Alea Jacta Est: Jumping off the Aircraft Carrier

Alea jacta est, was the thought that crossed my mind. “You are finally jumping off the aircraft carrier!”, exclaimed a close friend of mine.

Friday July 20th, 2012 was my last day at HP, the company I joined in 1998. True, while not as dramatic as Caesar crossing the Rubicon, etc., it was a significant event in my life. I thought it would be apropos for me to reflect on the last 14 years, acknowledge the contribution HP has made to my life.

The best analogy I can think of to frame this entire experience was something one of my managers had mentioned when he came back to HP after leaving it, namely that it felt like he was moving back into his parents house. To me, this feels like I am moving out of my parents house and going to college. I am jumping off the aircraft carrier and will have to create a boat with my friends.

I started as a Software Engineer in 1998, and was Director, Strategy and Planning in my last job. HP, or to be more precise the people at HP, gave me the opportunity to experiment with different functions, in different businesses that I could not have gotten almost anywhere else. I dont know what the rest of my career has in store for me, but whatever happens, the foundation for that would have been laid in the last 14 years. It is as if, I got the opportunity to work in the engine room, on the lookout post, and a variety of other roles on the aircraft carrier. Of course, various people took chances on me at various points, enabling me to move from being a developer to leading a small team in a research laboratory to running product marketing for a data warehousing product to driving strategic projects, etc. Each of these transitions would not have been possible without someone believing in me, and I am really grateful for that. However, as luck would have it an abnormally large fraction of those who took a chance on me did not stay in HP very long thereafter. If someone constructed a statistical model I wonder what the insights will be, but from my perspective, there was a very strong correlation between my bosses hiring me and them leaving the company. I actually counted one day, and I came up with 18 bosses in my 14 years at HP, of which 15 were no longer in the company. I have joked with my friends that at times I feel I am on ‘Survivor’, and i have no idea when I will ‘get voted off the island’, or I am on the wrong island. 🙂

The challenge this posed was brought to the fore when I was talking to a very senior person who had joined the company recently about possible roles. After a 30 minute conversation, he asked me two questions that pretty much convinced me that I had to do something different. The questions were (I am para-phrasing):

1. You seem to be a smart guy, why are you still at HP?

2. Most people you have worked with seem to have left the company. How can I trust or verify what you are telling me?

This told me that this HP was clearly not the HP I joined. In 2001, when I had got accepted into MIT Sloan, and my business unit had got canned,  a manager from a different organization took me into her organization and sponsored my trip to MIT. She trusted me and took a chance on me. Clearly that was a different HP. It was the HP I joined, where decision making was pushed down in the organization, and the philosophy was: hire the smartest people you can find, and give them the freedom to do what is right and hold them accountable for the results. Make sure they get better at what they are doing, and focus on making a contribution to the larger industry/eco-system you are a part of.

In this context, when I got approached by an old friend about the possibility of starting a new company, the choice was pretty clear to me. As John Morgridge once told a group of us at a leadership event, “You have to be prepared to accept opportunities that come your way”, I decided to take the plunge into the sea of entrepreneurship by jumping off the aircraft carrier.

 

 

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2 Responses to “Alea Jacta Est: Jumping off the Aircraft Carrier”

  1. Saugata Basu Says:

    Dear Kannan,

    I think we met the last time we met (possibly) was perhaps around this time of the year in 1987 during “counselling” for IIT. Very best of luck on your exciting new phase.

    Saugata.

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