CIO Spotlight: Paul Heard, Zuora

Does the conventional CIO role include responsibilities it should not hold? “I’ve seen the most successful CIOs take on responsibilities around customer and employee success. The CIO role can no longer be focused on just tech enablement…”


Name: Paul Heard

Company: Zuora

Job title: Vice President and CIO

Date started current role: November 2020

Location: Austin, Texas

Paul Heard is the Vice President and CIO of Zuora, the leading subscription management platform provider. Heard is an internationally experienced digital transformation leader with CIO leadership experience in both the US and UK. His experience has most recently focused on technology and enterprise software organisations; he has also worked in automotive, financial services and fast-moving consumer brands such as Mercedes-Benz, Chrysler and Mars. He lives in Austin, Texas with his wife and children.

What was your first job? My dad ran an electrical business, and at a young age I started working on the weekends rewiring houses and helping with billing and accounts.  My father used this as an opportunity to teach me about budgeting and responsibility, setting the expectation that I should save more than I spent, which has been a good guide for life. 

Did you always want to work in IT? Yes. My interest in IT was sparked while I was still in school. My math teacher ran a computer programming class after school which I had the opportunity to join. From the start I was excited by the technology, as I still am today. 

What was your education? Do you hold any certifications? What are they? I have a degree in mathematics from the University of Oxford. I’ve also taken numerous continuing education classes and courses from places such as Gartner’s CIO Academy, Executive Education from Harvard, Columbia University and more.

Continuing education is critical for all leaders, but it is especially essential for IT. With the technological environment shifting so rapidly, it’s necessary to stay current on new innovations and continue to push yourself to think critically and creatively. Continuing education keeps your mind agile, skills fresh and ears to the ground for new strategies and opportunities.

Explain your career path. Did you take any detours? If so, discuss. My first job in IT was a systems manager for an automated warehouse and robot delivery system that was all managed from an HP 1000. It was a rigid environment, but it taught me about the importance of quality and communications. If I messed up, the factory stopped. That company invested in talent and I changed roles frequently learning different areas of the business. They were also early to establish global teams and I quickly gained experience working with people across the world from various cultures. 

I left for my first CIO role at Daimler taking a strategic approach to reduce costs. Next I joined Hewlett-Packard where I led transformation projects on a massive scale. I was leading the transformation of HP Software onto a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) landscape when it was spun out to Micro Focus. This transition showed me that cloud solutions such as SaaS would be crucial to the future of business.

I’ve seen firsthand how a digital-first approach can create a strong competitive advantage and accelerate the pace of innovation. Old tools and processes are not enough to support the agility needed for digital businesses. Instead, solutions such as what Zuora provides, are needed to stay flexible and generate actionable insights to improve the customer experience in the current technology landscape.

I joined Zuora last year because I’ve seen how essential ongoing customer relationships are to successful businesses. Companies from Amazon, Uber and Netflix have grown into the giants they are today due to the importance they place on insights and real-time optimisation of the customer experience. All of them use subscriptions as their backbone. The subscription business model is key to the next phase of companies’ digital transformations. It’s ideal for companies that are more tech savvy because it allows them to gather constant feedback data from customers and insights into how they are using a company’s products and turn that into a competitive advantage. I knew that Zuora was the place that would give me an opportunity to play a role in this next evolution, and I haven’t looked back.

What business or technology initiatives will be most significant in driving IT investments in your organisation in the coming year? Our goal in IT is to make everyone’s lives easier and more efficient. One of our top priorities is reducing friction in our main internal business processes, such as finance, to enable us to scale quickly. We are even using our own products, Zuora Billing and Revenue, to support this growth and smooth out wrinkles. Another initiative that is playing a large role in our planning this year is cybersecurity.

What are the CEO's top priorities for you in the coming year? How do you plan to support the business with IT? I have three main priorities this upcoming year:

Ensuring our systems will be able to scale and accelerate our growth. We’re expanding quickly and IT must be able to act as a catalyst for this growth and not a deterrent.

Optimising productivity for hybrid working models and ensuring everyone has the tools they need to be successful in this new environment.

Continuing to invest in cybersecurity due to the growing threat of cybercrime.

