Interview With : Christy Wyatt, Chief Executive of Good Technology, on Minding the Details
Updated on: 10 Feb 2014
This interview with Christy Wyatt, chief executive of Good Technology, a provider of mobile security solutions, was conducted and condensed by Adam Bryant.
Q.When you were a child, were you in leadership roles?
A. The first leadership role I can remember was in elementary school. They had a choir, but when I got to third grade, they didn't have a teacher for the choir anymore. So I became the instructor after convincing the music department to let me and a friend who played the piano do it. So we told the first- and second-graders that we'd create a choir. It seemed wrong that there wasn't going to be a choir, because I had had one when I was in the first and second grade.
Q.Tell me about your parents.
A. My mom did mostly office work, and my father had a variety of different jobs. We were not an affluent family by any stretch of the imagination. So my mother would often say, "If you want something, you're going to have to figure out how to go get it, because nobody's going to bring it to you."
My grandfather was also a big influence. He moved his whole family from Holland to Canada after World War II, and came in as an orchard worker in British Columbia. He lived in a little shack in an orchard, and worked for one of the local families. Then he built a bigger house for him and his family, and then he built somebody else a house, and he eventually started his own construction company. So I spent weekends in his workshop. If I wanted something, he would show me how to build it ? he wouldn't build it for me. "Anything you want, you just need to make it," he would say.
Q.Tell me about your college years.
A. I went to the College of Geographic Sciences in Nova Scotia. It was very small and it was very intense ? a really brutal course. On the first day, they said: "Look around you. Fifty percent of you will be gone by Christmas." I remember feeling that everyone was looking at me, because I was only one of three women in the room. They were thinking, "That's the first one who's going."
I was very intimidated at first, because I had no technical background. I had barely touched a computer. Even though everybody assumed I would be the first to go, I made sure I was the last to go. By Christmas, I was actually head of the class.
Q.Any challenges when you first started managing people?
A. There's the work side versus the personal side of managing a team. I'm very driven, and I'm very focused on what we need to get done. So early on, I had to kind of remind myself to hit the pause button, check in with folks, and make sure they're with you as you're going forward.
Q.You worked at many tech companies, including Sun, Palm, Apple and Motorola. Lessons from those experiences?
A. One lesson from both Apple and Motorola was the importance of getting into the details ? just the attention to every pixel, every detail, every word. When Sanjay Jha came in to rebuild Motorola, he really brought us back to grinding through every detail. How are we designing products? How are we looking at the market? How are we talking to customers?
So it was a 20,000-foot view, but he could also take it down to a centimeter-off-the-ground view, and in a way that didn't slow us down. Because that's the big risk ? if you try to get into that much detail, how do you not slow your organization down? The point is that it's not about micromanaging; it's about asking the right questions.
Q.This is your first C.E.O. role. Has anything about the role surprised you?
A. From a day-to-day perspective, it's not all that different from when I was a general manager running a big P.&L. But I have noticed that people read a lot more meaning into things that you didn't necessarily intend to have meaning. People will make up stories in the white space.
We had one recent example. We're a Silicon Valley company, so we have a very full kitchen. I hired a new head of business operations, and she decided we were going to switch out the vendors. There was a week when the supply went very low because the next vendor was coming in a couple of weeks later to kind of set up. Because we hadn't said anything about it, and the food was starting to run low, people started saying, "There's layoffs coming; bad things are going to happen."
I actually had to say in an all-hands meeting, "Guys, it's just the nuts in the kitchen. That's it." But people look for symbols, and they look for meaning where maybe there isn't any. So now we're overcommunicating. You have to talk about the little stuff as well as the big stuff, just to make sure folks aren't running away with ideas.
Q.How do you hire?
A. I go on two things. One is intuition. I'm relatively good at reading people, reading their authenticity and whether what they're saying is connected to underlying facts.
That shows up early in the conversation. Are they looking you in the eye? Are they comfortable with themselves?
Then I want very specifically to know what they've done. If they say, "We did this amazing thing as a team," my next questions are usually going to be: "So, what part of that did you do? How did you approach that? How did you know that was the right answer?" I also try to understand whether people will lean into tough problems or lean away from them.
Q.Can you elaborate?
A. I'll say, "Give me an example of a time you were responsible for something, and it wasn't working. What did you do?" I want people who are going to lean in and take ownership. You want people with the right level of inspiration and passion and commitment. You want people who take ownership of the outcome. They're going to get it done.