CIO Spotlight: Mark Hopkins, Skullcandy, Inc.
Human Resources

CIO Spotlight: Mark Hopkins, Skullcandy, Inc.

Name: Mark Hopkins

Company: Skullcandy, Inc.

Job title: CIO

Time in current role: 2 years

Location: Park City, Utah

Education: I went to the University of Arizona in Tucson and graduated with a BA and BS. A year or two after graduating I realized I wanted to learn more about computer science, analytics, and MIS, so started taking as many relevant classes as possible at the local community college in Cupertino.

As CIO at Skullcandy, Mark Hopkins has responsibility for worldwide IT, digital, and customer service. His team is constantly adapting to and meeting the challenges of a rapidly growing business using technologies such as cloud computing, data warehousing, and virtualization. Prior to Skullcandy, Hopkins worked in Silicon Valley for fabless semiconductor manufacturers Xilinx, where he managed the Operations Business Solutions group -- a global team responsible for implementing systems and processes to streamline operations, improving customer service and reducing cost. Here, he shares his career path and offers advice for aspiring CIOs.

What was your first job? My first job out of college was as a production control planner at Cypress Semiconductor in the San Francisco Bay Area. It was an amazing time to be part of the chip industry, which gave Silicon Valley its name.

Did you always want to work in IT? No. I majored in Economics and French in college so I thought I would be working for the World Bank or some other international finance firm. Once I started my planning job I quickly realized how much I liked supply chain, and how critical IT systems were to making accurate and quick decisions. I pivoted and began to learn as much as possible about programming, databases and business applications.

Tell us about your career path. After four years at Cypress, and having transitioned part time into a business applications development and analytics role, I moved to another semiconductor company, Xilinx. There, I took on a full time role implementing supply chain planning systems. Technically, it was a “shadow IT” role but I worked very closely with the IT team. Eventually my team at Xilinx expanded to support supply chain analytics and some early dashboards, and we created a number of web-based applications to support the supply chain group. At the time, the web-based apps were relatively new and it was really cool to be innovating in that area, connecting business applications, processes, databases, and manufacturing partners inside and outside the firewall. As I advanced in my career, I had the chance to be program manager for Xilinx’s Oracle ERP implementation so I dove into the world of massive scale software, supporting a $2 billion global company. I did take a career detour; after 13 years at Xilinx, my wife and I decided to sell the house, leave Silicon Valley, and move our family to Park City, Utah. Looking back on it now, there was no reason other than feeding some restlessness on both our parts, and the desire for a lifestyle change oriented more towards the mountains and outdoors. After doing odd consulting jobs for a year and a half to make ends meet, I connected with headphone maker Skullcandy, which was in full startup mode at the time, located right in Park City. I was the first full time IT employee they hired. In the time I’ve been here we’ve gone through hyper growth, acquisitions, international expansion, an IPO, and we’ve recently gone private again and sold our gaming business to Logitech. Along the way this has presented many interesting IT challenges for my team.

What business or technology initiatives will be most significant in driving IT investments in your organization in the coming year? We are in the midst of replatforming our website to BigCommerce. We expect that effort to provide us with a lot more agility and it will be managed mostly by our in-house digital team. As has been the case for several years now, analytics will play a big role. We are using a dashboarding and visualization tool called Sisense, which has transformed the way the business uses data day to day. We are also exploring next steps with text analytics, and trying to understand how we can take the mountains of review data, social media and customer interactions and use it to drive process and product improvements.

What are the CEO's top priorities for you in the coming year? How do you plan to support the business with IT? Priorities for my team and me include continuing to leverage Sisense from an analytics point of view. The data-driven culture starts at the top with our CEO. We have so much data and the business has developed a mentality around the efficiencies we can gain with analytics, and there is a huge appetite to link analytics with transactional data to run the business. In addition, we are looking at our customer service processes and systems and taking those to the next level this year with a company-wide initiative. Security, data protection and GDPR compliance are also on the agenda for the year.

