My Career Path: Interview with Andy Smith, CMO of Laminar
- March 28, 2023
- Posted by: Selen Warner
- Category: Blog
This month, we had the pleasure of speaking with Andy Smith, CMO of Laminar, about his career path and the decisions that have contributed to his success. Here at Stage 4 Solutions, we are committed to supporting professionals’ career growth, and we believe that one way to enable success is by learning from leaders.
Andy is a veteran of 30+ years in the high-tech industry in Silicon Valley. He has spent the last 20 years in security, currently as CMO at cloud data security provider Laminar and previously as CMO at SaaS security innovator Qualys. Prior he was SVP of Marketing for identity provider Centrify and Sr Dir of PM for Oracle. Andy is a veteran of several security startups including VP of PM at Bitzer Mobile which was acquired by Oracle and GRC provider Virsa Systems which was acquired by SAP. Andy is a frequent speaker on technology and security at industry events around the globe.
When you were younger, who were your role models?
Andy: I got married young, at the age of 21 and had the chance to celebrate my bachelor party with my father and his friends. At the party, we calculated the combined years of marriages all of these men had it was 200 years! And they were my role models on how to manage a successful relationship.
How did you decide on your first job?
Andy: There wasn’t a lot of thought about it. The objective was to start my career and to make money, so after a summer internship a full time role opened up and I started working at Raychem Corporation and ended up working there for 10 years. It was a fairly large conglomerate with over a billion dollars of revenue back then. I had the chance to work in several different divisions and get exposure to a variety of roles and responsibilities.
What factors led you to attend Santa Clara University to pursue an MBA?
Andy: Going to Santa Clara to get my MBA was actually very intentional in my career. At the time, I was working at Raychem, in the manufacturing industry and I decided that I eventually wanted to be in software. And the reason for this was that it is easier to pivot in software. The hard thing about being in hardware is that all that entire supply chain, all that money that is built up. You can’t simply say, “Instead of building this, I want to build that.” It’s almost impossible to make that change. You’ve got so much tied up in inventory and supply chain and it’s very, very hard to pivot. In software, it’s the opposite. If you want to build something different, then you just do it. So, I intentionally wanted to make that shift, and I wanted to get out of manufacturing and get more into the broader business side, to broaden my rights.
How did you make the transition from pure hardware to software?
Andy: I went from pure hardware, Raychem to Elo TouchSystems, a subsidiary of Raychem, which involved systems, and then to Veridicom, a biometric startup and then to ActivCard which both involved hardware and software. And then eventually, I went into pure software.
If I had tried to go from hardware straight to software, without having a strong connection or directly knowing someone within my network, I think it would have been impossible to make that move. It was very intentional on my part to go from hardware and manufacturing to systems. That move out of manufacturing to product management allowed me to see the whole business, and I felt like I had to get my MBA to get into product management, so that paved the way for me to get my MBA. The path was to get into product management, see the systems work, and then move to software. None of those moves necessarily would have happened without the other, unless there was the perfect network connection that could make it happen.
As you progressed through your career, how did you assess new opportunities?
Andy: The beginning of my career was very intentional and focused on trying to make that shift from hardware to software and being very intentional about how that went and the past 5 to 7 years of my career have been super opportunistic and unexpected.
How I assessed new opportunities changed during different stages in my career. Earlier in my career, it was a little bit about what the technology and the company did. Later in my career, it was probably a little bit more about the people that I would be working with and the chance of success. I remember when I went to work for Bitzer Mobile, it was because of mobile technology and not the people. I didn’t know how the company was going to make it. It was a tiny little startup where I was employee #4 and they only had a concept and not even close to a product. Mobile technology was “hot” at that time, and I knew that if I took that job, I would be able to parlay that into something else. It was more about the market segment. Sometimes that was the trade-off and sometimes it was who I would be working for, and other times, it was because I was trying to make the shift from hardware to software, interestingly sometimes, it was about the title if I was staying in the same industry. Each decision had its own unique criteria.
Can you tell us about what helped you progress throughout your career?
Andy: Throughout my career, I always kept a list of people that I would want to work for again – maybe worked at a startup that didn’t last as long as I wanted or got laid off from a large company, and that I really loved that manager. So, I always kept a list of people that I would want to work for again at some point in my career, and additionally, a list of people I would want to hire again. Just like most people, unsurprisingly, 90% of all the jobs I have gotten have been through somebody whom I knew, from my network. That is an example of how having those networks is what makes all the difference in the world.
The most interesting question that I always ask when I’m closing a conversation with somebody I’ve met for the first time is “Who would you hire today from your network if you could but you can’t right now?” For maybe this job, or the next job, there’s always somebody in everybody’s network whom they would love to hire, but can’t, for whatever reason. For example, if I’m talking to another CMO and they tell me about a great team player digital demand gen person or a website person or a field marketing person that they would definitely want to hire again but they cannot for that given time, maybe they don’t have an opening or other reasons, I keep those recommendations in mind to make those connections again when I am looking for a resource in the future. I am always looking for great talent.
What has surprised you the most in your career?
