Frank Slootman, CEO of Snowflake, on the day he went public in 2020. He is known as a sophisticated leader and straight shooter. "I've been to board meetings at other companies a lot and the CEO will make a list of 10 priorities … well, that's the same as having no priorities," he recently told CNBC.
With the hottest tech IPO of the year (and the biggest software IPO ever), Snowflake, the cloud-based data warehousing company, was on fire in 2020. And its CEO Frank Slootman, who is at the center of this success, has now delivered three companies to the public markets and deserves his place as one of the most respected CEOs in enterprise technology.
Nineteen months ago, Slootman was named CEO of Snowflake, which offers companies new ways to store and access data instead of relying on clunky databases tied to hardware. Prior to his arrival, the company, led by former Microsoft CEO Bob Muglia, was already valued at around $ 4 billion by venture investors.
"He's one of the most impressive, successful and respected CEOs in enterprise tech," Asheem Chandna, software investor at Greylock Partners, told CNBC a few months ago. "He's a leader who doesn't take prisoners. He can point to a hill and inspire the whole team to follow him to take the hill."
Greylock invested in the first two companies Slootman went public, Data Domain (later acquired by EMC and now part of Dell) and ServiceNow, where he served as President and CEO from 2011 to 2017 and the company generated sales of around $ 100 million on one company raised $ 1.4 billion after going public.
Prior to going public, Snowflake was ranked 40th on this year's CNBC Disruptor 50 list.
There's a question Slootman claims to ask everyone (including himself): "If you couldn't do anything but one thing this year – one thing and you couldn't do anything else – what would it be?"
Anyone who doesn't have an answer to this question should be better prepared as it can mean the difference between focus and failure.
Slootman says he once asked this from a candidate for Chief Product Officer while at ServiceNow, who stared blankly at him.
"It's an incredibly difficult question to answer," Slootman said at the CNBC Technology Executive Council Summit last month. "It's very easy to find three (things). It's very hard to find one because you could be wrong."
"I've been to board meetings at other companies a lot and the CEO will make a list of 10 priorities … well, that's the same as having no priorities," Slootman said. "When you are in a leadership position, you have to train yourself to be very, very clear. (The answer to that question) means that is the most important thing, the most critical thing … and this arbitrage is what we do have to do."
People want to be patted on the back and feel good – I don't want to feel good.
The CEO of Snowflake also welcomes his contrasting style to many other technology leaders in Silicon Valley, and while he is reluctant to suggest not being exactly "warm and fuzzy," it is factual and does not hide it.
"I wasn't so focused on lattes and neck massages, but on making us successful as a team," he told CNBC's Jon Fortt in October. "Silicon Valley is a very fivefold congratulatory culture. They love to just do one winning lap. We're not into that," he said. "People want to be patted on the back and feel good – I don't want to feel good."
According to previous reports by CNBC's Ari Levy and Jordan Novet, "some people who were at Snowflake for the Muglia to Slootman transition described a culture of fear that overcame the post-recruitment process, with employees, particularly in sales, just trying Keep their heads down and their jobs intact long enough for the company to go public and their options to be exercised. "
But speaking to Fortt at last month's CNBC Technology Executive Summit, Slootman stated that his approach to breaking leaders and talent from what he calls "incrementalism" is to ask them what makes this one specific, most important curated question is:
"There's a lot of things in technology that are incremental … that's just the nature of developing a platform and fixing bugs and improving skills and so on," Slootman said. "But when you completely fall into this mode after a while, there is nothing original or compelling about what you are doing."
"You have to be a very abstract, very lateral thinker, a very integrated thinker to get to your priorities."