Baseball and board selections don't usually go together, but the modern science of our national pastime has influenced my thinking about business. And with the opening day of Major League Baseball this week, it not only brings back memories of peanuts and crackerjacks, but a clear reminder of why Billy Beane, the executive vice president of the Oakland Athletics, my favorite baseball team, and Moneyballfame, sits on our board of directors.
I am the CEO of a company whose customers tend to be aggressive midsized companies aiming to take market share away from established players. That's a concept Billy is familiar with, competing against much larger ball clubs with much larger payrolls. It is also the reason I used a connection to get to know him and to invite him to sit on NetSuite's board in 2007. Since then, we have never looked back.
Building a board is an evolutionary process. The board of directors for any company is an essential entity that helps make critical decisions that are key to the company's success. To make a difference, its members should mirror not only what is happening at the company, but also its vision and opportunity for growth. For example, one of the first board members we brought on was Kevin Thompson, who had been the CFO at Red Hat in the early 2000s. That was around the time of the birth of the subscription revenue model for cloud-based software companies. Thompson was part of the movement and understood its advantages and nuances. He saw its huge potential. Today, of course, it is a mainstream model, but back then it was the experimental early days. We needed his guidance to sell the model and its advantages.
In thinking about our customers and their pain points, it struck me that they were very much like the Oakland A's playing against the New York Yankees--trying to take market share away from the big guys. It is never easy, and often the difference between success and failure is thinking about the problem differently.
Billy's talent management style went against the grain by throwing aside traditional statistics (batting averages, hits, etc.) and instead focused on data that would help him identify the most effective players. That is important to our customers too--focusing on better numbers, not necessarily larger numbers to reach their potential.
There are, in fact, all sorts of parallels between what Billy did for the Oakland A's and what we do for our customers. That is how I pitched it to him when I was able to arrange our phone conversation. It resonated, and he joined.
As for our customers--the "little guys" I wanted Billy to help? They have gone on to eat their competitors' lunch.