On the lighter side of things, we ask JG Heithcock, CEO, Retrospect, what makes him tick.
What would you describe as your most memorable achievement?
The parent company of Retrospect, Roxio, was acquired by Rovi in 2010. I and the other leaders of the Retrospect business decided to take Retrospect private. Thanks to the efforts of everyone on the Retrospect team, we were able to rebuild both the product and the brand. Since going public, we have transitioned to simultaneous launches, Mac, Linux and Windows, in six languages, twice a year. We migrated our documentation to a searchable online system as well as developed a customer portal where our customers can see and renew their licenses and get support immediately. We virtualized our lab and testing center and went to a completely distributed work environment in 2016. That is my most memorable achievement. Being acquired by StorCentric in 2019 is right after that!
What first made you think of a career in technology?
I was pursuing a graduate degree in Mathematics when a friend bought a Macintosh Plus. This was my first experience with a ‘What you see is what you get’ interface. As soon as I saw that, I changed gears and went into software development. I had no business experience and was quite naïve about starting my own business. Perhaps that was for the best as, if I had known, I might have never made the attempt.
What style of management philosophy do you employ with your current position?
Democratic, for the most part. You need to foster questions. You need to encourage feedback, especially if it is negative. You need to provide communication across the team. But you also need to provide a vision and rally folk around it. At the end of the day, it is your teammates and employees who are doing the work. That work and those people need both support and acknowledgement.
What do you think is the current hot technology talking point?
‘Hot’ technology is rarely a single thing. Instead, the talking point is the collection of tools that do a job that was hard before. Cloud-based, distributed, secure systems are useful tools. This is true both for backup software as well as the applications that make the data needing backup. Privacy and security, from ransomware or from accidents, also continue to be more critical to each of us. The talking point is what are we doing with each of these.
How do you deal with stress and unwind outside the office?
Fortunately, I tend not to get stressed. I play games with my wife, my friends and my family. My bookshelf has steadily been taken over by board games (Sagrada, Wingspan and Scythe are the current favorites). I read (mostly fiction). I build things with my daughter (we just built a fish cuckoo clock to remind me to feed our fish). I walk and otherwise try to take care of my body when I can. (I’m still working on that last one.)
If you could go back and change one career decision what would it be?
My career has not been a straight line. That said, I do not regret any of my choices as that is how I got here, and here is a pretty great place to be! I have made my share of mistakes along the way, for sure, but any mistake that isn’t ‘fatal’ is one you can learn from.
What do you currently identify as the major areas of investment in your industry?
Complex systems take longer to learn and are more likely to introduce mistakes. Simplifying our backup process solves both of those problems. Simplifying deployment saves time, which is great. But it can make it easier to see if you have missed an important source of data. Simplifying monitoring makes it faster to check your company’s backups. And that makes it more likely that you will do so.
Supporting the cloud, as storage and infrastructure, continues to be critical. Cloud storage becomes more scalable, cost-efficient and easy to deploy each year. Running your backups in the cloud is also more attractive each year. Partly this is because of the same benefits of storage, it is scalable, it is cost-efficient and it is easy to deploy. But it also makes sharing backup responsibilities and providing end-users quicker restores.
Finally, security and privacy concerns continue to need on-going development.
What are the region-specific challenges when implementing new technologies in North America?
Retrospect strives to balance the needs and requirements of different regions around the globe. It is a given that we need to localize our products and our documentation. But we also need to provide regional support for cloud storage. Only one of the 26 supported cloud-service providers is solely based in the United States. Eleven are outside of North America, six are global and eight provide on-premise cloud services. Part of this is due to Retrospect’s ‘you own your data’ philosophy. We have structured our product and services to never lock you out of your own data – there is no central service ‘owning’ any customer’s files.
What changes to your job role have you seen in the last year and how do you see these developing in the next 12 months?
After Retrospect was acquired by StorCentric in 2019, I was able to move to a general manager position, but with a focus on the engineering side. Retrospect was an early adopter of the distributed, ‘work-from-home’ school of thought. We have not only found it better for our mental health but also for our productivity. I do not see that changing. I am looking forward to resuming our company potluck at my home however!
What advice would you offer somebody aspiring to obtain a C-level position in your industry?
I was not aspiring to be a CEO – it was a job that needed doing. While each person’s journey in a C-level position will be unique, some things we will all have in common. Keep looking outside, not only of yourself but of your company. Be willing to pivot. You rely on every single employee to do their job, so, as a mentor once told me – trust, but verify.