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Episode 3: Career Nation Show with Joe Pinto, Chief Customer Officer @ Pure Storage

The legendary Joe Pinto, Chief Customer Officer @ Pure Storage joins in this episode of Career Nation Show. 

John Chambers once said (I’m paraphrasing): I have not seen any leader reinvent himself more times than Joe Pinto.

Joe shares some amazing nuggets; 
• How customer experience is all about the lifecycle and how services plays a role in helping customers across the lifecycle
• Creating recurring value for customers to get recurring revenue
• How to build an amazing culture in a global organization
• How to make great hiring decisions
• Moments that matter in your career: how identify them and how to capitalize on them
• Favorites game: Joe talks about his favorite app (its an uncommon one), his favorite book, his favorite restaurant (hint: it is in Sunnyvale).
• His sources of inspiration and energy
• Lastly, he unpacks his favorite career insights for Career Nation!

#careeradvice#customerexperience#Cisco#Purestorage#technicalservicesCiscoPure Storage#subscriptioneconomy#subscription


Abhijeet:          Hey, am I becoming a bureaucrat in a large, let’s say a corporate company and is it time for me to basically dial that back a little bit and maybe get into some career transition?

Joe:                  Forgive the interruption, it’s a great point. People got to ask themselves, have they gone to a place where they’re just reporting the news, or are they making the news? Once they ask themselves that question, they know whether they got to move on and reinvent themselves or whether they’re good.

Voiceover:        Welcome to the Career Nation Show, where you learn the strategies and tools to own and drive your career. Find out more at

Abhijeet:          Today we have a very special guest. He is the father of technical services in our industry. Please welcome, the one and only Joe Pinto, Joe welcome to the show.

Joe:                  It’s great to be here, Abhijeet. Thank you, it’s an honor, I’m looking forward to the next 30 minutes to share some of the experience, some of the insights and some of the many learnings I’ve had out here over the years.

Abhijeet:          Wonderful, Joe, thank you so much for making time for us. Why don’t we just get right into it? Tell us about your career journey. We want to go back to the day of the young, well you’re still young Joe, but younger Joe Pinto and tell us from the early days to now, now you’re the SVP of customer experience at Pure Storage. Walk us through the journey. How was it when you were just starting out to now?

Joe:                  Sure, I started out in high tech when I was 19 years old when my brother sent me to Want Ads, the Want Ads, there’s an old term, of San Jose, California. The San Jose Mercury Want Ads were equal in size to The New York Times. Now you got to remember, The New York Times was serving eight million New Yorkers and San Jose Want Ads were serving 650,000 people in the greater San Jose area. It was not rocket science to figure out that all the jobs were in San Jose, California. I was in the middle of college, I was studying in engineering, I decided I would come to San Jose. I got hired on as a technician because back then, they were really looking for technicians in addition to engineers. I started going to school at night. Interesting fact, at one point, I was earning more in tuition reimbursement than what I was getting paid.

Joe:                  I started off working startups because I got some career advice early on that since I was a young man with no obligation, no responsibility, that even though I could lose my job working in a startup, so what’s the big thing? You got no responsibility, you got no obligation, sounds very fortunate after several startups and small companies that in the beginning of 1991, I landed my job at Cisco as a support engineer at Cisco when Cisco was a very small company.

Abhijeet:          You’re in this area of customer experience and what’s happened over a course of time, and you know this better than anyone else, is companies are moving to a subscription model and they’re trying to figure out a way of providing a better experience for customers. They’re going through maybe adding some customer success capabilities. Tell us a bit about your role at Pure Storage, what do you do and how does creating a customer experience play a part in the bigger work of the company?

Joe:                  Well, first I’ll talk about the industry. I grew up in the industry when technical support was viewed as, “Oh we’ve got to do that”, but over a time, because of the customer life cycle, that’s one of the most valuable things a company can do now. Because it used to be, customers made purchase decisions based upon, best in class technology and on ease of doing business. Both those elements have taken somewhat of a backseat to whose got the best lifecycle for the customer that can give them the best outcome, the best solution.

Joe:                  To me, the customer experience is really much more than what it used to be, which was a customer bought assets, it capitalized the assets, and it took on all the risks. The world has changed where the vendor has to take on much more of the risk around driving to an outcome, the customer consumes on a monthly basis payment subscription, based upon ongoing value that’s created. It puts a lot more pressure on the supplier to create value from the point of sale, that the customer will realize and keep in mind that side subscriptions, although they sound really good, are easy to stop. The old days at Cisco when customers used to talk about, “I might throw this router or switch out the window.” Throwing the physical piece out the window would be difficult to do, it might be harmful to the environment but in a SAS world, there’s a lot of pressure on the manufacturer, on the vendor to create ongoing value.

