CTO Sessions: Fred Lherault, Pure Storage – IDG Connect

Name: Fred Lherault

Company: Pure Storage

Job title: CTO Emerging Markets

Date started current role: February 2020

Location: London, UK

Fred Lherault is a Field CTO across the EMEA region at Pure Storage, a position he has held since February 2020. He helps guide customer adoption of Pure’s technology, design new software features and liaises between customers with Pure’s engineering team. Lherault has worked at Pure since 2012. His keen interest in emerging technologies enables him to advise organisations how to adopt new strategic initiatives in the ever-changing world of IT. Prior to Pure Storage, Lherault held Systems Engineering positions at 3PAR and HP.

What was your first job? I worked for a small clothing manufacturer, sending materials to Poland and Lithuania. I loaded and unloaded trucks during the day and was doing IT at night.

My first real IT job was tech support for Compaq Computers at the end of the 90s. 

Did you always want to work in IT? I can’t say that I did. I was interested in technology from a young age, and I was fortunate that we were one of only a few households that had a computer. However, growing up in the early 80s it wasn’t as clear as it is today that IT could be a serious career path.

What was your education? Do you hold any certifications? What are they? I completed my secondary education and then did a year of tertiary education, studying economics and computing. While I loved the computing part of the curriculum, I wasn’t such a fan of the economics side. I started working after that, and it’s fair to say that everything I know now, I learnt on the job. 

Explain your career path. Did you take any detours? If so, discuss. In 2012, I was fortunate enough to be one of the first employees to join Pure Storage internationally. My two colleagues and I were hired to create the EMEA business for Pure. I started as a systems engineer and in 2015 I moved to California to work in our engineering organisation. 

Not only did this give me the opportunity to understand how an engineering organisation works but also what engineers care about and what is required to get a product to market. I even had the opportunity to design some of our products and features. 

In 2016 I returned to London to take that knowledge back to customers and that’s what I’ve been doing ever since.

I wouldn’t say I took any detours along the way. I’ve been lucky to find great mentors who took a chance on me and kept pushing me to do more. 

What type of CTO are you? I’m a technical CTO. I need to understand the technology in depth before I can see what the key principles of that technology are, what it enables and the challenges it solves. 

I hate talking about something if I don’t know it well enough.

Which emerging technology are you most excited about the prospect of? It will have to be sustainable technologies. With customers now considering whether technologies are environmentally friendly before investing in them, it’s no longer about just being the best solution, it’s also about being the most sustainable. 

I’m proud to work for a company which takes environmental impact seriously. Pure designs, builds and delivers products and services that allow our customers to dramatically decrease their environmental footprints. For example, with our FlashArray products, customers can achieve up to 80 percent reduction in direct carbon usage in their data storage systems. 

Our Evergreen architecture and Pure as-a-Service subscription deliver further environmental benefits by significantly minimising e-waste, extending the service lifetimes of equipment, and reducing underutilisation of storage. 

I’m also really excited when I hear how some of our customers use our technology to power analytics in order to detect water leaks faster, or to accelerate biodiversity research.

Are there any technologies which you think are overhyped? Why? Everyone sees the potential for blockchain in terms of distributed ledgers, trusted transactions and removing the middleman, however people are starting to question the environmental impact of the technology – especially since those transactions are being recorded on thousands of computers. While it’s more secure, is it worth it, considering the impact it’s having on our environment?

What is one unique initiative that you’ve employed over the last 12 months that you’re really proud of? As a technical organisation in Europe, we spent a lot of time in the last 12 months working closely with our customers to protect them against cyberattacks by deploying SafeMode, which is a data protection solution that is built into our FlashArray and FlashBlade products. 

Are you leading a digital transformation? If so, does it emphasise customer experience and revenue growth or operational efficiency? If both, how do you balance the two? My role isn’t to drive digital transformation, however myself and my peers do advise our various product business groups on what they need from a digital transformation perspective. 

Pure is an established company and has always been digital. Our focus is on as-a-service consumption and how we enable customers to consume all our products in this way. Our priority is removing friction in terms of how our customers interface with our products and how they do business with Pure. This leads to a great customer experience. 

As a company, we take customer experience very seriously, and have achieved a net promoter score (NPS) of 85.2. A seamless customer experience leads to revenue, which also leads to operational efficiency. It’s all linked. 

What is the biggest issue that you’re helping customers with at the moment? We’re helping our customers remove any technological barriers that their developers are facing, so they can spend more time doing what they do best: coding. 

I’d say that developers have become the most important employees within many organisations. Empowering software developers is the key to digital transformation – they build whatever you need so you can sell digitally to your customers and remove any friction. 

There’s a limited pool of developers out there though, so it’s important that organisations focus on how to best support their existing ones so they can spend more time coding and building quality products or services.

How do you align your technology use to meet business goals? First and foremost, we need to make it really simple for our customers to use our platform and remove any friction along the way. If we do this well, our customers will be satisfied and that will in turn increase our business revenue and help us to reach our goals. 

Do you have any trouble matching product/service strategy with tech strategy? I wouldn’t say so, especially as we’re developing products that our customers are going to use to offer their own services – either to their internal or external customers – to achieve their desired outcomes. Every product we create is a building block to help them achieve a particular service. 

For example, our Portworx Data Services platform is exactly what our customers need to build their own database-as-a-service for their developers. 

What makes an effective tech strategy? You need to make smart choices. When it comes to cloud services, you should avoid being linked to a specific provider or vendor, especially as requirements can change daily. 

The biggest misconception about cloud in general is that it’s cheaper than doing it yourself, when, in reality, it’s not. What you do get is faster time to market and agility. However, this comes at the expense of cost and vendor lock-in. 

That’s where we come in. We build solutions that either help customers get the same agility on-prem, or if they want to use cloud services they can avoid the lock-in and easily migrate resources, data, and applications from anywhere. 

What predictions do you have for the role of the CTO in the future? When defining a technology strategy in the future, CTOs need to think in a different way and have sustainability front of mind. It’s no longer just about what’s the best or fastest solution, but also how sustainable it is. Someone has to make those decisions and advise the organisation accordingly, and it should be the CTO’s responsibility to do that.  

We’ll start seeing the customers of our customers increasingly demanding sustainable products. If this isn’t offered then organisations will be at a competitive disadvantage. 

What has been your greatest career achievement? A career highlight of mine was when I spearheaded ActiveCluster, one of the features in our products that makes data highly available between two data centres or locations. I was involved in the design of it when I was working within the engineering organisation and it’s now something that almost half of our customers in EMEA are using. 

Looking back with 20:20 hindsight, what would you have done differently? Apart from investing in Google or Amazon fifteen years ago…I’d say nothing. I have no regrets. 

What are you reading now? I’m an avid Sci-Fi reader and have just finished a book by Adrian Tchaikovsky called Dogs of War.

Most people don’t know that I… When I was a kid, I wanted to work in forest conservation. I grew up living on the highest house on a hill, and I spent most of my free afternoons and weekends in the forest.

In my spare time, I like to…Cycle around London (although I’m clearly no athlete) and visit museums.

Ask me to do anything but… Following a routine. One thing I really enjoy about my role at Pure is how diverse it is, having the ability to work with customers in many countries and industries, learn about their challenges, discuss what is happening in the industry and understand where innovation would be most impactful.

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