We’re back with another Executive Spotlight post! This series showcases the integral leaders and executives responsible for shaping our culture and driving business here at Illumio – exploring everything from their business priorities and leadership philosophies, to what they like to do in their spare time.
In case you missed last quarter’s Executive Spotlight, be sure to check out our Q&A with Illumio CTO Ben Verghese.
Below, Illumio’s Chief Marketing Officer Gautam Mehandru shares his thoughts on market challenges and opportunities he’s currently focused on, leveraging data to drive marketing decisions that deliver maximum ROI, and more.
Can you take me through your career journey and how you ended up as CMO at Illumio?
I’ve been in the B2B space for about 23 years, and believe it or not, I actually started out as an engineer at a company in Ottawa, Canada. A few years after that, I moved into product management, which taught me a lot about the business fundamentals. From there I had a brief stint in sales, running sales and tech alliances, and then for the past decade or so, I’ve been focused in and around marketing.
I’ve worked at smaller, venture-backed, pre-IPO companies like Illumio, and I’ve also worked at larger, publicly traded companies in a wide variety of industries. For the last few years, I’ve focused on cybersecurity, but before that I was in the travel and expense (T&E) space, working for the Concur division of SAP, and prior to that it was data storage.
How would you describe your leadership style?
I’ve been a fan of the situational leadership framework for quite some time; that’s the product person inside of me. I love frameworks, and I love situational leadership.
For those that haven’t used it, situational leadership is about adapting your leadership style to the situation at hand. It's about the competency and commitment of the other person on a specific task. So, it’s not a general statement of, "This person needs help with XYZ all the time.” As a leader, it’s asking yourself, based on this task and the person that I am asking this of, is the competency level there and is the commitment level there? And then based on that answer, you fine-tune your approach. Should I be more encouraging or directing or coaching – that's situational leadership. I try to employ this framework in my leadership role at Illumio whenever possible, but I’m also always learning, growing, and adapting to meet the needs of my team and the organization as a whole.
What are some of the market challenges and opportunities that Illumio’s focused on right now?
In terms of the current macroeconomic conditions, every company today is trying to do more with less. In cybersecurity specifically, there are a lot of things that are challenging right now.
Not only is it a tough market, it’s also a noisy industry. There are 3000+ companies in cyber, probably upwards of 40 categories and subcategories, and the biggest pureplay vendor has less than a 4 percent market share. That means there’s just a lot of noise – a lot of folks trying to say the same thing, do the same thing. It’s never been more important to extract the signal from the noise.
In that sense, meaningful messaging and positioning become that much more important, as does outside validation. Earlier this year, Gartner released its first-ever Market Guide for Microsegmentation. In it, they predict that, “By 2026, 60% of enterprises working toward zero trust architecture will use more than one deployment form of microsegmentation, which is up from less than 5% in 2023.” That in and of itself is a huge validator for Illumio and representative of the market opportunity that lies ahead for the Zero Trust Segmentation category. So, it’s up to our team to convert awareness opportunities like that into pipeline for the business.
How do you think about leveraging data in marketing?
I like to joke that marketing is spelled “DATA.” But it’s true, and businesses across all functions are starting to use data more to make decisions on where to prioritize spend and allocate other resources.
Marketing, like sales or finance, has a budget, but those funds have to resource a lot of different things – from running global events and webinars, to driving awareness and thought leadership, to funding demand campaigns. So, we’re always thinking in terms of ROI and what will give us the biggest bang for our buck.
Visibility, data, and gut (following your instincts) are the three things that I try to consider when it comes to making decisions that deliver outsized business impact. In this environment, it’s really about proving that there’s an ROI.
What are your thoughts on ChatGPT?
There’s been a lot of uncertainty around ChatGPT and the future of business, and those concerns are valid. But I like to think of ChatGPT in terms of efficiency. Not in the sense of “how is ChatGPT going to replace jobs,” but how can it be used to make individuals more efficient in the work they’re doing? If you could do two things before, with ChatGPT and ML, now you can do four. Efficiency gains and productivity gains are important – that’s what technology enables us to do, and this is no different.
What do you do when you’re not leading marketing at Illumio?
I like playing tennis. I played competitively growing up and was, for a time, nationally ranked in India. I still play recreationally (I try to play in my spare time as much as I can – though often, life gets in the way). I hope to continue to play with my children as long as I can keep up with them.
This month, meet Joyce Leung, Vice President of Services Operations at Illumio. Learn about what (or who!) inspired her to join Illumio and why she is still excited about the opportunity after seven years.