CIO Spotlight: Cathy Southwick, Pure Storage

What's the best career advice you ever received? “Listen and amplify unheard voices. Not everyone has the same way of consuming information or being creative.”

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Pure Storage

Name: Cathy Southwick

Company: Pure Storage

Job title: CIO

Date started current role: November 2018

Location: Mountain View, CA

Cathy Southwick joined Pure Storage in 2018 as Chief Information Officer. In this role, she leads Pure’s global IT strategy and advances the company’s operations through the delivery of next-generation technology capabilities and systems. Southwick is an accomplished leader with over 20 years of experience defining and executing forward-looking IT strategies. Prior to Pure, Southwick held leadership positions at AT&T, including Vice President, Technology Engineering and Vice President, Cloud Planning & Engineering. During her tenure at AT&T, Southwick led the planning and execution of IT strategies from the Core Network, IT application modernisation, and the IT cloud. Before joining AT&T, Southwick spent 11 years at Viking Freight System (now owned by FedEx) where she held escalating leadership positions.

 What was your first job? The very first job I secured was an internship position with IBM (Research Labs) during high school. I had the opportunity to work with and support projects for a team of all women college software engineers - from running test scripts to managing code libraries. As you can imagine, we didn’t have many of the automated technology tools that we do today.

It was a very rewarding experience and helped instil a love of technology early on in my career.

Did you always want to work in IT? I always knew that I liked technology, but never really thought of it as “IT” in my early years. My love for technology came from the realisation of what a critical role it plays in society. It’s always been so interesting to me how technology can be used to change how people work and ultimately how businesses perform. 

For example, when the very first iPhone came out, the device wasn’t just a simple phone. It was a platform changing our expectations of what is possible. Think about it: we never used to casually carry around flashlights, calculators, or even have extremely easy access to the internet at the tip of our fingers. Technology is incredible.

What was your education? Do you hold any certifications? What are they? I have a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration from Saint Mary's College and an MBA from the University of Phoenix.

I’ve acquired various certifications throughout my career and believe that continuous education and learning is paramount to success. (i.e. ITIL, Agile, SIM and hold a patent).

Explain your career path. Did you take any detours? If so, discuss. I’ve always worked and completed my education as part of my overall journey. I started my career in the supply chain/logistics area, and worked in human resources, operations, and M&A, to name a few. However, my passion was always how technology impacted the various parts of the business and I quickly ended up back in a technology position. As I started my career at AT&T, where I spent the majority of my career, I worked across most technology disciplines with increasing responsibilities. First joining as a senior technical director, I quickly worked my way up to becoming the company’s VP of Technology Engineering before I left in 2018.

Having worked in such an incredibly diverse and large-scale technical environment, I’ve been exposed to a variety of technologies, business challenges and people transformations. It was amazing to help drive teams to their highest potential in a very complex and impactful business.

My time at AT&T was an incredibly rewarding experience and shaped my ability to join Pure Storage as CIO in 2018.

What business or technology initiatives will be most significant in driving IT investments in your organisation in the coming year? Pure’s vision to deliver a modern data experience, supported by our data strategy, will continue to drive our IT investments.

Our data strategy is the backbone of everything we do here at Pure. It’s the foundation from which everything (including our customer and employee experience) gets built. As a result, we’re always thinking about our data models and what we can do to improve and innovate.

What are the CEO's top priorities for you in the coming year? How do you plan to support the business with IT? The top priority for IT continues to be a focus on business enablement and driving an optimised customer experience. We plan to do that by focusing on three critical strategic objectives:

  • Elevating the Customer Experience: IT must collaborate across the organisation to reimagine and support the evolution of our customer experience, while gaining a 360-degree view of each customer. Our focus on the end user is why Pure’s net promoter score is in the top 1% of B2B companies today!
  • Securing the Enterprise: With an expansion in employees and customers, it’s critical to have the right controls in place to support customer success and employee productivity and collaboration.
  • Promoting Diverse Teams: Diversity in talent underscores innovation, strategy, and growth. Without diverse teams, organisations lack perspective, creativity, and collaboration.

Does the conventional CIO role include responsibilities it should not hold? Should the role have additional responsibilities it does not currently include? I don’t believe there’s a traditional CIO role anymore. The role continues to evolve and really depends on a company and its core needs.

