Mark Templeton: Former CEO of Citrix

Mark Templeton retired from his role as CEO of Citrix on Back to the Future Day (October 21, 2015, for those of you not in the know). During his 20 year long tenure, he oversaw a transformation that created a customer-first culture at Citrix. By focusing on creating value for customers first, he also created a lot of shareholder value, skyrocketing Citrix revenues from $15 million to over $3 billion.  Sixteen years ago he created a vision of the “virtual workplace” which presciently lays out much of how we work today.

I asked him to share his thoughts on leading a customer-first transformation, in a large, engineering-driven organization.  Here’s what he had to say.

1) Everyone in the company has a customer

When we took on Customer Experience as an organizational priority, we knew we had to take a holistic approach.  It wasn’t a top-down strategy where we appointed a task force to solve the problem.  We had a tremendous leader with Catherine Courage, and she knew that the way to create a customer-centric culture was by helping every individual to be invested in that vision.

It was fairly easy for people who clearly engaged with a paying customer, but creating a customer-centric culture isn’t only about focusing on external customersEveryone inside the company has their own customer, even if it is a colleague.

One of our core principles was “craftsmanship”.  We wanted everyone to take on a craftsman approach to everything they were doing.  Even if it was just writing an email to a colleague, or thinking about how they handled a paperwork process. This takes more effort in the moment, but you get a fantastic payoff because everyone is thinking about how to improve the experience for the people they interact with.  And that bubbles up to the external customer.

2) Create customer councils that work

Many B2B companies use customer councils to get customer insights, but it’s important to do them well.  Otherwise, you’re just wasting your time.

Diversity is essential.  You can’t just listen to your biggest customers. You need to include customers from a broad range of industries, sizes, and maturity of use of your product.  Software is like a box of chocolates.  You take the first piece and think it’s about almonds, but then you take a second one and realize that there is coconut cream as well.   You want to have people who have sampled different bites.

It’s also important to be willing to air some of your dirty laundry and give your council some problems to solve.  If you are just turning it into a presentation about all the wonderful things you are doing, you won’t benefit from their expertise.  We would say things like “Here is the data.  Here is how we read it.  What do you think?”  and then sit back and listen to them.

You also need to resist the temptation to only include people with the big titles.  There is prestige in that for them, and also for you.  But you need to make sure that you are talking to the people who are feeling the problems very directly.  That’s not usually the people at the very top.

3) Minimize the distance between the engineer building the product and the customer who can describe the problem

Organizations naturally have to put in layers and processes to separate those two groups.  There are good and bad reasons for this but you need to find ways to cut through the layers if you want to build great products.We did a few things to try to minimize that distance.

When we ran a beta launch of the product, we would establish feedback loops by creating a Slack workspace for that product.  That way, users of the product could communicate directly with the product team.

We also encouraged engineers to get out into the field, sometimes accompanying the sales reps to help close deals.  That way, they could ask the customer questions, and they could hear the problems directly from the customers.Minimizing this distance between the product team and the customer was so much part of our culture, that sales people actually complained to me about it.  They wanted to product team to just sit in their lab and build stuff.  But of course, that’s not how you create great products.

Thanks Mark, this is all great advice!

Finally, I asked Mark what his next great adventure was now that he was living the retired lifestyle.  “Well, I’m not having a leisurely retirement, but I’m having a fun one!  I like to be surrounded by smart people, working on projects that have impact.  I’ve done that all my career and I’m not going to stop now.  I’m the Chairman of the Board for an exciting new company 4Sense and I do a lot of mentoring work by participating in many boards.”


4Sense has developed a breakthrough AI system for recognizing human behavior in real-time called Dragonfly, inspired by the most advanced visual system found in nature.  Dragonfly will revolutionize solutions for physical security, personal safety, IoT automation and retail analytics.


Citrix enables business mobility through the secure delivery of apps and data to any device on any network.