By Peter High. Published on Forbes
Tom Keiser has been the CIO of two multi-billion dollar corporations: L Brands for five and a half years, and Gap, Inc. for four years. After his second CIO post, he was promoted to Executive Vice President of Global Product Operations for Gap where he was responsible for building a seamless inventory operating model and technology platform to deploy in each global brand of the company. The objective of seamless inventory was to significantly reduce stranded inventory and improve margin for each of the company’s global brands by leveraging advanced analytics to better plan, buy, allocate, replenish, and price product across all markets and channels.
Following this experience, he decided to try a familiar role in a very different setting: in May of 2016, he became CIO of Zendesk, the roughly half a billion dollar revenue provider of a customer service and engagement platform. After a bit more than two years in that role, he was promoted to chief operating officer of the company while retaining his IT strategy. Now he is responsible for IT, security and compliance, enterprise data and analytics, product technology operations, and go-to-market, among other items. He describes his current post, his career journey, and the trends that particularly excite him as he looks to the future in this expansive interview.
(To listen to an unabridged audio version of this interview, please visit this link).
Peter High: You are the Chief Operating Officer of Zendesk. Could you provide a brief overview of Zendesk’s business?
Tom Keiser: Zendesk is a dedicated customer service and engagement platform that is focused on customers and how customers want to interact with the businesses that they do business with. We were founded nearly eleven years ago and started off as a company primarily focused on digital, e-commerce, and [small and medium sized] businesses. We have grown into what is now a $500 million company and we are rapidly expanding into larger enterprises
High: Can you talk about your role as Chief Operating Officer? What is within your purview?
Keiser: I stepped into this role this past August after serving as the CIO for approximately a year and a half. Overall, my role is a combination of operations, go-to-market, and customer-facing functions. I still maintain many of my CIO responsibilities including the [overall] IT function, security and compliance analytics, all the business analytics we run the business on, as well as our tech-ops organization, which is the underpinnings of all our products. Additionally, as I moved into the COO role, I took over our go-to-market functions, which is our sales operation, as well as our customer experience organization.
High: Zendesk went public a few years back, after having grown dramatically over the years prior. Could you talk about the significant changes that have occurred since you joined the company a little over two years ago?
Keiser: As companies move out of the startup mode, go through the IPO, and then go public, building out their capabilities in the process, you go through evolutions just like everything does as you grow up. My time at Zendesk has been about putting down a foundation for us to be able to grow unimpeded. This involves making sure that we have the right processes, technologies, and organizational constructs to be able to evolve and grow.
The world of customer service that we are in changes dramatically every year. People’s expectations continuously advance in terms of what they expect from the businesses that they interact with. While you can have a nice left to right roadmap, the reality is you have got to keep adjusting. When you are growing as quickly as we are, and you are in a space that is growing and changing, you must have a solid and agile foundation to be able to adjust to that.
My time here has been focused on ensuring that we have that foundation through the technologies that our employees are operating on and making sure that they are as productive as possible. This applies whether you are in design, engineering, one of the sales functions, or one of the support functions. Additionally, I am focused on ensuring that our external and customer-facing components are evolving appropriately along with the product.