Joe:                  Too often I hear people talking about reoccurring revenue. Let’s talk about what the customer wants to hear. What they want to hear about is reoccurring value and so that’s one of the things that we’re trying to do here at Pure is to create a customer experience that is second to none. Which I must admit, I was very fortunate that when I got here, the net promoter system score, known as NPS scores are literally second to none from an industry perspective that are incredibly high. I’ll stop there because you can tell I get a little excited about this.

Abhijeet:          That’s awesome. You threw out a lot of nuggets Joe, one of the piece I particularly like was creation of reoccurring value for customers. A lot of times we get into this trap of talking about reoccurring revenue, especially in a subscription business model, and we pay a little bit less attention to the reoccurring value that has to be created for the customer. Is this part of this whole customer success war that’s going on in the industry because I see a lot of that coming into place where in addition to traditional services that are provided to the customer, there’s also adoption and making sure the customer gets the outcomes and is that part of the reoccurring value that you’re referring to here Joe?

Joe:                  Yeah, I think part of it, we started doing this probably about eight years ago at Cisco, we started changing the nature of the capabilities in our offer. For many years, technical service was really made up of capabilities around support for embedded software, hardware spares, access to knowledge on the website and access to [inaudible 00:06:45] class engineering should break, fix, support. Over time that model has changed around education, onboarding, driving adoption, the use of some analytics, this customer wants to know if they’re using A and B, should they be using option C? The nature of this supporting service has changed to be much more of a proactive motion than what I would call a reactive motion of years past.

Abhijeet:          Yeah, that totally makes sense Joe. Cearly, customers and serving customers is a passionate area of yours and over the last so many years, I’m sure you have a lot of customer stories. I’m sure there was not a single story that was crazy, right?

Joe:                  Well I do have [crosstalk 00:07:33] …

Abhijeet:          Share with us some really good customer stories.

Joe:                  Yes. There’s a lot in my head but I will describe one because it’s a wonderful story about people. We had two engineers, and remember folks, this is before there were cellphones. Today, something happens, you can’t find someone, you ring them up. Back then in the stone age, there was no cellphones, we had two engineers working on a bank in a country in Asia and we get up one morning to find out that there’s a coup going down in the country, an uprising. The airport is still open, the engineers are not at the hotel, we call the bank, and they’re at the bank and the bank says, “Wow this is pretty amazing,” they fixed the problems but they’re kind of stuck here because they can’t go back to their hotel and they can’t get to the airport.

Joe:                  Well I had a wonderful critical account guy by the name of Mike who did amazing things for me and I said “Mike, we have two engineers stuck at the bank, they got to get to the airport.” Mike asked me, “Do you care how I do it or what it costs?” I said “No. Get them to the airport, get them home, that’s all that matters.”

Joe:                  Now, you got to remember, this story is probably 20 years old. He gets them to the airport, they get home safely. A couple days later he goes, I hope you don’t mind I’m submitting my expense report for $20,000. Okay, what is $20,000? He goes, “That was the cost of getting the engineers from the bank to the airport.” I said, “Okay, tell me a little bit more so I can defend this expense report.” He goes, “I called an ambulance from a hospital and ordered up an ambulance to take them from the bank to the airport, the bill was $20,000.” I said, “Okay.”

Joe:                  There’s a great story about just doing the right thing for our people. Granted, $20,000 was a very expensive taxi ride, or an Uber ride, right? But you got to do what you got to do to get the people out of harms way and mobs do clear for an ambulance. We got them to the airport, they got into the country safely. It all ended well but that’s one of my better stories. What I love about that story, it revolves around the commitment of people that I work with but also around the commitment of management staff to make sure people were safe. A great story and $20,000 later, they were home safe.

Abhijeet:          That is indeed a great story Joe. I’ve personally seen you build and run global organizations and one of the tenants of your leadership has been about culture and it’s about creating culture or creating an ethos that’s customer first and at the same time, caring for the employees that are the front line of doing the work for customers. How did you go about building this type of a culture where people are really waking up in the morning, they’re really charged up, they want to do the right thing for the customer and for the company. How did you build that kind of a culture within global teams over the years?

Joe:                  Well first of all I was very fortunate, I learned from people that I worked with, especially in my early days of Cisco, John [Mortgage 00:10:52] and John [Chambers 00:10:52] and it was always about employees first because the employees are the ones who were really taking care of the customers. Also it was about managers that were going to spread the culture. Remember, culture is a set of unwritten rules that govern the norms of how we treat each other and so it’s easy to have good culture when things are good but what do you do when things are not good? When people are under pressure, when customers have issues, when employees have legitimate issues about their family. Then are you going to represent the culture by doing what’s right?

