Tech Leadership and Innovation

Cohesity CEO aims to be backup’s disruptor

Sanjay Poonen sees an opportunity to make Cohesity Silicon Valley’s next star

Headshot of  Sanjay Poonen, CEO at Cohesity

Across the road from where press are gathering to chat with new Cohesity CEO in the excellent Cinnamon Club restaurant, another sort of media scrum is taking place. The UK is changing Prime Ministers and the Palace of Westminster is a picture of chaos. But then Sanjay Poonen’s arrival as leader at Cohesity in August wasn’t a textbook transition either, as he tells us.

The disruptive backup company had filed for an IPO in late 2021 so it must have been a surprise to get a call from the company to say the then CEO Mohit Aron wanted to step down and would Sanjay be interested in replacing him.

“I didn’t quite believe the narrative of what they were saying,” Poonen recalls. “It was [unusual] for a CEO at that stage to step back so I wanted to be sure that it was his decision and not that he was fired or forced out.”

It turns out that Aron saw his future in guiding technology and product development and he wanted to provide the focus depth that would leave space for an incoming CEO to provide the breadth. And that explains why what Poonen calls the “dynamic duo” emerged.

John Updike once described fellow novelist Henry Green as “a writer’s writer’s writer”. Cohesity in that case is perhaps “a tech insider’s tech insider’s tech insider”. The person on the street will remain blissfully unaware of the company but it is another of those datacentre scale-ups likely to become rather large on the back of a critical infrastructure need. In this case it’s backup and recovery, a niche but a critical and therefore lucrative niche. He is too polite to name them but Poonen surely wants to take money away from the likes of Veritas, Commvault and the rest of the posse that got rich on the back of the need to store copies of data.

“In the same way that Snowflake and Databricks are overtaking Teradata, legacy backup players didn’t modernise themselves for the webscale architecture… for the new world of cloud,” he says. They missed what he calls a “black swan event”, referring to the bird thought not to exist until it became highly visible.

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