Few cloud CEOs have the tech leadership experience of Burton Goldfield. After years in the industry, most recently as CEO of Ketera Technologies and SVP at Hyperion Solutions, Burton joined cloud HR solutions provider, TriNet in 2008, quadrupled its revenue, took it public in 2014, and has overseen several strategic acquisitions since.
I spoke with Burton about the unique challenges of TriNet’s growth and why he likes heading a public company.
M.R. Rangaswami: You came from a very different market to take the helm at TriNet. What unique challenges did you face stepping into your role?
Burton Goldfield: I have been fortunate to grow up in the technology industry. Although TriNet is a tech‐enabled business that provides HR to small and midsize businesses (SMBs), the pace here is more deliberate than the pure tech world I came from.
Where many technology companies can quickly release a product knowing they will improve it in the next version, our product is far more complex because of the expert human-to-human services and compliance that are a core part of our value proposition. This adds layers of complexity to delivering our product—which means that we may not move as quickly as a purely technology-based solution because of the criticality of the problems we are solving.
One unexpected but welcomed change that comes with TriNet is spending time with the inspirational world of SMBs. Our clients are so impressive and it is rewarding to support companies as they try to cure cancer, clean oceans or create the next great software product.
M.R.: Being CEO of a public company is not for everyone. Can you share some of the unique experiences you’ve had at a public company vs. a private one? How do you lead differently?
Burton: Every individual company is different and changes throughout its life cycle. Being a leader requires constant adaptation.
The public versus private differentiator is just one more unique factor when moving from one company to the next or to the next phase of a company’s growth.
I will say that gaining consensus in a private company around a smaller number of investors and board members is less challenging than addressing the needs of a diverse group of public market investors. It’s key in both cases to have a strong vision and a plan for execution.
Frankly, I love the discipline of publicly reporting financial results every 13 weeks! Admittedly, this is not for everyone. The ability to communicate changes in strategy or shortfalls in execution is somewhat harder in the public arena. But, ultimately, I enjoy the challenge of a public company and the value that can be created.
M.R.: Running a startup that serves startups can be a non‐stop way of life. What do you do to relieve the stressful times of being a business leader? How do you spend your downtime?
Burton: The bottom line is I absolutely love what I do and I feel honored to be part of the great TriNet team. Downtime, for me, includes exercising, particularly weightlifting, as a way of pushing myself both physically and mentally. Additionally, spending time with my family and my dog, a lot of it while walking on the beach, is also a very important part of my life.