Joe:                  Because remember, to do what’s right is easy when things are good, it’s not so easy, not so convenient when things are tough. The best example about culture was not to talk about good culture but was to talk about all the different living examples of what people did for each other. It’s one of the reasons I’m here at Pure. One thing I really was impressed with about Pure is that the Pure culture really is the culture that I really admired and respected around being centered around people, the customers, just doing the right thing in general. Hopefully that gives you a bit of insight about the way I roll about the culture which again, easy to talk about but again, one of those unwritten sets of rules that really govern operate with each other.

Abhijeet:          Indeed, and those are really good nuggets Joe and one of the ways of improving, scaling that culture could be hiring. Well I’ve known you to hire from competitors and hire from the industry so tell us more about hiring because, I’m sure there’s a lot of managers and leaders who are watching this show or listening to this show and they would love to know, how can they make better hiring decisions?

Joe:                  Sure.

Abhijeet:          Because that’s one of the things that really keeps a company going especially in the areas of growth we can scale up our organizations better, provide a better customer experience and that hiring becomes such a critical function.

Joe:                  No, it’s a great question. When I go to hire people, a couple of thoughts, first I was notorious about putting myself upfront in the process because if people feel like they’re talking to the decision maker, they’re more likely to be very engaged early on, and the acquaintance can happen much quicker. I suppose you create this big pyramid that by the time people get to you, they would have talked to 27, and a half people. Now don’t get me wrong, it’s still important that the interviewer would probably have some number between six and eight people to make sure they’re a good fit in terms of culturally, team wise and other, but first it’s about putting yourself out there.

Joe:                  Second, I really worked hard to get to know people as people. Once you get to know people about how they think, how they operate, you’re much better in tune about how would they [inaudible 00:13:50]. It’s probably the number one reason why people make it in the job or why they don’t make it in the job. The last thing is I would also ask people about themselves, about what they’re looking for, how they may find an environment they want to be in, what are some things that make them crazy. Have the person talk about what they’re looking for, but also equally, what they’re not looking for.

Abhijeet:          Yep, for sure, and I think you touched upon this a little bit which is also to bring their own personality to work because at the end of the day we’re all human beings working together and making sure that people are able to bring their whole self and be natural is also important. I think you wanted to make one more point there Joe, go ahead.

Joe:                  No, I think it’s a great call. Look, we got to all be at ease with each other. Life is difficult enough, so I look for people and I look for an environment where we take the work seriously, we have passion but we don’t go crazy. We control our emotions to be respectful but yet are still passionate about success with that. I think sometimes people get a little confused about being driven and passion, everybody’s in the fact that we’re all humans, we’re dealing with family issues, health issues, illness issues, and other things that make us all human.

Abhijeet:          Yep, for sure. Well Joe, here’s what we’re going to do from taking ourselves seriously, we’re going to go to the other end of the spectrum and we’re going to play a game that we play on the show, it’s called Favorites. We’re going to ask you a couple of questions about your favorite things and you got to tell us what is your favorite thing and why is that thing your favorite. Okay?

Joe:                  Okay.

Abhijeet:          The first question is, what’s your favorite app?

Joe:                  My favorite app? Okay. This is going to be a bit of a strange one, but my favorite app is going to be the Wine Spectator app of how I can keep track of different wines. Being of Italian background, surely I grew up exposed to wine and that is surely part of my heritage, so I’m sure that’s not the typical answer you get, it’s probably some technology app. Wine Spectator app, it’s pretty good, pretty easy to read and lets me know the taste and characteristics of a wine and sometimes I cheat, and I look in advance before I drink a wine and sometimes I drink the wine first and see if I can match up the right taste to the app, but that’s my answer.

Abhijeet:          Oh that’s awesome. I will be sure to look up Wine Spectator app before I buy the next Christmas gift for you Joe.

Joe:                  Be careful, they have a premium market if you want to pay a little extra, a couple bucks a month then you get more information so just like high tech they have a SAS model too.

Abhijeet:          Oh of course. Let’s see, a couple more favorites. Do you have a favorite book, or a favorite quote that you go by?

Joe:                  I’ve got a favorite book. It was a book that I read early in my career at Cisco called Barbarians to Bureaucrats, written by Miller. It’s a book that talks about different stages of management, and that the first stage of a start up, everybody’s a barbarian, everyone’s just trying to get things done. If you’re going to burn down the building, you burn down the building. Then over time you go, we should work in synergy, if we work in synergy, maybe we don’t have to torch so many buildings and we could work as a unified force. The over time you go, maybe we should have a vision, so we’re a little more efficient as we act as barbarians.

