Manage Through a Global Crisis with These 3 Priorities

Nutanix CEO Dheeraj Pandey talks about how his leadership team finds clarity among the confusion and disruption of the COVID-19 pandemic.

By Tom Mangan

By Tom Mangan November 23, 2020

COVID-19 has created disarray on a global scale. From the C-suite to the front lines, leaders and managers are scrambling to reconcile conflicting evidence, mixed signals and miscommunications. How should leaders navigate this labyrinth?

For Dheeraj Pandey, Founder, Chairman and CEO of hybrid cloud software company Nutanix, the road ahead need not be as tangled or twisted as it appears at first glance.

“My advice is for CEOs to focus on your three things: your people, your product and your customers,” Pandey said in an interview with Yahoo Finance.

Pandey’s wisdom has been hard-won. In the space of a decade, he built Nutanix from a three-person startup into a global leader in hyperconverged infrastructure (HCI), which gives organizations tools to simplify and economize their IT operations. Like most tech startup founders, Pandey has pulled Nutanix back from the brink more than once.

Nutanix has not escaped the magnitude of COVID-19. The company’s stock price plunged along with the equity markets in early March 2020. More than a thousand employees had to take two weeks off without pay this year. All the while, the company is shifting to a subscription-based revenue model — a challenge Pandey has likened to changing the wings of an airplane in mid-flight.

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On the plus side, Nutanix software helps organizations connect to remote workforces, which has been good for business. Though Pandey has no illusions about the difficult days ahead, he’s convinced that a laser focus on people, products and customers can help everybody prevail through the global coronavirus crisis.

People — Preserving the Value of Their Contributions

There were harsh economic consequences of COVID-19 as a result of quarantines and lockdowns. These realities led to Nutanix’s decision to furlough 1,465 employees in California for a total of two weeks scattered over the next several months.

Pandey recommends choosing frameworks to make these tough calls. He and his team turned to a framework popularized by Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, who urges managers to determine whether a decision is irrevocable (Type 1) or easily reversed (Type 2) — and to always make sure they know the difference.

“A furlough is reversible. A layoff is not,” Pandey said in an interview with CRN, the trade publication for solution providers and system integrators. Pandey also applied the “most good” framework. “(Author and speaker) Simon Sinek, someone I deeply admire, refers to the ‘most good’ rule as, ‘Better we should all suffer a little than any of us should have to suffer a lot.’ ”

In an article he penned for Inc. magazine, Pandey encouraged leaders to smash silos and improve collaboration.

“We are working together in ways we haven’t before,” he wrote. “In sales, for example, we are blurring the lines between account managers and sales engineers.”

Most of all, companies cannot afford to neglect the emotional wellbeing of their staff.

“Strong leadership involves sharing wins both large and small,” Pandey said in his Inc. article. Nutanix does that at employee Town Hall meetings. “The positive feedback was enormous,” he added. “Employees have been sharing their success stories with each other — lifting morale and inciting innovation.”

Products — Improving and Innovating

Nutanix built a business around hyperconverged infrastructure (HCI), which uses software to emulate the operations of servers, switches and other data center equipment. These functions are centralized in applications optimized for efficiency and ease of use. Running these apps on commodity hardware helps companies streamline their IT operations and slash the total cost of ownership.

One of the core use cases for HCI is operating on-premises clouds and hybrid cloud systems that combine on-prem with public cloud services like Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure. That cloud-centered structure also paved the way for Nutanix to offer desktop-as-a-service (DaaS) and virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI), two crucial technologies for adapting to work-from-home requirements. HCI is evolving to become the foundation many businesses use to run their hybrid cloud infrastructure.

Pandey has long argued that enterprise IT teams should enjoy the same kind of consumer-grade user experience that people have come to expect from smartphones and desktop applications.

“In product development, we are asking about the ‘why’ behind our products,” Pandey said. A sharp focus on the user experience doesn’t change because of a pandemic. But it does require new thinking in areas like product demos, which can be pivotal to closing sales at the enterprise level.

“In marketing, we are thinking much more about digital ‘try-and-buy,’ requiring engineering to be part of the marketing process,” Pandey wrote in his article for Inc. “Try-and-buy will become paramount — no matter how complex the solution — in a world where we can’t travel or meet face-to-face.”

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Pandey also recommends partnering with technology service providers such as HPE, Wipro, HCL TCS and others in order to leverage the latest IT innovations. He makes sure Nutanix technology meshes with offerings from tech titans like Citrix, Google, Amazon and Microsoft, and even competitors like VMware.

Pandey’s goal: converging all these product-oriented decisions to give customers a sense of delight they can’t get from his competitors.

Customers — Adapting to Their Changing Needs

The pandemic placed Nutanix front and center with some of its customers’ most urgent demands, according to Pandey.

“Through this COVID crisis, we’re able to help our customers’ employees stream their entire office environment to their homes — their applications, their data and complete desktop experience,” he said in his interview with Yahoo Finance. This is the opening salvo in a permanent shift in people’s working lives.

“Work-from-home is absolutely moving to e-work, just like commerce moved to e-commerce with the proliferation of the Internet,” Pandey wrote in a commentary submitted to Business Insider. “Our sales and marketing activities are also aggressively going digital, while we market and prospect everything online.”

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A crisis is an ideal time to reinvent methodologies and relationships across the business.

“When an external threat comes into play, you have to be prepared to rethink the way you work and the best ways to support your customers, partners and employees during an uncertain time,” Pandey advised.

That means putting technology to work solving customer problems.

“Customer experience must be delightful digital,” Pandey wrote in his Inc. article.

In his interview with CRN, Pandey sounded a note of optimism that contrasted with the deluge of worrisome tidings about COVID-19.

“This pandemic will fundamentally change the way we live, work and transact business,” he said. “On a broader scale, this virus will retool humanity, meaningfully alter the future of work, and, I hope, make us a stronger species as we come out on the other side of this.”

Tom Mangan is a contributing writer. He is a veteran B2B technology writer and editor, specializing in cloud computing and digital transformation. Contact him on his website or LinkedIn.

© 2020 Nutanix, Inc. All rights reserved.  For additional legal information, please go here.

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