The CMO Files: Michael Wood, Apstra

The CMO Files: Michael Wood, Apstra

Name: Michael Wood

Organisation: Apstra

Job title: CMO and VP Product

Location:Silicon Valley

As CMO and VP Product, Michael Wood is responsible for product, marketing and revenue growth at Apstra. He is a seasoned strategic leader with nearly 30 years of experience in the areas of scaling businesses, product management, product marketing, driving revenue, incorporating process, outbound marketing, and demand generation.


Where were you born and raised? I was born and raised in San Jose, California in the heart of Silicon Valley during a time when fields and orchards covering much of the valley were transitioning to high tech businesses and homes. A lot has changed since then and it's been exciting to see and be part of the transformation of the valley.

What was your first job? My first job was as a recreation aid for the City of San Jose where I created and led programs for elementary aged children. It was a fun job because it gave me the chance to share my energy, personality and enthusiasm with kids from all over the community.  It is one of the funnest jobs I've ever had.

What was the first product you got really excited about? The first product that really got me excited was the Sony Walkman. I just couldn't believe that I was able to take my music with me wherever I went and play it at whatever volume I wanted without bothering anyone else. 

Who has been the biggest influence on your career? I've been fortunate to have worked with so many amazing technologists, business leaders, and mentors. There were two major transitions in my career which were enabled by two selfless leaders. The first transition was from technician to engineer. Kambiz Hooshmand took a chance on me and gave me my first opportunity to design a digital board at StrataCom. This, combined with earning an MSEE, accelerated my transition to becoming an engineer. The second major career transition was from engineer to product manager. Alex Mendez was instrumental in that change. I was about to leave Cisco for another engineering role at a startup company. Alex listened to my life goals and had the insight to realise that my next best career step was to stay with Cisco and transition into product management. 

What has been your greatest achievement? Achievements never occur alone or in a vacuum.  I've been fortunate to work with amazing people throughout my career and stand on the shoulders of giants. One of the achievements I am most proud of is being on the ground floor at Cisco creating voice over IP (VoIP) and disrupting the entire telephony market. This included developing challenging technology, positioning against entrenched incumbents, and transitioning the market to a converge voice, video and data model. It was very rewarding to be part of creating a new multi-billion dollar market.

What has been your biggest mistake? Staying at one company for too long. I spent 15 years at one company because I felt that I was being challenged and learning new things. It wasn't until I left that I realised there was so much more to learn from working with new people and different businesses. I wish I had forced myself to make the change sooner.

What is your greatest strength? I enjoy laughing, making others laugh, and having fun with people. I think that we can all get business done and make the world a better place while still having fun, enjoying one another's company, and creating genuine relationships. 

What is your biggest weakness? Someone recently reminded me of the expression "don't let perfect be the enemy of good". I am more self-aware of my propensity to want to get it right and as perfect as possible before I share a creation with others. I am working on sharing things sooner and realising that feedback from others is more important than getting it perfect on my own. 

What do you think is the aspect of your role most neglected by peers? The flexibility to make ongoing adjustments to your marketing plan. This includes listening to customers, industry analysts, partners and media, and then incorporating suggestions which help to improve the strategy, messaging, and positioning. It also includes measuring what is working in marketing and what is not working, then reducing what doesn't work and doubling down on what does. A good example of this is staying laser focused on demand generation campaigns.

Which word or phrase is your mantra and which word or phrase makes you squirm? Gratitude would be my mantra and paradigm shift always makes me squirm especially when it slips into my own vocabulary :)

What makes you stressed? Running out of time. When I am not managing my time effectively it heightens my stress and anxiety. I am also looking for ways to improve my time management and use a number of methodologies like batching to do so. That is probably a topic for another interview.

What do you do to relax? I have found transcendental meditation to be a huge benefit for relaxation and being able to put myself into a calm state at any point in the day. I also enjoy working out early in the morning and training for half marathons.

What is your favourite song? At Last by Etta James. It was the song my wife and I danced to for the first time as husband and wife. It really captured the essence of how I felt and feel about her today.

Which book taught you most? Success Through a Positive Mental Attitude by Napoleon Hill taught me several fundamental life skills and principles which established a foundation for a number of my earlier accomplishments.

Do you have a team or sport that you follow? I enjoy American baseball and follow the San Francisco Giants.

Which country would you like to work in? I'd love to work in Switzerland or most specifically Zurich, Switzerland.  here are a wide range of languages spoken there, it is close to great skiing, and is very central to almost everywhere in Europe.

Which company do you think has the best marketing? I think that Coca-Cola does an amazing job of creating a personal emotion in their marketing campaigns. I also like Geico's marketing.

What do you love most about your job? The people. I feel so fortunate to be able to work with exceptional people every day in the office while also interacting with a huge variety of amazing customers, partners, analysts, media, and other technology companies. 

What is your favourite book? I really enjoyed reading A Year in Provence by Peter Mayle It was a book my wife suggested I read while we were on vacation together which, combined with the story and setting, was why it is one of my favourites. 

What keeps you awake at night? Competition keeps me up at night. Even if I know I'm ahead I know that I need to continue to push the envelope and never slip into complacency.


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