Q&A with Skytap CEO Thor Culverhouse: How this washed-up football player made the leap into tech

skytap-ceo

Thor Culverhouse with Nextcast host Jeff Dickey

Thor Culverhouse is more than just an impressive name. He’s also the CEO at fast-growing cloud company Skytap.

Although new to the company, having joined in July, Culverhouse has has hit the ground running.

With years of experience at companies such as IBM, Stratavia and HP, the Washington State University electrical engineering grad expects to “hit the accelerator even faster” at Skytap. The 7-year-old company, backed by Madrona, Ignition and Bezos Expeditions, now employs 70 people, with plans to add another 20 or so by the end of the year.

In this edition of Nextcast, I chat with Culverhouse to learn more about where he came from and where he’s going next.

  • Thor Culverhouse might have been a professional football player, if a college injury hadn’t forced him to head down another career path. Thanks to an internship with a family friend, he found his way into engineering, and eventually got his MBA. “I had to redefine myself,” Culverhouse explains. He is, however, thankful to his windy early career path, since it gave him “broader exposure as a young developer and a young entrepreneur.” (4:30)

  • “Acquisitions can be both rewarding and challenging,” Culverhouse says. Having been through the experience himself, he can attest to the fact that leaders and their teams often feel “completely consumed” by the acquiring company. So what’s a leader to do? “Culture can, and very often does, change,” he says. A good leader will “recognize that those changes are going to happen, and prepare people for that emotional hurdle.” (5:17)

  • Culverhouse says his father is one of his greatest mentors, because he taught him the importance of “how you treat people, and who you surround yourself with.” Now, Culverhouse always makes a point of hiring people smarter than himself, he says. “Surround yourself with the best of the best. It elevates everything you do.” (6:00)

  • There’s no secret formula to getting big career wins. “The devil is in the details,” Culverhouse explained, adding that “you can sort of expect some trends…[but] we run into something new every day.” The key to making it all happen is being “incredibly persistent” and having passion for what you do. “If you’re not passionate about the job that you’re in then it shows, and if you’re a leader it shows to more people.” (8:30)

  • Though he left Seattle for a while, Culverhouse says he is excited to be back working in such a thriving community. Home to “great investors and a great talent pool,” Culverhouse says he is looking forward to the future. And as Skytap continues to grow, keeping a startup vibe is a main priority for the new CEO. “Everything we do is just at a faster pace.” (13:20)

Nextcast founder Jeff Dickey is passionate about technology, business and philosophy. He works as the chief cloud architect at Redapt, a Redmond-based cloud and big data infrastructure company. [Editor's note: GeekWire is proud to partner with Jeff who produces the Nextcast entrepreneur interview series]. Past interviews here.

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