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A CFO’s Past Shapes His Present

Mark Peek tells how his prior jobs shaped what he does today as finance chief at enterprise software maker Workday.

And what did you learn there that’s still relevant to you today?
It was 2000, and the economy was faltering — in fact, my first day at Amazon.com was March 13, the day NASDAQ hit its all-time high. So I see myself as the person who officially burst the Internet bubble! Shortly after I arrived, we no longer had access to the capital markets. So for the first couple of years I was mainly involved with finding ways to become more operationally efficient, to generate cash flow so we could continue to grow.

I learned a ton. It was, and is, a company that is maniacally focused on the customers. If you’re trying to solve a problem, you start with the customer and work backwards. That has shaped me. The day after our first earnings call, [CEO] Jeff Bezos said, “The thing that’s slowing us down is that people get to checkout and look at the shipping charges and decide not to buy. So we’re going to find ways to offer free shipping.” And all the finance guys and analytical guys were going, how can we afford to do that? But we did find ways.

How did VMware come about?
I aspired to be a CFO, and at Amazon we had Tom Szkutak, who is still there. I got a phone call from Mike Brown, who had been CFO at Microsoft and was on the board of EMC, which had acquired this software company and wanted to spin it out in a public offering. My profile was that I had a strong accounting and controls background, a strong background in software and perhaps the personality to deal with a complicated organizational structure. So I left Seattle after 25-plus years, moved to Silicon Valley and arrived at VMware about four months before we went public.

There I picked up some of the skills needed to operate more broadly across a business — managing the board relationship, shareholder communication, and interacting with other constituencies. I also learned how to bridge the quarterly necessity to hit operating numbers with a longer-term vision for making investments in the future and running a planning process. That’s definitely relevant to me today at Workday.

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