Cloudera, the data management company, develops and distributes Hadoop commercially, the open source software that powers the data processing engines of the world’s largest and most popular web sites.

Cloudera’s mission is to bring the power of Hadoop and distributed storage to companies of all sizes across multiple sectors including technology, media & entertainment, government and financial services.

Headquartered in Silicon Valley, Cloudera was founded in 2008 by Amr Awadallah, who is currently the CTO of the organisation and Mike Olson, who transitioned from CEO to take on the role of Chief Strategy Officer earlier this year. Taking over the CEO role is Tom Reilly, who has had a 30-year career in the enterprise software space and joined Cloudera following a stint as VP and GM of Enterprise Security at HP after its acquisition of his previous company, ArcSight, for $1.5 billion in 2010. Cloudera has raised a total of $141m in venture funding from VCs including Accel Partners and Greylock Partners and angel investors to include Jeff Weiner (CEO of LinkedIn) and Marten Mickos (ex-CEO of MySQL).

Hot Topics’ Tom Lytton-Dickie met with Tom Reilly at Cloudera’s San Francisco office to discuss taking over from a founder CEO, managing growth at scale and nurturing talent.

There have been few more attractive CEO roles available in Silicon Valley this year than the opportunity to take over the helm at Cloudera. Tom Reilly, who joined the company in June, articulates that opportunity emphatically. “Firstly, the underlying technology behind Hadoop is very transformative. We are changing industries; whether it’s working with agricultural companies on how to achieve more yield per acre and produce more food to feed more people on the planet, working with healthcare companies to understand how to prevent long-term diseases and treat patients better at a lower cost or helping web properties service and sell more to their customers more effectively,” said Reilly. “You couldn’t have done these things with traditional technology and Hadoop is basically allowing a whole new class of really big problems to be solved and helping businesses serve their customers better. The Cloudera team is the originator behind Hadoop and that is super exciting to be a part of.”

Managing hyper growth

Reilly’s key skill set is in joining a business at scale and continuing to accelerate that growth and he is quick to emphasise the fundamentals behind that process. “You want to manage growth as predictably as you can, measure it as well as you can and grow in the rights ways. You have got to make sure that all your customers are aligned in where you are headed and then you’ve got to maintain a high quality of talent,” said Reilly.

The Cloudera team is the originator behind Hadoop and that is super exciting to be a part of.
Reilly accepts that attempting to maintain quality of hire whilst growing fast will be a key challenge yet he is bullish about the talent currently in the business today and Cloudera’s ability to continue to win the talent war. “In my first 30 days I did close to 50 one-to-one meetings here in the company, mainly with the development team, and I was blown away by the calibre here,” he said. In August, he watched 13 interns present on their experience at the company and key achievements. “Even our interns are better than most engineers at other companies that I’ve seen. We are attracting the best and the brightest around.” This statement is backed up by a recent LinkedIn poll which lists Cloudera as number 1 in the top 10 most in demand startups among bay area engineers in 2013. Rather tellingly that list includes the likes of Dropbox, Jawbone and Pinterest. It is also noteworthy that six of the companies on the equivalent poll for 2012, including Box, Square and Splunk, are now valued at over $1bn.

Founder relations

Replacing a founder CEO who remains integral to the business is a delicate task. Reilly has done it three times now, and explains he has learned both good and bad practices along the way. “The most important thing to remember is that the founders are the soul of the company and form the culture of the company. The founders are what brought the company to its great success and I’m not here to replace any of that, I’m here to build on it. I’m here to apply best practice in a period of growth that most founders haven’t seen,” said Reilly.

Whilst a clear strategy is fundamental to maintaining the pace of growth it is also to stay ahead of Cloudera’s fierce competition. Aside from earlier stage challenges from the likes of Hortonworks, Reilly highlights EMC as a key competitor as they are investing heavily in this market and also IBM. Big players but Reilly takes a positive stance. “The more they are focused on this market, the bigger competitors we have but it also validates what we are doing.”

Leadership learnings

As a three-time CEO and board member of numerous companies, Reilly has developed core leadership attributes and a distinct view on the responsibility of a CEO. “I believe that I am working for every single person in the company and so they need full transparency. They need to understand the decisions we make and why we make them. The challenges we have, why they are challenges, how we are correcting them and how we are performing as a business,” he said.

Reilly cites Elon Musk of Tesla, Mark Benioff of, and Jeff Bezos of Amazon as leaders he admires and studies. “I find each of these world class leaders inspiring because they are transforming major industries and have had to overcome endless skeptics and out maneuver large incumbents. Our opportunity at Cloudera is similar due to the transformative and disruptive opportunities that Hadoop presents and I hope to achieve similar results,“ he said.