C-suite career advice: Rory Blundell, Gravitee.io – IDG Connect

Name: Rory Blundell

Company: Gravitee.io

Job Title: CEO

Location: United Kingdom

As CEO of Gravitee.io, Rory Blundell heads up the leadership team with a focus on global expansion. Blundell joined Gravitee.io in March 2020 as Chief Revenue Officer, before becoming Chief Executive Officer in September, 2020. Prior to joining Gravitee.io, Blundell led SnapLogic’s EMEA expansion from a technical sales perspective. He has recently overseen Gravitee.io’s expansion into the USA and APAC markets, and bringing new customers including TIDE, Sodexo, the University of Helsinki, and SDFE onto the Gravitee.io platform.

What was the most valuable piece of career advice that you received? ‘Get things done’. My first boss in London was very results-driven. It is very valuable to strategise and plan, but his underlying message was not to lose focus on the output and the real action required to deliver.  I’ve carried this piece of advice with me throughout my career. It helps to ensure things are always moving in the right direction, rather than only talking about it.

What was the worst piece of business advice that you received? The worst piece of advice I’ve received was being told I had to pick a career and stick to it. There’s never a bad time to look at your life and say ‘this is no longer of interest to me’, then go away, learn a new skill and start something that excites you.

What advice would you give to someone starting their career in IT/tech? Challenge yourself, and strive to keep learning. If you’re comfortable within your role, it’s likely you’ve stopped growing, which means you’re closing yourself off from opportunities that can make you more successful. It’s always better to test your knowledge, improve where you can, and continuously educate yourself.

Did you always want to work in IT/tech? No, technology was not my first choice. I had several jobs and different career paths I was keen to explore. At one point I aspired to be a chef, at another I wanted to be a financier or scientist. I tended not to map out my life, but I always had an inquisitive mind and would continually have goals and ambitions which would continually evolve based upon what I was doing at that point. I would always be dreaming about the future and that was the passion and drive I always needed to keep going. That inquisitive mindset led me to learn to code and eventually to develop a ‘Know Your Client’ (KYC) data discovery tool for law and accounting firms, which I successfully sold to several companies.

What was your first job in IT/tech? My first technology job was developing the software for the KYC (know your client) business that I started. After I moved on from that business I got headhunted by SnapLogic to run their EMEA technical teams.

What are some common misconceptions about working in IT/tech? One of the more common misconceptions is that IT comprises only very geeky people. While in some cases that’s true, tech businesses (every business) is made up of a mix of personality types and backgrounds. If you don’t build this diversity into the organisation I firmly believe the organisation is far less likely to succeed.  On the whole I’ve seen businesses that embrace and promote diversity benefit hugely from having a wider spectrum of personalities working for them.

What tips would you give to someone aiming for a c-level position? Make yourself valuable. I created many of the roles I moved into – they did not exist. I found areas that I could improve on and that resulted in making myself irreplaceable to the business. One of the key values I look for in people joining Gravitee is that they bring energy. Without realising it, I believe I have done this throughout my career so far. Be passionate, challenge ideas, ask questions, set standards, think of ways to improve and get excited. If these fundamental ingredients are missing then strongly consider whether the organisation you are in is where you want to be in a c-level position. You can’t sit and wait around for someone to tell you how to be a leader – the initiative has to come from within. 

What are your career ambitions and have you reached them yet? My ambition has always been to be a leader in whatever space I operate. For Gravitee.io, I am determined to make it the leading API management solution in the market, by creating growth opportunities for the business to leverage.

Do you have a good work life balance in your current role? I admit it is a challenge to switch off – even more so when working from home. I invest so much of myself into my company’s success that it’s tricky to find a balance. The tech industry is growing and evolving at significant speed and there are many competitive challenges out there. A work-life balance is vital – you have to continually refresh mentally for the journey. Tennis is one of the few things I can do where the pace of the game doesn’t allow me to remain switched on, so helps me to regain that balance.

What, if anything, would you change about the route your career path has taken? I don’t believe anyone should look at the past with a view to change anything. This is mainly because you can’t change history, but also because each move we make is a learning opportunity that leads us to where we are today. I am a firm believer in learning from those who have come before you – take this advice and look forwards.

Which would you recommend: A coding bootcamp or a computer science degree? It depends on the role you’re after. For a developer, most probably a coding bootcamp. However, for a C-suite level role, I’d expect some form of qualification, but experience and skill often speaks for itself.

How important are specific certifications? Again, it depends on the role we’re looking at. Head of information security should have some credentials to make sure they’ve gone through the right training. And for a DevOps engineer, a cloud provider certification is very useful. However not every role requires certifications. Communication, energy and compassion are the fundamentals, get these right and your energy and work ethic will take you where you need to be, whether that be certifications or simply experience.  

What are the three skills or abilities you look for in prospective candidates? I would look for someone who shares my business approach– action oriented, results focused, with an ear attuned to the community and industry they’re operating in. Similarly on personal values, I look for someone who like me is open-minded, ready to challenge themselves and learn continuously.

What would put you off a candidate? I’ve worked alongside brash characters that have rubbed people up the wrong way. Personally I prefer someone more low-key, open-minded, and approachable. Of course it’s great to know your worth, but if it gets to a point when ego is causing difficulties, it becomes a question of whether this is still beneficial for the business.

What are the most common mistakes made by candidates in an interview? How can those mistakes be avoided? It’s disappointing when you have a promising candidate, but they haven’t gone to the effort of doing their research. My advice to candidates is put yourself in the interviewer’s shoes, would you be impressed with the answer you have provided – and does it show you have put in the effort to get to know the company?

Do you think it is better to have technical or business skills – or a mix of both?  Most leadership roles have a mix of both, and as people progress up the career ladder you’ll be expected to have a good understanding of the business as well as the technology that underpins it (for tech companies). For example, take the sales team at Gravitee.io, while they are not the go-to technical experts, they must have a solid grounding in the technical concepts in order to support our prospective customers.

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