Former SuccessFactors president Doug Dennerline has landed his dream job: He's now CEO of a fast-growing startup that he'll soon take public, Alfresco.
Landing a CEO gig was probably inevitable for Dennerline given his mentors: Cisco CEO John Chambers; Salesforce.com founder and CEO Marc Benioff; and most recently, SuccessFactors founder and CEO Lars Dalgaard. (SuccessFactors is now owned by SAP.)
At Cisco, Dennerline got his first taste of CEO-dom. He'd led the U.S. sales team for most of his 11 years at Cisco when Chambers asked him to help find the next big growth business for Cisco. The answer: software as a service, or business apps delivered over the Internet rather than software downloaded to desktop PCs. Dennerline and a colleague recommended that Cisco buy either Salesforce.com or WebEx.
Talks of buying Salesforce were short-lived. Benioff and Chambers were friends because Cisco was one of Salesforce.com's first big clients. Benioff would go on to join Cisco's board in 2012. But however close the companies were, Benioff wasn't interested in selling.
"We looked at both Salesforce and WebEx, choosing WebEx," Dennerline said. "They happened to be in a pretty deep conversation with IBM and we wound up buying WebEx out from underneath them. From first conversation with WebEx to close was eight days."
Chambers then told Dennerline, "This is your idea, go be the CEO of WebEx."
Dennerline did that for a while. But then Benioff lured him away to run Salesforce's enterprise sales organization.
After a short while, Dennerline realized he didn't want to run sales for someone else. He wanted to be a CEO.
And then a headhunter talked him into meeting with SuccessFactors founder and CEO Lars Dalgaard. He said no.
"I had just finished working for Marc and I wasn't sure I wanted go to work for Lars," Dennerline recalls.
And he was interviewing for a CEO job he really wanted—though he wouldn't reveal where it was.
But Dalgaard insisted on a meeting—just coffee.
"And we hit it off," Dennerline said. "He moved the conversation to 'Will you be my president?'"
The other company offered the CEO role, "and I turned it down to be the No. 2 man at SuccessFactors."
He wasn't at SuccessFactors long enough to accumulate a lot of stock before SAP swooped in and bought SuccessFactors for $3.4 billion.
"I felt like I was back at WebEx," Dennerline said, running a unit inside a massive company. So he went searching for a CEO job again.
He had offers coming out of his ears. He says it was nerve-wracking. Dennerline heard from everyone from early-stage startups to companies with hundreds of millions of dollars in revenues. He wound up saying yes to board positions at gamiifcation company Bunchball and video recruiting company HireVue .
But he chose to run Alfresco because he liked the people and the potential. That included Alfresco's cofounder, John Newton. Newton previously cofounded Documentum , which was bought by EMC for $1.7 billion in 2003.
"I came from two situations with very, very big personalities," Dennerline says of Benioff and Dalgaard.
The two founders have "a unique quality to make people work uniquely hard," he says. They make people believe in themselves: "It's very upbeat and yes, you can."
He contrasted the flamboyant founders to Chambers, who's more of a personable but soft-spoken salesman.
"Put John [Chambers] at one end and put Marc Benioff at the other and slam them together, that's who I am," Dennerline laughs.
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