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Doing business with Jonathan Stern of MuleSoft: 'How to break the rules'

Doing business with Jonathan Stern of MuleSoft: 'How to break the rules'

On moving from software developer to salesperson to regional VP of MuleSoft, and the book that made him change the way he managed his team.

Name: Jonathan Stern

Title: Regional vice president Australia and New Zealand, MuleSoft

Twitter handle: @MuleSoft

How long have you been in your current role? One year

What business technology issue is your role focusing on?

Businesses are rapidly evolving into “composable enterprises” built out of hundreds of connected software services, applications and devices. MuleSoft's software integrates these components together through an API-led connectivity approach. With API-led connectivity, businesses focus on identifying and exposing core capabilities as well-defined APIs, allowing others in the business and (more importantly) external entities to piece together capabilities across multiple businesses to rapidly go to market with something new. This approach delivers agility and speed for our customers, who can either run our software on-premises or in the cloud.

What are your interests away from work?

I’ve always had a passion for sports. I recently hung up my boots after a long, undistinguished football career (being English, I find it hard to call it soccer). I now coach my son’s team. There are parallels with my business career: At one stage I used to develop software and then went on to being a bag-carrying sales representative. Nowadays I manage and coach a business team - but in reality, I’m dying to run on the pitch again!

What's the best piece of advice you've ever received?

It came from a book I read about 10 years ago: First, Break All The Rules by Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman. It’s all about developing people’s strengths. Until that point, I had worked in environments where 90 per cent of an annual review discussion was focused on the 10 percent where an individual’s work was considered as weak.

Reading the book was a seminal moment - a real tipping point. How wrong we had been. Areas of weakness were typically aspects of the job that people disliked. And historically, management had been imploring employees to focus effort on areas they clearly found uninspiring. It was like telling Lionel Messi that he has to improve his tackling, or telling Richie McCaw he needs to work on his goal-kicking.

Read more: A third of SMBS have never used cloud computing: The Alternative Board

Since this epiphany, I’ve worked on people's strengths. You can always find others ways to make up for the weaker areas. Both the company and the individual get a much better return, and it’s far more fulfilling.

Historically, management had been imploring employees to focus effort on areas they clearly found uninspiring... It was like telling Richie McCaw he needs to work on his goal-kicking. Since this epiphany, I’ve worked on people's strengths.

Jonathan Stern, MuleSoft

Professionally, who do you admire most?

The new generation of entrepreneurs who harness creativity, innovation and single-minded desire. They articulate very clear visions, building teams of evangelists inside and outside their companies.

Read more: Brace for industry convergence and digital transformation: Frost & Sullivan

Outside of work, it has to be Nelson Mandela. I will always remember a trip to South Africa where I saw a huge painting of him on a wall in Soweto and the quote: “As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew that if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison.”

How long have you been working in your field? How did you get into your role?

I’ve been in IT for 25 years, originally as a software developer. After five years of programming, my managing director encouraged me to move into sales. I wanted to understand the bigger picture and this move satisfied my desire to work at a business level.

In the last eight years before MuleSoft, I had been managing the Australia and New Zealand businesses for WebSphere and Informatica, so I knew the regional integration landscape. When the MuleSoft position became available, I knew it was mutually a very good fit. The core values and principles of MuleSoft aligned with mine. If I was given the chance to create my own company with the perfect culture, it would look like MuleSoft’s.

If you weren't working in your field, what would you be doing?

Either a civil engineer (my university degree) or something to do with psychology and coaching (a particular area of interest for me).

Read more: CIOs urged to re-examine budget amidst currency fluctuations

A key pointer for keeping abreast of business technology trends?

I read IT and business news feeds at least once a day. This is vital to anyone who is customer-facing. It is no longer the case that the customer is always the best-informed. CIOs are looking to their vendors not just to solve current problems, but also to help anticipate future needs. They want business partners to come along with a “point of view”.

Send news tips and comments to divina_paredes@idg.co.nz

Follow Divina Paredes on Twitter: @divinap

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