Joe:                  The fourth stage is you become a good administrator, that sounds bad, but it’s really not, you’re getting people reviewed, you’re getting people their stock, their pay, their benefits and that’s okay. The fifth stage is the most dangerous stage, that’s where you’ve gone from a barbarian, all the way to a bureaucrat, which, once you’ve gone there, then you have one foot from the grave. Barbarians to Bureaucrats written by Miller, a great easy read.

Abhijeet:          Oh, that’s brilliant, and I like that part a lot where you mentioned the last stages of bureaucrat and then you’re one foot away from the grave. It’s also a very important stage where someone can think about that as, “Hey, am I becoming a bureaucrat in a large, let’s say a corporate company and is it time for me to basically dial that back a little bit and maybe get into some career transition?”

Joe:                  Forgive the interruption, it’s a great point. People get to ask themselves, have they gone to a place where they’re just reporting the news, or are they making the news? Once they ask themselves that question, they know whether they got to move on and reinvent themselves or whether they’re good.

Abhijeet:          Reporting the news verses making the news, definitely I want to be in the camp of making the news.

Joe:                  [inaudible 00:18:59].

Abhijeet:          Indeed, well one more Favorites question, and it’s going to be interesting, I know you love Italian food so this is going to be an interesting question. Your favorite restaurant?

Joe:                  My favorite restaurant for serving Italian food, because that’s where my family is from. Is Pezzella’s in Sunnyvale on El Camino. They’ve been open since 1957, the test of time. They’re shuts Sundays and Mondays so be careful, it’s an old school family restaurant and if you do go there I highly suggest either the eggplant parmigiana for people that are vegetarians, or the chicken parmigiana, which are two of the best dishes they offer. Very reasonable prices because they’ve been around for a long time.

Abhijeet:          Well thank you for the shout out, I’m sure Pezzella’s in Sunnyvale is going to be taken over by mobs of people going in pretty soon.

Joe:                  They will not be disappointed.

Abhijeet:          I’m sure. I’ll try some of the chicken parmigiana there myself next time.

Joe:                  One more quick tip, try the cannoli because they make the filling, and they even make the cannoli shells, which is a crazy amount of work to make a cannoli shell for the people out there who know how to cook.

Abhijeet:          Nice, that’s a really good tip. Any tips on espresso beans, coffee machines, your favorite coffee, Joe?

Joe:                  As long as it’s an espresso or a cappuccino, I am certainly good to go. I must admit, I think [inaudible 00:20:28] is one of my favorites but trust me, I drink espresso of many brands as well.

Abhijeet:          That’s awesome, why don’t we move into a little bit of sort of career discussion Joe, and given your phenomenal experience, would love to know, what have been some of the strategies that you’ve used in your career journey? Things that have helped you, are there some approaches, the way you’ve thought about things that have really helped you. Share with us some of those things.

Joe:                  Sure, a couple of thoughts in no particular order. First of all, you don’t realize the hiring decisions you make really define who you are. That you’re judged by the quality of your team, what the people say that they’re not is just plain reality. I think the other thing is to realize there’re moments that matter, I knew in my early days at Cisco there were several major customer situations where I knew that those were matter that would define Cisco, that would define my career. To know it in the moment, know all matters are equal. You got to know when it’s time to up your game.

Joe:                  I know people say “Well, I always up my game.” No you can’t up your game all the time because quite frankly, it is a marathon and not a sprint. But again it’s about quality of your team, knowing when you’ve got to up your game about moments that matter. The only thing I’ll say is that people are never neutral, I’ve been fortunate enough to get three graduation speeches at three schools and even though each speech was different, there was one common element to all three. The people you surround yourself with are never neutral, people either pick you up and believe you can do more or they knock you down. You got to keep in mind that picking people is a mutual decision, either it was a good one or a bad one, there’s no in between there. Lastly, I look for people that have agility when it comes to learning, they’re naturally inquisitive, they want to learn, they may not have the answer but that’s okay, they’re going to go seek out the information to get the answer.

Abhijeet:          When I look at some of the things you’ve just mentioned which is how it’s a marathon and sometimes it’s a sprint and sometimes you got to do the sprint and the recovery after the sprint and you got to have those times in between where you are recovering because even though we’re all professionals, but we’re also sort of athletes, business athletes and we need that recovery time built in so that we can go to our next adventure in a way that really, we’re all energized and excited about our next adventure. That becomes part of that exercise as well.

