CIO Spotlight: Krithika Bhat, Pure Storage

What's the best career advice you ever received? “… if something scares you, say yes to it!”

Headshot of Krithika Bhat, CIO at Pure Storage
Pure Storage

Name: Krithika Bhat

Company: Pure Storage

Job title: CIO

Date started current role: June 2022

Location: San Francisco Bay area

As CIO at Pure Storage, Krithika Bhat is responsible for driving a technology enabled business transformation, setting overall strategy and defining and executing the roadmap for technology infrastructure and business applications. Bhat has had a long and successful career in technology and has been recognised for her leadership. While at Oracle, she won the Oracle Women’s Leadership award for her hard work and exemplary leadership.

What was your first job? My first job, fresh out of university, was as a programmer analyst with Tata Consultancy Services in India. It was a fantastic training ground for me - a 3 month intense training boot camp followed by software development and support projects in India and overseas helped me get a solid foundation.

Did you always want to work in IT? I hadn’t planned to work in IT at the outset, but once I decided to, I’ve never looked back. My introduction to Tata Consultancy Services came through the university campus recruitment. I’d done a programming course as part of my degree which I had enjoyed and the role they were interviewing for seemed like an interesting opportunity, so I interviewed and took up the offer. Within a year I was working on a project in Switzerland, having never left my home country before. It was an amazing experience. This proves the point I like to make: when opportunity knocks, grab it with both hands.   

What was your education? Do you hold any certifications? What are they? I graduated with a degree in Mechanical engineering from the University of Mumbai. In our industry, learning is constant - in recent years I have completed certification in both SAFe and ITIL.

Explain your career path. Did you take any detours? If so, discuss. Having started out with Tata Consultancy Services, my role quickly became an international one, with postings in Switzerland and Australia. This experience held me in good stead when later in my career I went on to lead global teams. I was with TCS for more than 6 years, before moving to Toronto, Canada for personal reasons.

Looking back on it, this period was critical in my future career development. While waiting for my work papers to be issued, I had a forced hiatus. During that time, I really pushed myself to become a better networker - something that didn’t come naturally to me. This paid dividends, not only at the time, but ever since.

With my Canadian work permit in order, I took up another consultancy role at SHL System House Limited. This allowed me to work with different technologies and develop my analysis skills building on the foundation gained at TCS.

After four years I moved to Silicon Valley and joined Oracle Corporation in its Applications IT organisation, where I was for 26 years. I quickly rose to a management role, ultimately becoming Group Vice President running a 600+ Applications IT organisation. While there I had leadership roles on several transformations:

  • Global single instance - Global processes and solutions
  • Supporting the growth by acquisition - strategy and execution of IT system integrations
  • Transformation from internal on-premise systems to the Oracle SaaS cloud - a true transformation and not a lift and shift

Earlier this year, my career journey continued with an exciting new chapter, when I assumed the CIO role at Pure Storage. It’s part of the newly formed Digital Transformation Group (DTG).

As CIO, I have responsibility to drive Pure’s technology-enabled business transformation - setting overall strategy and defining and executing the roadmap for Technology Infrastructure and Business Applications.

What business or technology initiatives will be most significant in driving IT investments in your organisation in the coming year? All things “user/customer experience” are centre stage. User expectations are very high – people want to be empowered and have a streamlined, intuitive and frictionless experience

As we get back into a hybrid mode of working and with increased expectations of a gen-z workforce, employee engagement tools are of increasing importance. The plan is to ideate and iterate as we learn more and continuously improve the experience.

What are the CEO's top priorities for you in the coming year? How do you plan to support the business with IT? Pure is in its second decade and on a fast-paced growth trajectory with a much larger portfolio offering as well as a Cloud operating model. As a result the company requires end-to-end business processes and corresponding systems to support that growth and enable the organisation to continue to scale where needed.

An equally important priority is to scale and mature the Pure IT organisation, which is foundational to all that we need to do. This entails hiring employees for critical roles, establishing centres of gravity, eliminating single points of failure and striking the right balance between employees and external resources.

Does the conventional CIO role include responsibilities it should not hold? Should the role have additional responsibilities it does not currently include? In my opinion there is no such thing as a conventional CIO role - this varies company to company. Also the traditional operator role has changed. The shift needs to happen from operator to digital transformation partner. In reality, many organisations fear the change, thinking that the role may become obsolete with the advent of SaaS solutions - they should instead embrace this as an opportunity to uplevel the org and become a strategic business partner and get a seat at the table. This includes moving from technology expert and running technical operations to focusing on being a:

  • Business partner
  • Master collaborator and negotiator
  • Leader with empathy - what are the business problems we are trying to solve?
  • Organisation change management leader

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 actually work directly with our Chief Digital Transformation Officer and ensure that Pure’s IT team is delivering what it needs to in order to support our wider business as well as internal customers. It’s important not to separate these two elements as they feed into each other.

We have “change the business” (transformational) and “run the business” (operational) priorities and ensure that our budgets, headcount, backlogs and roadmaps are planned allowing appropriate focus on both areas

Describe the maturity of your digital business. We are in the midst of moving to a product/service-centric model with focus on business outcomes, using technology as an enabler, rather than the starting point. The plan is to identify service maturity levels and then identify areas of investment based on priorities.

What does a good culture fit look like in your organisation? How do you cultivate it? I strongly believe in the ‘servant leadership’ style: decentralising the dynamics between all employees so that everyone’s talents can complement one another. Full accountability is also essential in my view - taking ownership for mistakes as well as successes. My aim is to enable and empower employees to do their best work as a team.

What roles or skills are you finding (or anticipate to be) the most difficult to fill? From what I’ve seen, the roles most in demand right now are digital workspace specialists, data science experts, UX designers, and integration experts.

What's the best career advice you ever received? A piece of crucial advice I gave myself and always try to follow is, if something scares you, say yes to it! In the early stages of my career I used to be terrified of public speaking but I realised this was career limiting: by pushing myself to get out of my comfort zone, I could eventually break through that barrier and find enjoyment in it. 

Do you have a succession plan? If so, discuss the importance of and challenges with training up high-performing staff. With the leadership largely in place at the end of my first 6 months, the focus now is on expanding the capacity and skills of the organisation - the key is to bring in talent with potential and not just focus on current skills and past experience.

What advice would you give to aspiring IT leaders? Lead collaboratively and with empathy. Build a leadership team that complements, supports and learns from each other.

What has been your greatest career achievement? Without doubt, building and retaining flexible, adaptable and collaborative global organisations, by instilling the right culture and upholding the right values.

Looking back with 20:20 hindsight, what would you have done differently? I am happy where I am today and since each decision I made over the years got me to this point I would say the path I chose worked well for me.

What are you reading now? The autobiography of Indra Nooyi, the former CEO and chairperson of PepsiCo.

Most people don't know that I… For someone who is super practical, surprisingly, I am a lover of superhero and fantasy movies - everything from Harry Potter to Marvel to the Lord of the Rings!

In my spare time, I like to…Walking is my favourite physical activity and I am always happy to increase the daily step count. I am currently learning Spanish and try to squeeze in a lesson or two whenever I can. And of course I can never resist a good book - lately I am reading more nonfiction than fiction. Recent favourites are Educated by Tara Westover, Malcolm Gladwell’s Talking to Strangers and Caste: The Origin of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson.

Ask me to do anything but… Garden - I have “lost” more plants than I care to remember!