• James Parton

Setting up in London #6: Robbie Clutton – Pivotal

Pivotal’s Cloud-Native platform drives software innovation for many of the world’s most admired brands. With millions of developers in communities around the world, Pivotal technology touches billions of users every day. After shaping the software development culture of Silicon Valley’s most valuable companies for over a decade, today Pivotal leads a global technology movement transforming how the world builds software.

How did you find your GM opportunity? What was your hiring story?

I did a software engineering degree at City of London and graduated in 2005. I was a developer at BT, The Guardian and at agencies for 9 years. Then in January 2012 I joined Pivotal Labs Inc–which at the time was a 120 person software consultancy– and moved to New York to join them. Pivotal Labs was then acquired by EMC shortly after I joined

Throughout my career I had always had good feedback on my ability to operate from both the technical and business perspective, but I had resisted managerial roles.

I took an engineering management role within my first year, which was my first step towards management. I was comfortable with the change, as management roles at Pivotal Labs were still very engineering focused. 95% of the job was still focused on the code. After 18 months with Pivotal Labs an opportunity to take a leadership role in the New York office came up, and EMC spun us out as new company called Pivotal in 2013. I was part of a 4 person leadership team. I was a little worried about stepping away from the technical side, but felt ready to be become a full time manager.

My wife had moved with me to New York, and after a few years in the Big Apple we wanted to start a family, and we wanted to do that in the UK. The London office has opened while I was in New York, and I moved back in the summer of 2014. At that point there were less than 15 consultants in London. I came back as an Associate Director, and would later take roles leading the office, and now our expanded EMEA region.

How is EMEA organized?

London is the EMEA HQ, and we operate in several locations across Europe, including Dublin, Paris, and Berlin.

We tend to lead an engagement with customers and deliver from the best office for the customer. There may be times when need specific skills, and bring someone in from another region. Other agencies pull in large numbers of contractors to cover a project whereas we scale our permanent headcount to provide stability and concurrent capability. We prefer permanent staff over contractors, and we deliberately hire at manageable pace rather than flood the team, which risks damaging our ability to onboard new starters and lose our culture.

Why did the company choose to set up in London?

As an American business, the shared language and shared culture was a big part of it. We also felt the UK market was the most ready for the type of consultancy work we provide. We wanted to be based in an area that has a high density of prospective customers. In the UK you can focus on London and have a big impact. Compared to say Germany, which is federated meaning you need coverage in seven or eight cities.

Tell me about that culture?

When we open a new office we create a seed team made up of experienced staff members that sign up to work in the new location for 12 – 24 months to help get the office off the ground, conduct local business development, hire local team members, and provide on the job training to new starters who learn by doing. At the end of the the seed team assignments, the new office should be self-sustaining.

We have a set of values that you can genuinely see in action: be kind, do the right thing, do what works. You can hear people questioning in meetings against these values. Our offices look similar and are designed to be highly collaborative. You feel like you are in a Pivotal office.

How are you finding hiring new people?

In the hiring process we really look for two character traits– empathy and the ability to learn quickly. We have had a good pipeline, and we are now at 45 consultants and 30 – 40 R&D roles. Engineering roles have been easier to hire for compared to design roles, which is very much a freelancer-driven market. Product Managers have been by far the hardest to find. I think Product Management is an emerging discipline in Europe compared to the US.

But we have been able to bring on good people and hit our recruitment goals. We have blended local hires with skilled workers’ visas & other European nationals.

Are you worried about the impact of Brexit?

For Pivotal, we remain committed to our operations across the U.K., as well as our flagship European innovation hub based in London. However, many of our customers, who are the world’s largest companies, are concerned about the uncertainty created by Brexit. To their credit, they’re leaning into our partnership and running more and more of their business on our cloud platform, as well as co-developing products with our experts to operate at startup speed—despite Brexit, Silicon Valley-esque software proficiency is borderless, and will allow U.K.-based companies to continue serving millions of customers worldwide.

We hear a lot about the ‘tech community’ in London – what was your experience of it?

I wouldn’t say I’m an active participant in the community. For one, I have a young family so need to get the work life balance right and secondly, my role means extended working hours to handle different timezones. Performing the GM role means wearing many hats and it leaves me exhausted at the end of the day!

We do have an event space in the office and host a number of meetups. We don’t charge people for that space, so we are trying to support the community. We also encourage our employees to get themselves out there and bring in groups they are personally passionate about. We also allow side projects in our employment contract with no claim over intellectual property.

You mention the extended hours of your role – how do you manage communication with HQ?

We are increasingly heavy users of Slack, which is reducing the volume of email, and we use Zoom a lot and recording the meetings has been really helpful, as lining up US / APAC / European timezones is really hard. Our leadership is in California and they run two leadership meetings– one with US / APAC and one US / Europe. I can play back recordings of the APAC one on my commute to ensure I’m up to date.

I also tend to earmark a day per week for collaboration days. On those days I try and get home to take those calls. In my role I don’t have to be office bound, so I also try to work one day a week from home. On a typical day I will get home from the office, be there for the kids’ bedtime routine, then go back online. I knew what I signed up for when I accepted the role, so it’s just a question of balance throughout the week.

What has been the hardest challenge to solve?

When you distill it down, the GM role is not hugely complex. The challenge is the volume of work, running multiple things in parallel, and lining things up to the right timescales has been the hardest thing. As the GM you are involved with everything, plus you have the responsibility of being a line manager. It’s challenging to constantly switch from thinking tactically and strategically. As we have grown, I have been good at letting go of responsibilities to allow me to focus on problems others can’t solve.

What would you do differently if you could start over?

Getting an external perspective from a fresh pair of eyes that are not deeply involved in the business has been highly insightful as early as possible. The Leadership team went through 360 feedback which was an eye opener.

I also had some great advice about making sure you make time for yourself and keep healthy. In these GM roles you can easily get consumed. As an example, I’d block out time in my calendar with affirmative instruction like “go home and spend time with your daughter now!” Be forceful with yourself so when the reminder pops up, you do actually go home.

Finally, what difference has the London office made to the success of the business?

When we opened here it was an investment and a risk. We didn’t know if the type of consultancy would be of interest to businesses outside of the US. It was an experimental attitude– let’s put a small team on the ground and see if we can make it work. It took us two years to really get our feet on the ground in terms of customers and brand awareness, starting with with a couple of desks in Shoreditch House and last year moved into new space just off the Silicon Roundabout which is just shy of 40,000 sq ft . iIts big investment into London to make it the flagship for EMEA.

To learn more about Pivotal, check out Pivotal.io.

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