Julie Cullivan, the new Chief Technology Officer and Chief People Officer at ForeScout. Julie’s a bay area IT executive with decades of experience at the helm of sales, business operations, and IT. Prior to ForeScout, she has served in the c-suite at FireEye and Autodesk.
**Please note that this interview has been abbreviated for this blog.
Hiba Sharief: Hi, everyone. This is Hiba Sharief, CIO and Startup Advisor. We are very excited today to have Julie. Julie Cullivan is a chief people and technology officer at ForeScout. I am going to jump in with a question almost immediately because I can’t wait.
Hiba Sharief: How is one a chief people officer and chief technical officer at the same time?
Julie Cullivan: *Laughs* I actually stepped into Forescout as the CIO with a focus on business operations. When our Chief People Officer was stepping away from the role, we started looking for a replacement but the search quickly turned internal. Somewhere along the lines, the conversation turned to, “hey maybe we have somebody here that could do this” because I do have a ton of energy around people. People, development, culture, values. You talk about hiring people and finding what their real potential is. I love that stuff. I have also been the person giving HR a hard time about needing to do more innovative things.
Julie Cullivan: So long story short, careful what you wish for. I stepped into the role in mid-October and I have been pulling my hair out since. But I’m really enjoying it. I mean it is a whole new way of looking at things. I think I had some of the right skills because I’ve been a consumer of so many people programs.
Hiba Sharief: Can we talk a little bit about why it’s so important to make sure you are focused on the business? How to run the technology organization like a business?
Julie Cullivan: Yeah.
Hiba Sharief: And kinda the importance of the talent piece as well, and just share some guidance there.
Julie Cullivan: It is a lot of work because you really have to build credibility. I think the only way you’re really able to have that influence on the business is A, knowing what your day to day technical decisions are going to mean to the business, and B, are you thinking about this from end to end?
Julie Cullivan: But it’s also keeping the business running and making sure that those things are happening, and reliable, and secure and all those things so that you’re earning the ability to elevate the conversation. Because you can’t really engage with the business if there’s fires burning or networks going down. For example – One of my biggest learnings, when I became a CIO, was that phones are not as simple as everyone thought they were. I actually thought they just worked and they rang and you picked them up. Actually not the case. It’s kinda complicated.
Julie Cullivan: So if you’re not doing those, then you’re going to have a much harder time engaging from business. So I think it’s making sure that you’re really looking at it from a very balanced way. It’s always about accelerating the business but some of it’s about earning it.
Hiba Sharief: Julie, you have been part of helping several organizations get ready for IPO. How did you help in your role of CIO?
Julie Cullivan: We really partnered with product management and engineering during the IPO process to make sure our products and processes we were in the best shape. When it comes to IPOs, you cannot have the mentality that these are IT things and those are not. IT supports critical business capabilities that you have to have for our customers to be able to confidently trust us.
Hiba Sharief: So let’s talk about people for a little bit. There’s a lot of confusion about what does a CTO versus a CIO. Everybody kind of knows what a CSO is, but no one really understands at what point do you need a CSO who reports directly to the CEO, when it’s okay to have them under a CIO or under a CTO.
Hiba Sharief: Tell us more about, because you’re also a chief people officer, tell us more about CSO’s, CTO’s, CIO, the different roles, what you’re seeing in terms of bringing those things together. At what point does it make sense for that security space to be directly reporting to the CEO?
Julie Cullivan: So I’ll take that last part first only because I’m always shocked at how much pent up energy there is around that particular topic. There are people that feel so strongly that a CSO should never work for the CIO. Then CIO’s don’t understand security and they never give money to security. It gets to be quite an intense conversation.
Julie Cullivan: Now I think the last few companies I’ve worked for are small. There wasn’t a whole lot of debate about how things should roll up. It’s like, hey you got this. Make this happen. But I think the best approach is to always be looking at what is right for the company at that given time.
Julie Cullivan: So for me, I’ve had the ability to, or I’ve been fortunate that security is important to me. But I understand it only works if IT ops and security ops are willing to work together. So to your point, it’s people. A lot of times everyone wants to spend a lot of time defining roles and responsibilities. Roles and responsibilities are important to understand but it all comes down to people and people behaving in the right way and understanding that there’s actually value in us all working together to solve this problem. And trying to dig in, get entrenched in our particular perspective.
Julie Cullivan: On where people should sit in the org, i would ask what does risk mean to organizations? In certain organizations it makes absolute sense that that role is sitting under a risk officer. So I think you just figure that out as you go along. But I do hear a lot that contingency of folks feel very strongly that CIO’s don’t really prioritize or understand security. I just do not think that that is the case. Now with regards to your CTO, CIO, where all those lines are drawn question… Again, I think every company defines a CTO role a little differently.
Julie Cullivan: I think a CTO is like visionary, really driving the product and strategy. That’s actually not what my role is. The reason I have technology officer component in my role is because I am responsible for all of IT but I also have responsibility for the Cloud surface ops and the delivery of services. Not the vision of hey what amazing things can this product do.
Hiba Sharief: What about the chief digital officer? Talk about that for a little bit, that business role that’s driving product on the business side and that has to work with the CTO.
Julie Cullivan: My opinion is that it’s all just titles. They really are the same job. I hear about a lot of chief digital officers and the people that I know that are in those roles are super impressive. I do, however, think there is an element that organizations have taken from the corporate IT world. The role usually has little responsibility for delivering revenue and services. To be honest, I have been in big debates about whether this role should be in marketing even. It’s kinda fascinating how it bounces around. In the end it’s just really important work that needs to get done.
Hiba Sharief: Exactly. And the confusion generally about the difference between product dimension on the business side, product marketing and then technical product. It’s just very-
Julie Cullivan: Yeah it gets blurry.