Does the conventional CIO role include responsibilities it should not hold? Should the role have additional responsibilities it does not currently include? The CIO and a strong IT team are key tools to help companies transform. IT should focus on innovation and how to bring a competitive advantage to the business. While skilled handling of technology is a must, the key to a company’s success is the ability of IT to lead the transformation journey. CIOs should not be looking to shed responsibility, but instead find areas they can drive efficiencies and better deliver innovation.

I’ve seen the most successful CIOs take on responsibilities around customer and employee success. The CIO role can no longer be focused on just tech enablement, instead it must underpin every aspect of the business. Tech execs must embrace this fluidity and partner with leaders of other segments of the company. This is critical, in order to align on what technology could do to help them advance each of their roles in the business and deliver more value to the end customer.

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? Zuora is a digital-first company. We support businesses’ subscription programs, which are delivered mainly as online services. We’re helping our customers with their own digital transformations and leading the way on how companies can take the most advantage of the real-time client insights now available to them to improve their customer experience.  As Zuora grows, I am bringing advanced processes and new innovations to power our continued success. 

Describe the maturity of your digital business. For example, do you have KPIs to quantify the value of IT? We embrace the OKR culture. The OKR format is a useful tool to align on priorities and ensure the skills of IT are assigned to the most important needs of the company.  All of my goals are expressed in the business results they will achieve. OKRs are jointly owned with the business team that will benefit the most from the change. 

What does good culture fit look like in your organisation? How do you cultivate it? At Zuora, we believe that every employee is the CEO of his or her Zuora career, i.e., a ZEO. This empowers employees to pursue innovation and ownership around their work. We cultivate it by allowing employees freedom, responsibility and flexibility.

What roles or skills are you finding (or anticipate to be) the most difficult to fill? The current job market is the most challenging I have seen in my career.  I have hired some amazing people, but finding them can take time. Highly skilled non-managers are the hardest to find, particularly with cybersecurity skills. Growing talent internally is a key route to address this issue. 

What's the best career advice you ever received? Don’t wait until you feel ready for your next challenge, if you want to grow you need to accept that it may be uncomfortable, but have confidence you will learn by doing.

Do you have a succession plan? If so, discuss the importance of and challenges with training up high-performing staff. Yes, I have a strong focus on developing my team, ensuring we are cultivating strong talent and enabling them to see long-term career paths at Zuora. This is critical for retention and continuity of the business. Success should not lie in the hands of a single leader, but should be the culmination of the entire team’s efforts. There are several key attributes that I look for in my leaders: the passion to make a difference through collaboration with others, the vision to set direction and the ability to execute. 

What advice would you give to aspiring IT leaders? Learn the business. I have worked with all aspects of the company and you quickly learn that business leaders want to discuss their business and how to make it better. Talk their language, and they will trust you to take care of the technology. 

What has been your greatest career achievement? Leading the $100M digital transformation of Micro Focus when it merged with HPE’s software division. I helped to launch a brand new infrastructure by replacing legacy technology applications with an ecosystem of SaaS solutions and transforming the way the company operated.

Now I’m looking to the next evolution in my career, ensuring Zuora has the cutting-edge technology to scale and continue to lead the market for subscription services.

Looking back with 20:20 hindsight, what would you have done differently? We were lucky enough to be well set up to weather the storm and continue our growth as a company. However, I saw many of my peers struggle to evolve. One of the biggest mistakes CIOs made in 2020 was to continue to push the agenda for simplification and cost reduction, when they should have been investing in transformative solutions that would help them maintain flexibility and optimise remote working.

What are you reading now? I am reading The AI Age by Adam Riccoboni after I met the author and was intrigued to start the book. I also just finished the three book Rosie series by Graeme Simpson which has some fantastic insights into how some people’s brains work.

Most people don't know that I… I’ve visited 49 States, I just need a reason to go to Delaware.

In my spare time, I like to…Be physically active. I was lucky enough to visit Grand Teton and Yellowstone national parks this summer and complete many long family hikes. I like to challenge myself to learn new things, so I’ve just signed up for kitesurf lessons.

Ask me to do anything but… To work without a plan.