Next week, Citrix holds its annual Synergy conference in Las Vegas, officially starting with the keynote on Tuesday morning. The key variable that will determine Synergy’s success is Kirill Tatarinov, appointed the company’s president and CEO in January.
Over the past four months, Kirill has engaged in only a few speaking opportunities. Many people, both internal and external to Citrix, aren’t quite sure who this person really is and what his viewpoints are about the company and its direction. Of course, we all know about the base Citrix product pillars and the directives associated with those, but there’s little news about the person at the helm.
It is certainly prudent and admirable for a new leader to take the time to understand—and better yet, understand thoroughly—the company, its operations, its customers, and its people. However, few have had contact with Kirill or have real knowledge regarding the person behind the title. That will put pressure on Kirill as he becomes the key variable by which the success of Synergy is gauged.
In sharp contrast, former Citrix President and CEO Mark Templeton was a much-loved geek at the helm—in fact, “the ultimate geek.” He was personable, and his excitement about Citrix technologies was uniquely contagious. You always walked out of the keynote brainstorming about how you could use at least one new Citrix technology to solve a business or technical challenge.
Behind the scenes, you could easily picture MarkT accessing Citrix apps via a new gadget on a Saturday afternoon and sending a note to the dev team about how to make the user experience better. This certainly did happen: I can personally attest to being on a few of those threads during my tenure at Citrix. MarkT was constantly pushing the various teams to think outside the box and produce better products.
While Citrix is now improving its profitability, and Wall Street seems to feel that its trajectory is positive, Citrix employees, customers, and partners want more than that. They want a leader who genuinely feels Citrix. They want someone who truly understands the business and inspires employees and industry partners to overachieve.
The new Citrix management structure has ushered in an era of seriousness with a tighter focus on profitability. That needed to happen. There were too many Citrix acquisitions and investments that just didn’t materialize into long-term business or technical solutions. Kaviza, which became known as VDI-in-a-Box, and Sanbolic, known as Melio, immediately come to mind as failed acquisitions. To be fair, not all acquisitions yield positive results, but increased due diligence and greater cost scrutiny will justifiably become the norm going forward.
So far, Kirill seems to be playing it safe. Very safe. Not a lot of interviews, and not a lot of social media. If he were heading up a durable goods manufacturer or a trucking company, that would be fine, but it’s not for Citrix. This is a high-tech company that has survived the best and worst of times and hasn’t always played it safe. People want to know that the person at the helm will take some calculated risks and not always play it safe.
As a company matures and grows, some of the charm associated with the good ol’ days unfortunately falls by the wayside, but the geekiness and innovation needs to continue to shine from top to bottom. Citrix has long been known for its “work hard, play hard” ethic. Losing the heart and soul of that mantra could devastate Citrix at its core. Compartmentalizing Citrites into defined, square boxes and then rewarding them for playing it too safe would be counterproductive for this high-tech company.
The audience at Citrix Synergy will be looking for leadership, personality, and a reason to rekindle the Citrix love. Starting the moment new President and CEO Kirill Tatarinov walks onstage to deliver the keynote, audience members will be judging him meticulously, and they will immediately form opinions of him. Those first few minutes in the spotlight will be critical, and everything from his appearance to his demeanor to his actual message will be judged, especially because he has been largely tucked away for the past four months. Kirill is the single most important variable in the success of the Synergy conference—and of Citrix’s future.