Hiba Sharief: It gets blurry. I think in the same way it’s really how do you work together as a single team. How do you forget the titles already and just talk about how do we deliver this value as a team?
Hiba Sharief: We have a whole bunch of questions that have come in from our audience. Here goes… So ForeScout is a public company and you’ve taken another company public as well. You are also on the board of several public companies. I’d love to have you share a little bit more around that and how you got through to that opportunity. And then did you serve on nonprofit boards before that. Basically, how do you get to become a board member of a public company?
Julie Cullivan: Yeah, so I had, and I guess this would’ve been about three, almost four years ago probably. I had, when I stepped into the CIO role at FireEye, I didn’t have a real network of CIO’s necessarily. I had worked with CIO’s in prior lives but I didn’t have a community. I ended up getting introduced to Coco Brown who’s now the CEO of Athena Alliance. Somebody connected me with her, just said hey she’s super connected. She’s just an amazing networker, matchmaker kind of person. You should meet her and see if she can help you build out some go-to people to get advice in a safe way, like what do to about this. Tell me what I should consider.
Julie Cullivan: In meeting her, I met this group of women and a lot of times the conversations we would have as we were having dinner or whatever was around “hey I’d really love to serve on a board.” But I think what I realized very quickly is I had no idea what that really meant. I know what a board does. I’ve had experience engaging with boards at the companies I worked with but I never really thought about what it meant.
Julie Cullivan: So I declared that I was interested in doing it and that’s just when Coco decided to start up an organization at Athena Alliance that is focused on getting people prepared for board service but then also doing some matching. Getting companies to come to them and say, “Hey I have this bench of amazingly strong women leaders that could help out. How do I help make some of those connections?”
Julie Cullivan: So I joined but again always with the intent like some day in the future this is gonna happen and I need to start thinking about it now. Because a bit of advice I got was you just don’t know how long it’s gonna take. It’s not like you just decide and it happens. It could take a couple years for the right match to happen. So I said, you know what I might as well get started. I’ll tell you, it’s a hard process because you suddenly have to be really selling yourself, which is a very uncomfortable position for most of us, and particularly women I would say.
Julie Cullivan: It’s really hard changing the conversation to wait, I am pretty awesome and I’ve done these things and here’s metrics and specifics to show the kind of impact I’ve been able to make. So I went through that whole process with them and honestly I don’t even know if I really finished some of it. There was already a company that was looking for somebody that had security background, had digital transformation, had done global. So there were these certain things as they were transforming that they were looking for and I went through the process and I will tell you it’s a long process.
Julie Cullivan: You’ve got to meet a lot of people but more than that, it takes them a long time to really vet and decide and come together. But the very first board that I interviewed for I ended up getting asked to join. It’s been phenomenal experience because it makes me better at what I do every day – you are able to help the company without telling them what to do but coaching them through any issue they have.
Julie Cullivan: Luck and time always played in these things as well but it just kind of felt like it was meant to be. So I really encourage people to do it if you think it’s something that you want to do. It’s never too early to start because you just really don’t know what that journey’s going to look like. I would’ve taken either private or pre IPO. I would’ve taken a nonprofit if that had come along and I felt like, hey I wanna start getting some of that experience. But I will tell you, my finance got better, so did my global sales and my mergers and acquisitions. All of these things that I had done throughout my career, those are all the types of things that they wanna have a voice around.
Hiba Sharief: Yeah perfect. Again, it’s that diversity of experience you have and the durability to ask the right questions and really begin to what are we trying to do here, what’s the problem we’re trying to solve, and getting people to stop thinking about security. I’m working a lot with boards right now and a lot of them are just, “We just don’t want to get a security breach.” And it’s not just about that. Even to enable that and say, we don’t want to get breached, you know what we probably did get breached and you don’t even know it.
Hiba Sharief: What advice do you have specifically for those executive women that have experience, that have the aspiration to join boards, to what can they do to have better chance?
Julie Cullivan: I think there are a lot of different paths. What I found was that I really didn’t know what it meant to be on a public company board and doing things like board simulations and activities forced you to understand more about what it’s really like. I felt those exercises were really beneficial because I felt much more prepared as I was talking to companies about what it would mean.
Hiba Sharief: One of the things that I’ve been pushing for some time is around how we don’t talk about failures enough. Everybody talks about their successes and it can get disingenuous. Can you share some of those failures? Can you think of something that you’ve learned so much from and that you would completely redo if you had the opportunity?
Julie Cullivan: In terms of failures, I guess what I think about is how I made a really hasty and not well thought through decision when I joined a startup that, the timing was not great. I really didn’t do my due diligence in understanding exactly what the secret sauce, true differentiation was for what they were trying to do.
Julie Cullivan: I tell myself now that they were just ahead of their time … so I didn’t do all those things that I should have done and I will tell you that as I was going into it, I realized I really didn’t know how to operate that size of an organization because I’d been at a large company for so long. I didn’t and I made a lot of mistakes where you’re trying to pattern match back to some things that just don’t match.
Julie Cullivan: So it was really important and I think I made some mistakes. I was trying to do things that is like, a company this size is simply not ready for that. They can’t even think about doing those types of things.
Hiba Sharief: Okay now to change tracks a little. For the non-valley IT execs, how do we keep up?
Julie Cullivan: Join every national executive community you can think of and participate! Join Pulse!
Hiba Sharief: *laughs* We’re not doing plugs, but Pulse thanks you! How do you see your role changing in five years? Where do you wanna be? Where do you want to go?
Julie Cullivan: I have no clue, but I want to keep solving difficult problems.
Hiba Sharief: That’s honest. I like it. Well Julie, thank you so much for your time.
Julie Cullivan: Thank you.
Hiba Sharief: We’re really happy to have had you with us.