Joe:                  It’s a good point because we’ve really got to make sure we’re taking care of ourselves, our families because otherwise we can’t operate at peak performance from a concentration perspective and from an endurance perspective. Being able to reinvent ourselves takes time, we’ve got to give ourselves time to think, time for physical exercise whether it’s walking or whatever it may be, and also time for our families so we have a strong foundational backbone at home which permits us to exceed in the workplace.

Abhijeet:          Yeah, and so let me ask you a slightly different question on that, Joe, you are just a bundle of energy. I mean, whenever you are around there’s so much energy. Like if you are in the hallway, people would know Joe Pinto is in the hallway because there’s so much energy around you. It’s not just that but I think there’s energy in the work, you’re keeping your network alive, your network is always there for you and it’s active, it’s not a passive network that you have. Tell us, how do you go about doing that? Where do you find that energy, that enthusiasm for work and for family as well as for your network? How do you do that?

Joe:                  Well, I think it starts with a couple of things, I had some amazing parents that were simple people that believed that everything was a gift and they treated everybody, regardless of who you were, with respect and kindness. I saw that first hand. Second I’ve got an amazing wife, next month 36 years married, right?

Abhijeet:          Congratulations.

Joe:                  Thank you. Who’s been incredibly supportive. In my heart of hearts, I realize each day is a gift. Why do I say that? High tech, we’re fortunate to work in an industry that has the type of compensation and benefits that it has. A lot of people consider themselves to be smart, I would argue you’re luckier than you are smart because you can be smart, but if you’re born in a village with no hot water or electricity, that’s going to be tough to get out of there. The reason I say each day is a gift is because, like I said, my amazing parents, the support of my wife but also if I just think, personally what my parents had to endure, what many of our grandparents or parents had to put up with. Just as an example, my father was a prisoner of war in World War II. Any time I think I’m going to have a bad day, I just think about his life and the fact that he had survived 20 months in a POW camp, and I’m thinking, this is not bad day. That’s a bad day.

Joe:                  We sometimes live in our own bubble and we forget that sometimes for many others, the job they’re doing is much more dangerous, would be definitely a bad day. Sometimes we have difficult problems we need to solve but sometimes we confuse that with a bad day. That’s nothing but an opportunity to learn and to beat a challenge.

Abhijeet:          That is deep Joe and that is inspiring, uplifting …

Joe:                  Thank you.

Abhijeet:          Let me ask you this as we conclude our session. What messages would you like to give to people who are in various stages of their career? They may be early in career, in the middle of the career or towards late career and they’re really trying to figure out, “What do I do next? How do I get better? How do I deliver better business outcomes?” Whether that’s customer experience or build a better product or do more sales. Any messages for career nation?

Joe:                  Yeah, I think for Career Nation, it’s about the following elements. You have to keep learning. In the old days we used to learn mostly through education, now it’s about experience and exposure in addition to education. You’ve got to keep learning because in the old days you can use the same skill for 40 years, now you better learn a new skill every year over 40 years. Second, make sure you’ve got a job where you’re dealing directly with customers or partners who are actually are in the middle of using the technology. There’s no substitute for partner and customer experience and knowledge. There’s absolutely no substitute for that. Doesn’t mean you have to do it for your whole career but make sure it’s part of your career you get a piece of that, right? I think also make sure you assign yourself with people that are doers, people that are going to uplift you, people that you can confidently talk to who will give you ideas about how to grow or how to develop.

Joe:                  We thought that, you know if you’re stuck. Sometimes it’s okay to be stuck because maybe you got to focus more on your family, maybe you’ve got to love one who is ill, maybe you got to take a pause in your career to take care of yourself, that’s okay. Just be aware of yourself in the moment about where you’re at, where you need to go, and it’s okay to take a pause to work on something personally. But always, in the longer term make sure you’re moving forward, make sure you’re learning new skills and most importantly, realize that the world of careers is very small. Be mindful, be respectful to each other assume good intent, most people really want to do a good job.

Joe:                  As we get older and the world gets bigger, it’s easier to talk about those people or that person wasn’t good, but most people want to do the right thing. Don’t underestimate the impact of reaching out directly. Email and texting is a one way communication, don’t underestimate the power of the phone, talking in person. That’s when you can have a true two-way conversation. I find that too often now, people just rely on a one way communication, maybe I’m an old fashioned guy, but I think people got to think about more of the two-way communication where you’re getting that direct feedback.

Abhijeet:          There were so many nuggets there and I’m going to unpad those and put them in the show notes when we publish this.

Joe:                  Thank you.

Abhijeet:          Thank you so much, the legendary, one and only Joe Pinto, thank you Joe.

Joe:                  Thank you, very kind, take care everybody, hope you got a few things out of this.