CIO Spotlight: Trevor Schulze, RingCentral

What does a good culture fit look like in your organisation? "I believe in creating a culture of trust..."

Name: Trevor Schulze

Company: RingCentral

Job title: CIO

Date started current role: December 2018

Location: San Francisco, CA

As RingCentral's Chief Information Officer, Trevor Schulze provides strategic leadership to the company's global IT team in delivering a comprehensive portfolio of cloud-first, leading-edge technology services and solutions. Prior to joining RingCentral in 2018, Schulze served as Global CIO of Micron Technology, where he oversaw an international team charged with delivering business capabilities that sped product time-to-market, improved customer engagement, optimised supply chain operations, and maximised manufacturing capital utilisation in 18 countries worldwide. Previously, Schulze was Corporate Vice President IT, Enterprise Applications at Broadcom Corporation, and Corporate Vice President IT at Advanced Micro Devices.

What was your first job? When I first came out of college, I faced an interesting choice: accepting a research job at Bell Labs, or jumping into product development at a little start-up in Menlo Park called Cisco Systems. I decided to take a risk. It was a fascinating time to be a part of that culture of innovation, surrounded by free-flowing ideas and a sense of excitement. Basically, it was the Silicon Valley culture we all recognise today, but in its infancy. We felt like we were changing the world, and we were. What I didn't realise at the time was how well that agile, time-to-market driven, customer-focused environment was preparing me to become a high-tech leader in a digital world.

Did you always want to work in IT? I did. I grew up in the heart of Silicon Valley, back when fruit orchards sat side-by-side with semiconductor fabs, surrounded by technology and technologists. My first exposure to IT was when Apple donated an Apple II computer to my elementary school. It was dropped off in the library, and no one knew what to do with it. I was curious and volunteered to set it up. Little did I know that I'd fall in love with programming. While my classmates were playing dodgeball, I was inside teaching myself to code, becoming the "expert" on running the computer, connecting the modem to a bulletin board system (BBS) to ask questions and find games. The entire experience changed my mental model and the possibilities I saw in the world. I knew then that I wanted to be in computer science.

What was your education? Do you hold any certifications? What are they? Growing up when and where I did, I could see that the world was going through a massive digital revolution. I had always loved tinkering with electronics and wanted to change the world through technology. In fact, don't tell my parents, but instead of saving up for college, I often used my newspaper route money to buy computer parts from Halted and Fry's Electronics. Given my passion for computer architecture, going into electrical engineering was a natural choice, and I hold electrical engineering degrees from the University of Arizona and Stanford.

Explain your career path. Did you take any detours? If so, discuss. I began my career designing hardware, firmware, embedded software and then ultimately, applications. I loved creating and building, and those years gave me a detailed understanding of how computers work (and still do to this day). When Cisco began rapidly acquiring companies, I was asked to conduct due diligence to determine how to integrate the engineering processes and tools of our acquisitions. It gave me a chance to see beyond my corner of the world into how a company operates as an organism. This exposure to business operations prompted a mid-career shift. I moved into IT to get closer to the business, with the ultimate goal of becoming a CxO. Over time, I held leadership positions in all of the major areas of IT and eventually moved into the CIO role. Now, I apply my engineering background to create and build across all aspects of the business.

What business or technology initiatives will be most significant in driving IT investments in your organisation in the coming year? RingCentral is in a scale-up mode, and in our drive for continued growth, we're targeting how to simplify and scale our digital footprint for customers, partners and employees. Our current focus is on unifying our end-to-end business processes, as well as introducing more self-service capabilities into our environment. We need to ensure that advanced automation helps us be nimble enough to keep up with business demands. This approach includes making the most of our own RingCentral services internally in our mission to be our own first and best customer.

What are the CEO's top priorities for you in the coming year? How do you plan to support the business with IT? The overriding priority for our entire executive team is growth. Growth in the diversity and depth of our products, growth in the number of customers and partners we serve, and growth in our international operations. The challenge for IT is to support this expansion, continually improving the efficiency and effectiveness of our business processes, all while keeping costs in check.

Does the conventional CIO role include responsibilities it should not hold? Should the role have additional responsibilities it does not currently include? Digital disruption has caused the CIO role to evolve rapidly in recent years. Not only has the scope and complexity of the role expanded, but also its significance within the company. CIOs are becoming more strategic business leaders, aligned with line-level executives in bearing the responsibility of forwarding the company's mission. At the same time, the CIO has the added burden of understanding all aspects of the business and the disciplines of risk, governance, business process and compliance. The most effective and successful CIOs today are more than simply order takers. They have a seat at the table.

