomplicate things!  My practical experience is that everyone has a different definition of what vision is and how to define it.  And, over time, all the rules and regulations regarding how to build a vision, mission and strategy have a tendency to take all the creativity and personality out of the process.     

 

The vision, mission and strategy describe who you are and who you want to be.  They keep you focused.   

 

So, in my opinion, there is no right or wrong answer.  My style is to build the vision, mission and strategy with my team and then communicate it down to the employees.  Come up with a common understanding together of definitions and then give context for your thought process when you present it.

 

I love our vision now:  Networks that run themselves.   I use the analogy of a dial tone.  When you need to make a call, you simply pick up the phone and service is always available.  Our vision for the network is much the same. We believe that when problems occur, the network should automatically detect the problem before it impacts the end user, and make system repairs automatically, without human intervention.  Coined “autonomic computing” by industry analysts, it’s the ultimate goal and is much bigger than who we are today. It will take an industry of players to get there – to networks that heal themselves.  But, it’s a perfect vision for us because it leaves plenty of room for growth. It’s where we see the industry going, and it describes what we’re about.

 

NetPro’s mission is to provide best-of-breed software solutions to drive the availability and security of the network and the directory at its core. It is our mission to offer these solutions as both stand-alone software and as a complement to existing network frameworks.

 

The strategy today is to dominate the Microsoft market, fulfilling customer needs in the Microsoft Windows Active Directory space by providing a full suite of directory management solutions for Global 2000 companies and government agencies.

 

 I look at the mission in a five-year timeframe. At any given time, the product strategies are 18 to 24 months out and are reviewed quarterly as a result of fast changing technology. We’re continually thinking ahead.

 

Q: What are your current products and services and how can they benefit corporations?

 

A: NetPro offers solutions to help keep directories up and running and secure, regardless of the management console or framework the corporation has implemented.  We provide solutions for Microsoft Windows 2000 and Windows Server 2003 Active Directory environments as well as Novell eDirectory implementations.

 

Our Active Directory Lifecycle Suite (ADLS) and Secure ADLS feature five solutions including:  DirectoryInsight for change management; DirectoryAnalyzer for monitoring and troubleshooting; DirectoryTroubleshooter for troubleshooting and diagnostics; DNSAnalyzer for comprehensive DNS monitoring and diagnostics; and DirectoryLockdown, the only Active Directory security monitoring and intrusion protection solution designed to mitigate certain attacks on Active Directory.

 

Our solutions for Novell’s eDirectory include DS Expert and DS Analyzer. DS Expert monitors eDirectory 24X7 and proactively alerts on all key points of failure, while DS Analyzer enables administrators to troubleshoot and optimize the directory quickly and easily by gathering directory traffic data from across the network.

 

Q: What new products and services are you planning in the short, medium, and long term?

 

A: We will continue to solidify our product offering in the Microsoft market, introducing solutions to assist customers with critical auditing and change management functions, as well as security. Once we have achieved our goals in the directory management space, we will leverage our core competency in directory and distributed services management to build solutions for meta directories.

 

Q: What direction, best practices, and tips can you provide to corporations based upon your company’s past experience in the Directory Market?

 

A: Our industry is a partner-friendly environment.  I would highly recommend that companies leverage the opportunity that powerful partners represent. Work with other vendors and bigger players, much like we did with such industry giants as HP, Microsoft, and IBM.  Stay close and complement their offerings instead of trying to compete with them.  It’s a big industry.  In the end, it’s all about giving the customer the best possible solution and driving shareholder value.

 

Q: What do you see on the horizon that businesses and IT professionals “must” be aware of to be competitive?

 

A: While IT is more critical than ever to the business, the wild days are over.  Discipline and Best Practices are under way.  And IT spending may climb slightly, but it will never again reach the spending levels we have seen in the past. ITIL is the standard that most Global 2000 companies are adopting.  IT departments have to be held to the same financial standards as all departments within an organization.  The internal department will be compared constantly to outsource options and must prove that they can run the company’s technology initiatives more efficiently than a managed services firm could.