Does the conventional CIO role include responsibilities it should not hold? Should the role have additional responsibilities it does not currently include? I just took on managing our digital and customer service teams last year and the synergy has been incredible. It makes a lot of sense to me to have those departments working so closely together with IT, especially in a company like ours where our customers, who are pretty tech savvy, are expecting an A+ brand experience everywhere: on our website, on Amazon, Facebook, Instagram, emerging social platforms, email interactions, the list goes on.

Are you leading a digital transformation? If so, does it emphasize customer experience and revenue growth or operational efficiency? If both, how do you balance the two? A year ago, I would have said I was primarily focused on operational efficiency, and transforming the business with easy to use applications, and awesome analytics and insights. Now, with digital and customer service in the fold, my team definitely has a revenue and customer experience focus as well. Balancing the two has not been difficult, as everything is related. If you have good data, you can make good business decisions and drive revenue. If you have great analytics around your customer experiences, you can pull themes out of that and drive process and product improvements. If you apply structure and measure how your ecommerce ecosystem is performing, and you have a great brand experience on your site, you improve your chances of making the sale, whether it’s on your own branded site, though social, or on a marketplace like Amazon or Jet.

Describe the maturity of your digital business. For example, do you have KPIs to quantify the value of IT? I think we have achieved a pretty solid level of maturity. For example, Skullcandy committed to the cloud over 10 years ago when we implemented SAP’s cloud ERP platform, SAP Business ByDesign. We didn’t know it at the time, but that decision set us up for a robust, cost-effective solution that supported our growth and is still our business backbone. Today we have a hybrid model with cloud applications working side by side with in-house applications, and we are experts at integration. We have good adoption of our tools and applications, a relatively simple and easy to support infrastructure, and we are regarded as partners for the business. We are measuring and driving business KPI’s and inevitably IT is a key enabler for many of them, so we work closely with leadership on optimizing those.

What does good culture fit look like in your organization? How do you cultivate it? People do well if they are business-savvy, approachable, and can easily range between business and technical concepts. Ultimately, they have to connect what they are doing to the business value. I try to give people opportunities to try new things, especially if they are showing some passion about a particular business or technical issue. We just moved in to a beautiful new office that has 360 degree views of the ski resorts, bike trails and beautiful Park City landscape so many of us take the time to get out to the mountain in the mornings for a few runs before things get cooking at work, or take a bike ride at lunch.

What roles or skills are you finding (or anticipate to be) the most difficult to fill? Utah has a great tech scene so it’s hard to fill IT roles in general. Park City is about 30 minutes from Salt Lake so we compete with many companies offering shorter commutes.

What's the best career advice you ever received? My first boss used to say, “The person with the data, wins.” That stuck with me and it has held more and more true as time has gone on. Another favorite from early in my career came from my first Director of Supply Chain who used to say “Don’t pave the goat path.” It’s good practice to question the way things are, before you try to automate or improve it.

Do you have a succession plan? If so, discuss the importance of and challenges with training up high-performing staff. In a fast moving environment at a small company, succession planning has been informal. In the last year I have had some turnover at the more senior level and with the new organization I have been focusing my management more with my senior leadership team and things are starting to gel in that area. So it’ll be more of a focus item for 2018 and beyond.

What advice would you give to aspiring IT leaders? Put yourself out there and get involved with the business. The days of the stereotypical IT department in the basement are gone and if you wait for business problems to come your way to be solved, you are quickly going to become bored.

What has been your greatest career achievement? I get a lot of satisfaction out of seeing people who I have crossed paths with go on to do different things. On a few occasions they have told me later that something I did or said really helped them along the way. You don’t always know that in the moment but it’s really nice to hear it later.

Looking back with 20:20 hindsight, what would you have done differently? Seriously, I wish I majored in Computer Science. I feel like I didn’t find my calling until a few years into my career.


What are you reading now?
News-wise, I read “The Week,” and occasionally “Barron’s.” I also check the NYTimes website to keep up with current events. And, I’ve recently been reading stuff by Scott Galloway, Austin Kleon and Jeff Chang.

Most people don't know that I… Lived in France for a year when I was twelve. That early experience helped shape my world-view.

Ask me to do anything but… Sign an annual software contract that auto-renews.

In my spare time, I like to… Travel, mountain bike, snowboard, hang out with my family and dogs, watch live music, grill.



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