Are you leading a digital transformation? If so, does it emphasise customer experience and revenue growth or operational efficiency? If both, how do you balance the two? I like to think that at this point, because we were born in the cloud, we've moved beyond digital transformation at RingCentral. Other organisations are undergoing digital transformations now to get to where we began. Our native cloud environment puts us in the unique position of not having to worry about legacy and hybrid systems, and being able to focus on accelerating the business — driving revenue and customer and employee experience — with the digital footprint we already have in place. But at the same time, transformation is a continuum. No matter how technically-savvy or advanced we may think we are, there's always the opportunity to improve on our customer experience, acquisition and activation. Designing and applying solutions that help our teams and customers move faster, raise service levels, or make better decisions ultimately leads to revenue growth. We can always do better.

Describe the maturity of your digital business. For example, do you have KPIs to quantify the value of IT? Given the nature of our business, we're well ahead of the curve from a digital communications and collaboration standpoint. We fully leverage the RingCentral platform to create innovative ways for employees, customers and partners to work together. As a result, engagement is very high. We keep a cloud-first IT model and mindset in everything we do and as a business function, we run lean. Every function within our company employs a key set of metrics to monitor its performance, and IT is no different. We've established KPIs to monitor the effectiveness of our employee support services, our capacity to complete business-requested projects on time and on budget, and our ability to supply data from our data warehouse to support routine business operations and inform strategic decision-making.

What does a good culture fit look like in your organisation? How do you cultivate it? I believe in creating a culture of trust—both with business partners and within the team. In my experience, you do this by encouraging transparency and honest communication. By doing what you say you're going to do. At the same time, I strive to create a culture of learning. I think this starts with surrounding yourself with people who can teach you and one another. By letting everyone know they can come to you with problems but also empowering them to develop creative ideas on their own, and giving them the room they need to have transformative ideas and innovate freely.

What roles or skills are you finding (or anticipate to be) the most difficult to fill? I think the answer to that question is always changing. Given the constant emergence and obsolescence of trends and technologies, continuous learning is critical for IT professionals. But that's easier said than done. As a leader, you need to give your team the time, space and sense of empowerment to pursue new training. Upskilling allows them not only to stay current, but also to bring to the table new ideas and technologies — the hallmark of a culture of innovation. To further foster that environment, you also need team members to demonstrate soft skills such as curiosity, critical thinking, communications, adaptability and attitude.

What's the best career advice you ever received? I've been fortunate enough to have worked at some of the greatest high-tech companies of our generation, and been exposed to some truly legendary industry leaders. Here's what I've learned: Make your luck. Work harder than anyone else. Be nice. Never burn a bridge. Your network is an integral part of your success. Take the "Monday morning test." Does what you're doing truly inspire you to get out of bed? If not, fix it. Be bold and fearless. The world is changing, and IT leaders need to break down barriers. Choose your boss with care, and then be an even better boss yourself.

Do you have a succession plan? If so, discuss the importance of and challenges with training up high-performing staff.  I've always taken succession planning seriously. We all started somewhere, and you need to carve out opportunities for your team members to learn, grow and ultimately, replace you. The challenge comes in ensuring that potential successors are given the chance to learn how to step into your shoes, both through exposure to other senior leaders and within the industry itself. Be secure enough in your position to allow them the opportunity to shine—because, in turn, their success reflects on you.

What advice would you give to aspiring IT leaders? Be brave. Be a constant learner. Grow and foster your network internally and externally. Build, trust and protect your team. With every advancement in your career, move beyond the work and responsibilities of the role that came before. This means letting go and allowing others to take on your old job. Let them. Let them make mistakes and learn from them. Lead and coach, but don't hand-hold.

What has been your greatest career achievement? Since childhood, my life's dream has been to build things that people use every day, that make their lives better or easier in some way. Early in my career as an engineer, I built core routing products that hundreds of millions of people relied on, and that scaled into billion-dollar businesses. The patents for those products still hang on my wall today. As a CIO, I've driven multiple business transformations. I get to walk down the hall every day and see people using the products and systems my team has created. In that way, I'm still the inventor I wanted to be as a kid.

Looking back with 20:20 hindsight, what would you have done differently? I feel fortunate to have been a part of an amazing time and place in history, but I'm a big believer in looking forward, not back. It's easy to have regrets or beat yourself up with could've, should've, would've. I'd rather channel that energy into learning or doing something new. And sure, when something is unfamiliar to you, you'll make decisions and occasionally misstep. Everyone does. Don't get analysis paralysis. Shoot for nine wins out of 10 and keep moving.

What are you reading now? "Thank You for Being Late" by Thomas Friedman

Most people don't know that I… helped pay my way through college by being a DJ.

In my spare time, I like to…drive my wife crazy by juggling plates in the kitchen.

Ask me to do anything but… not everything.