 

For software vendors, that means integrated systems, enhanced network simplicity, fewer vendors, and more automation.

 

Q: What do you feel are the top five hottest topics of interest to both businesses and IT professionals today and what will be the topics in two years and in five years?

 

A: 1) The economy, the economy, the economy. 

2) When will IT budgets recover? 

3) Talent. Ferreting out the best talent and empowering them to do great things will be key to success in the future.

4) Engineering outsourcing.

5) Unique ways to build shareholder value and restore the confidence of consumers and the investment community.

 

Q: Who/what do you think are the winners and losers in IT in the next five years? [This could be companies, technologies, …and so on.] What advice would you give to enterprises in their adoption of technologies in the next five years?

 

A: Microsoft, HP, and IBM will be the winners in our business.   They will own everything -- hardware, software, and services.  They’re industry behemoths with lots of R&D. What will be particularly interesting to watch is the battle between the three.

 

Microsoft’s XBox will be the big winner in technology over the next five years.  It’s going to become the next console for your household (television, stereo, computer, electric, etc.).  It will allow you to manage your home life from one central console and manage it remotely as well.

 

Also, as a side note, I see a great deal of turmoil and change underfoot in the airline industry. Air travel will change drastically.  Everyday flights have almost reached the point of being comparable to riding the city bus.  Companies will begin to move to more efficient means of transportation, and as a result, air taxis, private jets, etc. will become more commonplace.

 

Q:  What would be your recommended top references for the business professional, IT professional and everybody?

 

A: Execution:  The Discipline of Getting Things Done  by Larry Bossidy,  Topgrading by Radford D. Smart, From Good to Great  by Jim Collins, and Jack:  Straight From the Gut  by Jack Welch.

 

Q: What are the top challenges facing businesses and IT departments in the next five years and what are your recommendations to meet/overcome these challenges? Can you provide specifics…

 

A: The U.S. is becoming even more of a services economy.  As an example, businesses such as software development are moving their operations overseas to drive down costs and to increase efficiencies. 

 

The global economy is no longer just an option for companies like ours.  As a response to that, we have placed key executives in other countries.  Some of the bigger organizations have had them for years, but the small businesses must do the same to remain competitive.

 

Also, as I noted previously, IT departments are becoming more integrated into the organization and must prove the benefits of maintaining the function within the company.

 

Q: What do you foresee as the next “killer app?”

 

A: XBox.

 

Q: What predictions do you make about the future of computing in general?

 

A:  We will see dramatic consolidation in the coming years. And the backlash from years of excess will have a lasting effect on businesses worldwide – especially the IT segment. To survive and thrive in this climate, you have to be exceptional. That means hiring the right people, building powerful relationships with the right partners, and taking advantage of market opportunities with untold enthusiasm and aggression.

 

Q: After the dot com implosion, there was a strong decline in IT spending. A strong business case now has to be made for new expenditures. Do you foresee a turnaround and if it comes, when?  Do you see the structure of IT changing within corporations?

 

A: I see IT turning around in the coming years, but only slightly. We won’t see the excesses we’ve seen in the past. By the end of 2004, we should begin to see growth in the sector, but it won’t likely exceed 3% or so. As I’ve mentioned, I do see managed services playing a bigger role as companies look to drive IT cost and resource efficiencies, etc.

    

Q: If you were doing this interview, what three questions would you ask of someone in your position and what would be your answers?

 

A: I want to hear their thoughts on industry issues over the next five years. I view such opportunities as great ways to get new ideas and look at issues and concerns in different ways. So tell me, what do you think about:

1) The push for industry outsourcing?

2) Industry consolidation and where small vendors will fit in the long term?

3) The possibilities for driving untold levels of innovation, given the current climate?

 

Q: Trish, “If you had to do it over again ….?”

 

A: It’s a journey. I never look back. Everything happened just as it was intended.

What’s next?

 

Q: Thanks again for sharing your years of successful leadership and wealth of knowledge and experiences with our audience.

 

A:  It has been my pleasure. Thank you.

 

 

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