CIO Spotlight: Sameer Khera, NortonLifeLock

Does the conventional CIO role include responsibilities it should not hold? “The traditional role of a CIO was to manage internal IT. The role has evolved, and the CIO is now a critical business leader who has a seat at the highest table.”

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NortonLifeLock

Name: Sameer Khera

Company: NortonLifeLock

Job title: CIO

Date started current role: July 2019

Location: Tempe, Arizona

Sameer Khera is the chief information officer at NortonLifeLock. He is responsible for driving the company's information technology strategy and operations. His goal is to drive increased productivity, better efficiency and strategic business partnerships through simple and intuitive experiences for NortonLifeLock’s global workforce. His career has spanned the globe, working in India, UAE, Australia and the US. Sameer holds a Bachelor of Engineering degree in Electrical Engineering from National Institute of Technology in India.

What was your first job? My first job out of engineering school was with a heavy equipment manufacturing company building tractors and earth moving equipment. After the initial training on the shop floor, I joined the Information Services department which gave me exposure to payroll processing and other IT systems running on an IBM mainframe computer.

Did you always want to work in IT? No, my induction into IT was by chance. I worked at Cisco in their tech support department as a director of customer support. I had recently taken on responsibility for the web-based tech support. Our CIO Brad Boston offered me a role to run all Cisco.com, which was a much bigger role and took me into the IT world.

What was your education? Do you hold any certifications? What are they?  I hold a degree in electrical engineering from National Institute of Technology in India.

I have held many certifications such as Cisco CCIE, CCNA. Earlier in my career I was Novell certified (CNA) and took several Stanford classes in program management and leadership. While at Cisco, I worked 1:1 with a leadership coach which was instrumental in shaping my leadership skills.

Explain your career path. Did you take any detours? If so, discuss. I have lived and worked in four different countries – India, UAE, Australia and the USA. I started working for Digital Equipment Corp (DEC) soon after graduating for college and moved to Dubai, where I lived for 8 years working for DEC supporting large installations of DEC VAX and PDP series machines. I moved to Australia in 1995, where I joined Cisco Technical Assistance Center (TAC) and supported Cisco customer in the entire Asia Pacific region. I traveled extensively in the region, helping customers build and support large networks using Cisco routers and switches.

This was the defining period of my career as I was in a fast growth company and learnt many networking technologies in a short time.

Cisco moved me to the San Jose TAC, where I continued my journey and later was moved to IT to run Cisco.com, which was responsible for 90% of customer support and brought in $30 Billion in annual revenues at that time.

Working in four countries and working with so many different cultures made me a global leader. I will advise anyone to seek international work experiences during their career if an opportunity presents itself.

What business or technology initiatives will be most significant in driving IT investments in your organisation in the coming year? I can see us make additional investments in information security and moving more applications to the cloud. I also see additional investments in data space and building more automation.

What are the CEO's top priorities for you in the coming year? How do you plan to support the business with IT? Our top priority as a company is to hit the triple double of doubling our customer base, achieving double digit growth, and doubling our EPS in 3 to 5 years. This will be accomplished through organic and inorganic growth, and IT will be a key enabler of this strategy.  

During Symantec days I ran the M&A program. We acquired more than a dozen companies and divested Veritas, Verisign and eventually the Symantec enterprise business. This helped NortonLifeLock build our M&A muscle, which enabled us to fully integrate Avira within one quarter and quickly realise the expected synergies. IT will continue to be a differentiator when it comes to integrating large and small acquisitions and achieving synergies at NortonLifeLock.

In addition, IT is playing an important role in simplifying our application architecture through technology consolidations, which puts us in a great place for the future.

In a consumer company, data is at the heart of everything. IT is driving many data initiatives which help empower our business with insights for better decision making.

Does the conventional CIO role include responsibilities it should not hold? Should the role have additional responsibilities it does not currently include? The traditional role of a CIO was to manage internal IT. The role has evolved, and the CIO is now a critical business leader who has a seat at the highest table. At NortonLifeLock, the CIO reports to the CEO and is expected to have a deep understanding of the business. CIO’s have the unique position of seeing horizontally across every department in the company, so they play a pivotal role in influencing business processes and driving efficiencies. CIO is a key advisor to the company leadership on process and technology. CIO’s can play an important role in driving digital transformation working closely with the management team.

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 believe that everyone at the company has a responsibility to drive forward digital transformation. Operational efficiency is our main priority as we look to simplify our application architecture after our Avira acquisition. To me, that goes hand-in-hand with revenue growth. As CIO, it is my responsibility to drive operational excellence while ensuring strong business performance.

Describe the maturity of your digital business. For example, do you have KPIs to quantify the value of IT? IT has metrics to measure every aspect of what we do. We have organisational health metrics, which include diversity and inclusion metrics in addition to headcount and spend. We have metrics related to data quality and data self-service. We have all the standard ITIL metrics any IT org is measured by, such as uptime for IT services. We put a lot of emphasis on security and compliance metrics, such as vulnerability management and system patching.

What does good culture fit look like in your organisation? How do you cultivate it? We are a very business driven organisation. A good cultural fit would be a person who is relentless in finding solutions to enable business growth. In today’s world everything requires cross functional work, which requires collaboration and influencing skills to be a fit in our organisation. We are a very scrappy organisation, which means we consider perfection the enemy of ‘good enough’. We encourage risk taking, transparency and above all encourage everyone to develop business acumen. We have strong company values, and we cultivate these by walking the walk every day.

What roles or skills are you finding (or anticipate to be) the most difficult to fill? Good IT leaders who are business focused are always hard to find. Another skill which is hard to find is enterprise architects who can truly influence business and drive business architecture simplification. Good data engineers and data scientists are also hard to come by. I believe technology skills can be learnt, but influencing skills and leadership skills are the more difficult skills to find.

What's the best career advice you ever received? Every time you are presenting to senior management, think that you are auditioning for the next level job.

Before you expect to be promoted to the next level, you need to be doing that job today.

Do you have a succession plan? If so, discuss the importance of and challenges with training up high-performing staff. Yes, I do have a succession plan. I am personally motivated by growing the next level leaders, and I take pride in that fact that many of the leaders I coached during my career have gone on to achieve great successes in their own careers. I stay in touch with these leaders, and we often talk about being on the same team again.

It takes time to train high performing staff, but every day at work presents you that opportunity. Giving high performing staff the opportunity to present to senior staff or giving them a stretch assignment with high visibility can work wonders for their confidence. I like to build a learning culture within the organisation where every month someone is conducting a training class on any topic. This keeps morale high and staff motivated.

What advice would you give to aspiring IT leaders? Transform yourself from an IT leader to a business leader by building your business knowledge and financial acumen.

What has been your greatest career achievement? I have worked in four countries and held a variety of roles, both business and IT. My greatest achievement is that I have been successful in every role that I have taken on by making a difference to the business and to the people around me.

Looking back with 20:20 hindsight, what would you have done differently? I regret not spending any time in Sales. I would have loved to do that.

What are you reading now? A Promised Land by Barack Obama.

Most people don't know that I… Have the longest running Indian radio show in the USA. The show is called “Gaata Rahe Mera Dil” (May the heart sing on) and is available on FM radio in the Bay Area and also as a podcast on all podcasting platforms, including iTunes and Spotify. My radio show has a following throughout the world.

In my spare time, I like to…Watch sports while cooking something interesting.

Ask me to do anything but… Busy and mundane work that does not add business value.