Human Resources

C-suite career advice: Mark McClain, SailPoint

Mark McClain

 Company: SailPoint

 Job Title: CEO and & Founder

 Location: Austin, Texas


What was the most valuable piece of career advice that you received?
Spend 90% of your time on executing your current job and the other 10% on developing your career. If you spend 100% of your time on your job and none on career development, you’ll get very good at what you do today, but you will not evolve beyond that. Plus, people will never think of you for anything other than your current role which will work against you when new opportunities arise. Conversely, if you spend too much of your time developing your career, people will wonder how invested could you possibly be in your current role? The 90/10 balance seems to be the right mix to ensure you are viewed as an excellent team member, and also ensures you see what might lie ahead. It’s something I’ve worked hard to instill in my team but also something I strive for in my own career as well.

What was the worst piece of business advice that you received?
‘Stay in a big company, it’s a safe place to be.’ It might sound counterintuitive but what I’ve learned is that big companies can actually become very unstable and unhealthy places to be. Early on in my career, people were shocked when I left a big company to go to a start-up, but that “risky” move opened up a whole new set of opportunities for me. In a smaller company, while there is certainly risk there, it’s also an environment where you can carve your own path and make your own destiny.

What advice would you give to someone starting their career in the tech industry?
I’d offer two pieces of advice. First, make a conscious effort to stay current on technology as it’s a constantly evolving space. Second, make sure there’s a real market need for any product you are involved in building. It might sound pretty obvious, but some companies become enamored with technology that is cool or interesting, and just assume that they can figure out an application for it after the fact. However, it’s better to look at the market in front of you and to identify a pain point or problem that needs to be addressed, and then build the technology solution that addresses it. The point is to take an “outside in” view vs. an “inside out” view when considering new technologies to build or develop.

What tips would you give to someone aiming for a c-level position?
For anyone aiming for a leadership role within their company, it’s so important to consciously expose yourself to the other functional disciplines within the organisation. If you’re in marketing, get a feel for the value of sales or engineering. Seeing how each department interacts and collaborates with other teams is invaluable to understanding how the overall business works. As a leader, you need to see and understand that holistic view vs. your own micro view of the organisation based on your current discipline within the company.
I also can’t stress enough how important it is to develop your career skills. This goes back to the 90/10 rule I mentioned earlier. Work on your leadership development – really own the responsibility to develop yourself as a leader. Read books. Find a mentor. Ask questions. Take classes or attend seminars and conferences. Figure out what kind of leader you want to be.  

Are you particularly proud of any career advice that you’ve given or the career route/development of anyone you’ve mentored?
I’m honestly really proud of our entire team at SailPoint. We have been fortunate to work with amazing folks and see them develop into true leaders.  So, I don’t think I could even single one person out. So many of them I’ve helped to mentor over the years are still actually with SailPoint and have moved up from first-line employees to directors and VPs, becoming true leaders within our company who are making an impact every day. I’m so proud of our team’s innate ability to grow and scale as we grow and evolve as a company.
Ultimately, beyond SailPoint, there will be a lot of people from our team who are well-equipped to lead early-stage start-up companies in their ‘next life’ post-SailPoint. It’s not just me but our entire management team who work really hard to nurture the next generation of leaders within our team. We put so much emphasis on our people and the impact they make on each other and on our company and the communities we serve, and I think that is a big reason why so many employees have the longevity that they do.


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