In my role, I place a heavy focus on customers and understanding what it’s like to be the technology buyer (I’ve been there!). However, as an IT organisation, we’re focused on everything from product security to workforce collaboration and productivity, to enterprise applications, case strategies and management, and more.

The truth is, CIOs must be nimble and agile. We’re in a very unique role and have the opportunity to see the ins and outs of the business at a macro level. CIOs are becoming more and more involved in core business decisions and serve as a cross organisational team. Working as an IT shop isn’t effective. IT teams are the connective tissue of the organisation and need to work cross functionally to promote organisational success.

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? Yes! We’re leading digital transformation that emphasises customer experience, revenue growth and operational efficiency. For Pure, the balance is defined by our overall approach as a company. Because we’re a customer-first organisation, our focus is always about our customers and their experience with Pure first. Our products will naturally drive the revenue side of things.

Describe the maturity of your digital business. For example, do you have KPIs to quantify the value of IT? We’re continuing to evolve our digital roadmap at Pure, and are focused on delivering transformation for our business partners first and foremost in collaboration with our customer experience and go-to-market teams. In IT, We have KPIs on how we measure and improve by using SLAs and receive NPS scores, measuring our productivity on how quickly we can resolve issues, provide services, and more.

What does a good culture fit look like in your organisation? How do you cultivate it? I’m extremely passionate about boosting work collaboration and strengthening talent development around diversity and inclusion efforts. I like to think of my role as CIO as being a “people leader,” prioritising the empowerment and mentorship of my team. This is something that’s even more critical than ever, particularly in a fully remote environment that has posed unprecedented challenges.

Great culture stems from talented and diverse individuals, something of immeasurable importance to us here at Pure. We value teamwork and the support of each and every individual within a team. Doing what’s right for our teams, what’s right for Pure, and what’s right for our customers will ultimately lead to success.

What roles or skills are you finding (or anticipate to be) the most difficult to fill? While there is and will always be competition for talent in the technology industry, the most critical roles that are difficult to fill are those requiring platform skills and a broader technical knowledge of integrated platforms. There are countless very accomplished and brilliant individuals in the talent pool right now that have very specific skill sets, however platform skills tend to be the most difficult to find.

What's the best career advice you ever received? Listen and amplify unheard voices. Not everyone has the same way of consuming information or being creative. Some may appear as a wallflower in meetings, while others are quick to think on their feet and always lead the conversation. This leads to great ideas that never get heard. The best advice I’ve ever received is to help amplify those voices that aren’t generally heard, promote diversity of opinion and truly empower all members of a team. 

Do you have a succession plan? If so, discuss the importance of and challenges with training up high-performing staff. Yes. Pure as a whole is very focused on succession planning in addition to strong development of leaders. We actually have a leadership program called “Leading at Pure” which supports the development of high performing leaders in the business - of which IT is well-represented.

The challenge for any organisation is to prepare for the unknown. Providing up and coming leaders with development, coaching, and visibility opportunities is absolutely critical to ensure seamless successions.

What advice would you give to aspiring IT leaders? IT teams are built on relationships and people. Recognise the talents and value across those you’re working with, and treat each member of your team with respect. The best ideas and best collaboration come from a connected team.

What has been your greatest career achievement? My biggest sense of achievement comes from building high performing, diverse teams on a global scale in my current role as CIO at Pure, as well as my past roles at AT&T. It’s been incredibly rewarding to watch individuals flourish when they’re empowered to make the decisions that lead not only to their own personal success, but also to that of the business.

Looking back with 20:20 hindsight, what would you have done differently? Looking back on the earlier years of my career, I wish I had been more bold and courageous, and quicker to respond.

What are you reading now? I’m currently reading A World Without Email by Cal Newport, which is all about unleashing a new era of productivity. It’s really pushing me to rethink how we continue to modernise our approach to work and collaboration.

Most people don't know that I… Love to be outside and I love to ski! The snow/mountains are my happy place.

In my spare time, I like to…Spend time with my family and friends! I also love to ski and hike, weather permitting. Additionally, I’ve been doing some gardening amid the pandemic.

Ask me to do anything but… Clean the house and do laundry… :) I’m willing to do anything that I would ask my team or peers to do.