Get to Know: Don Kaye, COO and CCO, Ground Labs

Get to Know: Don Kaye, COO and CCO, Ground Labs

Don Kaye, COO and CCO, Ground Labs, says he has to focus 100% when unwinding and urges anyone aspiring to a C-level position in tech to ‘do it’.

Don Kaye, COO and CCO, Ground Labs

What would you describe as your most memorable achievement?

In the mid-90s, I was running a sales specification team and building the full end-to-end requirements of a relational database for a surface water drainage company. As such, I was working with the software development company and getting excited by technology and the impact it made – of course today it’s an out-of-the-box solution, but in the 90s it was bespoke.

What style of management philosophy do you employ with your current position?

Great question and one I’m not sure I have the full answer to. For sure, there are a lot of acronyms and styles, but I do have some more basic principles:

  • Act with integrity. Be respectful. Listen.
  • Promote ‘focus’ within the business – discourage random acts of goodness.
  • Ensure clarity in objectives and deliverables.
  • Empower people to do the role they have and don’t micromanage.
  • Embrace failure and gain learning, but wherever possible have a fail fast mentality. Failure is not a negative but part of moving forwards.
  • Focus on outcome and ensure we meet the expectations of our customers, partners and employees.
  • Celebrate success as a collective.
  • Have fun and learn from others.

What do you think is the current hot technology talking point?

AI – ChatGPT

How do you deal with stress and unwind outside the office?

Mountain biking – if you don’t focus 100% when you ride downhill or through technical sections you will hurt yourself, so it’s a great way to switch off.

Enjoying the company of good friends.

Working in our field – mowing, strimming, landscaping tinkering with engines/machinery.

If you could go back and change one career decision, what would it be?

I have no regrets about the decisions I have made in my career. I do pinch myself on a regular basis as feel I have been exceptionally fortunate to have had the opportunities I’ve had, as well as the people I have met, worked with, learnt from and a career which I have and still enjoy.

However, I do sometimes wonder what would have happened if, in 2009, we’d decided not to leave North America.

That said, it was a family decision and the right decision at the time. I remained with Microsoft, so I’m not sure if that answers the question.

What I maybe would have done differently is taken better advantage of mentors and refined my personal development by applying more time to formal and structured training.

What do you currently identify as the major areas of investment in your industry?

  • Development into more specific areas of data discovery outside of compliance and legislation.
    • Understanding and leveraging of AI.
    • Consumerization and simplification of data management.

What are the region-specific challenges when implementing new technologies in North America?

As with any market, ensure you understand customer and channel expectations/requirements. Don’t assume one size fits all.

Can you scale? If not, how will you? It’s a massive area to cover and takes, focus, investment and resources.

What changes to your job role have you seen in the last year and how do you see these developing in the next 12 months?

The tech/software industry in the past 12 months has hit a bit of a dip and while signs are emerging that this is changing, for many tech companies it will be a longer journey. As such, I believe my role is really on looking at how we maintain the right trajectory, focusing on the now but still investing in the future. Very much in listening mode with the teams, helping work through organizational constraints during the dip, while then hiring people who raise our standards and energy.

What advice would you offer somebody aspiring to obtain a C-level position in your industry?

Do it. Understand why you want to do it and what value you will bring to the organization. Be self-critical and humble as you are just one part of a wheel, which if you do your job well will run without you. Leave your ego at home and learn how to listen. But have fun and embrace being out of your comfort zone.

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