Andy: I hinted at it earlier! It was how intentional the beginning of my career was, and then how the last 5 to 7 years have been so opportunistic. I was in product management for many, many years, and always reported to a Product Leader and always felt like a part of the technical team. My first pure marketing job wasn’t until recently during my time at Centrify. At Centrify, I was running product marketing, and I always knew that when you have “product” in your title, after a merger or acquisition, they would have a hard time getting rid of your role. Later on, Centrify was acquired by a private equity firm, and they split the company into two. Then, the CMO left and they had to select somebody to run marketing and they decided to promote a senior marketing leader within the company. There were 3 of us who were the senior marketers, and I was the most senior. The leadership approached me and asked if I wanted to run the marketing team and I thought “I’m used to the technical side. I have to learn about demand generation and all of the other “marketing” stuff I was not too familiar with.” But then I decided to take the leap and do it. And, I had other strong people on the team to support me while I learned. If those team members had decided to leave, I probably wouldn’t have raised my hand to do the job because I knew I wasn’t strong on those other aspects of marketing. Probably the reason that I signed up for it, and they looked to me to do it was that I had shown leadership skills on the team before, and they knew I had an aptitude for learning. It was more happenstance and I was not seeking out. And then it was fun, and I continued to do it. Until then in my career path, I never wanted to be a CMO, maybe wanted to be a Chief Product Officer because I always thought of myself on the technical side. At Centrify, I then became the VP of Marketing and then the SVP of Marketing. That was purely accidental how my career path shifted to marketing. Then I became a CMO and have had multiple CMO jobs. The end of my career has not nearly as intentional as the beginning and that was a surprise.
Can you tell us about an important career risk you took?
Andy: Taking the CMO role at Qualys was a big risk that I took which ended up being a learning lesson. From the beginning, I knew it was a risk. When I was the SVP of Marketing at Centrify, a connection got me an interview for the CMO role at Qualys. It was a big jump in responsibility and the size of the company. The overall opportunity seemed appealing, jumping from a small private company to a large established public company. I knew there were some risks regarding the culture, but I thought the opportunity was great enough to take that risk. It turned out my style did not merge with their culture and that experience did not end up lasting very long. It definitely didn’t turn out the way I was hoping it would when I started, however, it did what I was hoping it would do, which was, all of a sudden, I was a CMO at a large public company. So, just that experience on my resume would open more doors.
What is one of the biggest challenges you have faced in your career, and how did you overcome it?
Andy: Making that shift from hardware to software was definitely a multi-year process, probably 5 to 7 years in the making and was a big challenge. It involved getting an MBA, several jobs and maintaining the drive to stick to what I really wanted to do, and networking. Then it turned into a career in lots of startups and I got to know a lot of different VCs who know a lot of people and have access to tons of opportunities, and those connections have been very helpful in my career and during the shift from hardware to software.
How do you balance your professional and personal goals?
Andy: It’s hard and it changes during different points in your career. My wife and I talk about this all the time, so she understands that sometimes work is going to win out over the personal life. Sometimes there are certain things you are trying to achieve, maybe you are making one of these shifts and you have got to dedicate more time to work. And then at other times, family is going to be more important and you are going to let your family or your personal life take over. We often have those back and forth discussions.
It goes back to what we started this conversation with. My role models were these men that happened to have made their marriages last a long time, and it is difficult. But, having that balance where sometimes work is more important, sometimes family is more important, and then openly communicating that with your partner, I think what makes the difference. Just realizing that there is going to be ebbs and flows and it really changes throughout your career. I find this similar to the conversations I always have with the candidates. When I hire somebody, I always discuss the comp package and whether it is a fit for them at that stage of their career – whether they are wanting to take more risks for a bigger payoff at the end or they are trying to buy a house and raise a family and need more of that base salary. Because I have worked at lots of startups and stock options are always a part of the comp package, but they can be risky career moves based on priorities. This has changed over my career, too. When I was raising a family, the guaranteed money was more important for me and this time in my current role, I took a lot less guaranteed money to have a bigger payout at the end because times are different, and both my kids are out of the house. These choices are a part of balancing professional and personal goals, and it ebbs and flows throughout your career, depending on what you have going on in your personal life.
What advice would you give to your younger self? Younger professionals?
Andy: I might have wanted to be more intentional about that first job out of college. I ended up with a Liberal Arts degree, and I could have done a lot of different things. I just kind of fell into where there was an opening, and it has worked out for me and I have no complaints, but there wasn’t much intention about what I was going to do for my initial job. I didn’t do the gap year. One piece of advice for myself is: “You are going to work for the rest of your life. Be a little more intentional about what you want to do, and maybe take some time to think about it.”
Another piece of advice I always give people is about networking. You’ve got to put yourself out there and continue to do it, be active on LinkedIn, connect with your co-workers and people you know and ask questions. For example, if I am hiring for a role, I go to other CMOs even if I don’t personally know them to ask questions about the candidates. And, they are usually willing to tell me something about the person that worked for them in the past, and then I will connect with them on LinkedIn, and then they might connect with me for somebody in my network in the future. Networking has helped me a lot throughout my career.