It’s now been two months since Nutanix CEO Dheeraj Pandey announced that he was stepping down from the management team at the pioneering data centre company he co-founded 11 years ago, but I still can’t think of a comparison among modern tech companies for his pending departure.
Most CEOs leave because company performance is tanking, because they did a bad thing or because they get old but Pandey is walking away at the age of 45 from the top seat at a company with $1.3 billion in annual revenues. Nutanix has a market cap of over $5 billion, is still growing in the teeth of a pandemic after successfully executing a switch to subscription selling and has many opportunities to do more.
So, what gives?
Having met the man several times over a period of about seven-and-a-half years, I would say that he is atypical of CEOs in that he has a questing spirit to learn about the world outside technology and about himself.
Oh, and the pandemic played a role too, giving him pause from the hamster wheel of corporate life with its spirit-sacking demands on time, brain-addling travel schedules and constant, tiresome focus from market watchers marking every action up and down and, well, people like me in the media.
“It’s been nearly 11 years of non-stop marathon and [the lockdown and the pandemic] gave me a perspective on what really matters,” Pandey recently said on a Zoom call with press.
“I’m definitely thinking about this as an opportunity and a challenge. When the Bain investment came in [a $750 million funding stake announced at the same time as his planned exit], I figured it was the right time to find a successor.”
A cerebral man with an elegant turn of phrase, Pandey is smart, modest, well read and able to call on the wisdom of history when asked questions. As well as being knowledgeable on the Byzantine and Ottoman empires, he is also a keen student of technology company history and is always worth listening to on the labyrinthine tactics and strategies of rivals.
But despite that passion, the huge commitments that public corporations place on leaders appear to have taken their toll and Pandey made the decision to leave amid the relative calm of the lockdown schedule. When he goes, however, is less clear and if there are plans for his successor then Nutanix is not sharing them.
“I’m taking it one quarter at a time,” Pandey said. “For the time being I’m just learning, reading and writing and learning a lot and trying to figure out what else in the world of business needs simplification.” Lifecycle management and integration are “massive challenges”, he noted.
That statement hints at a return at some point but first Pandey plans to enjoy his “exercise in self-discovery” and deciding “who am I and what do I want to do”. The future, he said, is an “open slate”.
Although wealthy it’s hard to imagine Pandey buying a jet or ocean liner and he ponders that it could be “a good time to learn to drive an RV around”.
Even after quitting day-to-day involvement at Nutanix, Pandey will continue to serve on the board of Adobe and I’d be surprised if we have heard the last of this pioneer.
Wherever he goes, I hope he will continue to share his vast knowledge and philosophical takes on the technology business. “The cycle of creative destruction is shortening … it’s getting faster and faster” but “growth creates complexity and complexity is the silent killer of growth”, he said on the Zoom call. A very Pandeyan dictum that; perhaps he should become a writer.
Pandey agreed to answer a few extra questions by email. As a fellow cricket fan, I noted that upon retiring, the great Indian batsman Sachin Tendulkar regretted not playing with Sunil Gavaskar or against Viv Richards. So, what was biggest regret of his Nutanix career?
“I should have moved to Nutanix to subscription sooner,” he replied. “Subscription is not only an important part of our long-term sustainability, but it’s also important to our customers’ ability to move back and forth between clouds using subscription payment terms that easily transfer.”
Also, I reminded him that when the President of the US implemented a travel ban, he was among the first to speak out, including writing an article that IDG Connect was proud to publish. Did he regret that act?
“I stand by what I said in Twitter, that immigration is at the heart of capitalism and it benefits everyone. I’m grateful for the opportunity I was given and wouldn’t deny it to any of the builders who dream of doing big things.”