Next Thursday, Dec. 3, the Business School Alumni Network is hosting a (free!) virtual fireside chat with successful and prominent alum Steve Lucas. Steve will share stories and insights from his 25-plus-year business career in tech and innovation and focus on overcoming obstacles in business and life. Register today and learn more about Steve Lucas below.
Taking risks pays off
“When I was 22, I had decided that I wanted to be the CEO of a billion-dollar software company,” Steve recalls. “I had no idea what I was talking about, but I knew that’s what I wanted to be. I had a passion for leadership.”
Steve built what anyone would call a successful career (if not quite at CEO-level) but, at 44, he asked himself, “Where is that 22-year-old?”
“I decided I wasn’t happy, and I would only be happy, and I would only be able to answer the questions I had about myself, if I took risk.”
So, Steve left his safe, secure, and high-level job at SAP, one of the largest software companies in the world, and took the CEO position at Marketo, a software company with a $200 million annual revenue in steady decline and a long list of challenges. Steve transformed the sales model, products, leadership team, and moved half the company from California to Colorado.
In only 24 months, Steve had grown the company from -6% year-over-year growth to over 35% and doubled the annual revenue to $400 million. When Marketo was acquired by Adobe in 2018, Steve and his team had tripled the value of the company from $1.6 billion to $4.75 billion, making it the best return in private-equity software in history in the shortest amount of time.
Never stop growing
Steve is now the CEO of iCIMS, the world’s leading HR cloud platform for recruiting, boasting clients like Microsoft, Amazon, FedEx, Pepsi, and The Cheesecake Factory.
“iCIMS is a company that for 20 years has been maniacally focused on doing one amazing thing for the best brands in the world: helping companies discover and hire the best talent in the world,” Steve said.
The company makes around $300 million in annual revenue and is growing rapidly. Steve says his job is to grow iCIMS’ annual revenue to $1 billion.
“It’s pretty amazing what you can accomplish in a decade. We probably overestimate what we can get done in a year and underestimate what we can get done in a decade.”
Steve took the CEO position in March 2020, and ever since has had to steer the ship with COVID-19 muddying the waters. With every employee working remotely, Steve hasn’t gotten the chance to meet the vast majority of his employees in-person yet, but video calls do have their up-sides.
“Ironically, I actually see my employees much more virtually than I ever did at any company before,” he said. “Right now, I worry more about the mental health of my employees more than anything.”
Steve makes a point to always keep adapting and evolving his leadership style, and COVID-19 has presented its share of challenges (or opportunities, as Steve would say).
Steve added ten extra company-wide holidays this year and implemented a noon-1:30 p.m. ‘no-meeting’ daily time block.
“Slowing down from the high speed I’m used to has been a big gear-shift for me,” he said. “People are at the heart of any software company and so we must prioritize our collective community health and strength to get through this together.”
Turn challenges into opportunities
Steve says that the thing that’s really defined him in life is his Type 1 diabetes. Type 1 diabetes is typically a genetic condition present from birth, whereas Type 2 is generally age or weight related and presents later in life. Steve’s case was unique in that he didn’t develop his Type 1 diabetes until he was in his early 20s. The disease has no cure and can be life-threatening.
“I had no idea it was coming. When you get hit with any kind of chronic diagnosis, your world kind of comes crashing down. Contemplating your own mortality is not typical for most people in their early 20s. When I learned more about it, I started to wonder if I was ever going to see age 30 or 40. My life immediately and radically changed forever,” Steve said.
Steve’s life-altering diagnosis taught him some of his greatest life lessons. “First, managing something – instead of letting it manage you – provides an opportunity to take ownership of it. And second, managing diabetes is part science and part art – just like running a business. I’ve learned to appreciate what elements need to be exact, and others that allow for creativity and flexibility.”
Steve shared wise words to help others cope with struggles that come their way.
“Everyone is presented with challenges. My chronic diagnosis turned out to be a blessing in that it taught me to look at challenges as opportunities instead. I’m not sure I would be the person I am today had I not been given this opportunity to be Type 1 diabetic.”
Decide who you want to be
Steve asks everyone, “What do you want to be?” Not what do you want to do – what do you want to be.
Steve advises students facing an uncertain future to take the opportunity to slow down and think about what they really want to be, not just next year, but 20 years from now, and then back up from there.
To use himself as an example, Steve says he wants to be a person that has the means and ability to give back. He sees a future for himself as a not-for-profit CEO someday.
“The work I do is not simply for making money for money’s sake. I want to be a good human. I want to leave the campsite better off than when I found it,” he shared.
Finally, Steve’s urges you to go for it.
“Think big and take risk sooner. Instead of dropping anchor and holding steady, raise the sail and really go somewhere!”