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George Kurian Begin with the End in Mind
SI Team
Monday, July 11, 2016
Just six months after joining IIT Madras, two highly ambitious freshmen-George Kurian and his younger twin brother, Thomas Kurian-were found to be packing their bags, preparing to leave the bustling city and very soon, the country. Like many, the U.S. had rolled its red carpet down for George and his brother, where they were accepted into Princeton University for their bachelors in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, embracing them into a future that held many surprises and promises. After years spent in his brother’s comradeship, George knew that it was high time their paths fork out. Sure enough, the years away had paid off well enough for both of them. With a zeal to keep outwitting his own feat, he progressed from one good thing to another, making his sound presence echo in companies like Oracle, McKinsey, Akamai, and Cisco, before finally taking up the designation of SVP, Software Group at NetApp [NASDAQ: NTAP] in March 2011.
On June 01, 2015, the Kurian residency received a call from overseas, when George dropped the news about his ascent to NetApp's executive cohort, when he was made the CEO, replacing Tom Georgens. The second announcement that year, it was just six months before that, Thomas was named President of software development, at Oracle, directly reporting to co-CEOs Safra Catz and Mark Hurd. It was evident from his statement shortly after his appointment as CEO, that NetApp had made the right selection. George Kurian began, "A CEO's role is an extension of that to its ultimate form, where you are leading a highly cross-functional team of folks to deliver great outcomes for the customer." For a year now, George Kurian has been heading NetApp, the storage, and data management company that has carved a niche for itself in the global storage hardware and software industry.

Founded in 1992 by entrepreneurial engineers, David Hitz, James Lau, and Michael Malcolm, the company has seen itself rise among severe competition in the recent decades. In the parlance of Kurian, over its 20-year history, the company has built trusted relationships that withstand the test of time. "NetApp is a company that enables our customers to do amazing things," he says. "We have the ability to spark the creative genius in our customers." NetApp has been the foundation of stories like finding the god particle with scientists using the power of their imagination together with its technology. With more than 30,000 happy customers all over the globe, NetApp has marked its footprint in a multitude of industries, including, healthcare, manufacturing, fashion and apparel, energy, financial services, software, retail, and media and entertainment.

Solving the Storage Conundrum:

Since its inception, the company has a steady line of revenue through its flagship range of NetApp filer storage devices. Also known as the NetApp Fabric-Attached Storage (FAS), a filer is an enterprise-class storage area network (SAN) as well as a networked storage appliance. These devices can be used for storage purposes, over any network through file-based protocols including NFS (Network File System), CIFS (Common Internet File System), FTP (File Transfer Protocol), TFTP (Trivial File Transfer Protocol), and HTTP (Hyper Text Transfer Protocol). NetApp Filers use highly customized hardware with the proprietary Data ONTAP operating system, and can be installed in large disk arrays. Of particular concern when George Kurian was hired by NetApp, he was chosen to lead NetApp’s the indigenous ONTAP product, which was in need of a fervent headship. With a solid familiarity in networking and servers, he had practically no experience on building storage products and initially faced critical reception.

However, his humble bearings had washed away the looks of amateurship he got from his teammates. George had an ear to everyone's ideas and he equally challenged people, until there came a time, when everyone set aside their personal agenda and worked for the greater good, in this case the stature of NetApp on delivering storage products. Today ONTAP accounts for 80 percent of new shipments, in stark contrast to its almost zero at the time when George was initiated.

A greenhorn CEO, George Kurian had made it to the executive board with just four years after on boarding NetApp. Soon he was making decisive judgments within weeks of climbing the leadership ladder. In December 2015, the company made its announcement about the imminent $870Mn acquisition of SolidFire. Apparently, Kurian had prophesied that the direction of data storage management was headed towards the flash storage technology. SolidFire designs and develops solid-state or flash storage gear to cloud service providers, telecommunication companies, and hosting companies.

Fanning the Flash Storage Flame:

In the aftermath of the SolidFire engagement, George Kurian noted that the acquisition would benefit current and future customers who are looking to benefit from web-scale cloud providers for their data centers. "SolidFire combines the performance and economics of all-flash storage with a web-scale architecture that radically simplifies data center operations and enables rapid deployments of new applications," asserted Kurian. NetApp is aiming at extending the realms of its flash leadership with the SolidFire team, products, and partner ecosystem, and to accelerate flash adoption through NetApp's large partner and customer base.

With scope for further plans in the flash storage domain under way, George Kurian's keen focus continues to be on flash media and hybrid cloud architectures. "What you will see from me is laser focus in terms of executing against those (flash storage) capabilities, bringing those products to market, and working with our global partner ecosystem and go to market team to take those capabilities and allow customers to build competitive advantage from them." NetApp recently made news when the "Worldwide All Flash Array Market Share" ranked the company in the second spot for Q1 2016.
At 48, George Kurian has crossed a million miles on a trail that was filled with hurdles and hardships. In the last twenty-five years of his American journey, he says he has learnt two important lessons. First comes the skill to explore and understand a customer, on their goals and objectives, and accordingly deliver products and solutions that will enable their success. At the helmsmanship of delivering groundbreaking technology and teams that make it happen, George Kurian ensures NetApp's path is aligned with that of his vision. Secondly, he says the right combination of innovation and execution to deliver on customer commitments will get a huge fan following amongst prospective clients. "I am a firm believer that clear and focused priorities, coupled with relentless execution and a world-class team will help us expand our leadership position," Kurian assures. "I'm going to ensure that we remain a leader in this industry by delivering capabilities that will help our customers achieve the outcomes they're looking for."

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