Q&A with Adobe’s SVP of Worldwide Field Operations

May 18, 2011

Some of us recently caught up with Matt Thompson, Adobe’s Sr. Vice President of Worldwide Field Operations (WWFO), in a get-to-know you session and uncovered interesting bits of information about his personal life, career and some words of wisdom.

Q: Can you please tell us a little about yourself?
A: Sure. I grew up in Lombard, Illinois which is a suburb outside of Chicago. I’m number seven in a family of nine kids. I have five brothers and three sisters, so you can imagine the competition in the house I grew up in. It was a great training ground for a future in sales.

After high school I was accepted to Northern Illinois University where I received a BS in marketing. NIU was a great experience—I got a fantastic education and met my wife with whom I’m celebrating 29 years of marriage this year. We have two sons (Chris and Ryan) and a daughter (Jackie). Golf is a big deal in our house—our dog’s name is Bogey which gives you an idea of how “into” the sport we are.

Q: What has been your career path?
A: I kicked my career off by selling chemicals at Nalco Chemical Company. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, but sales seemed like a good place to start in the professional world and I had a father and three brothers all working in sales. My time at Nalco was important not only because it was my first job, but it also provided me three things:
• My first paycheck
• Independence
• My first professional win by closing a deal

It also taught me a lot about business in general – professional selling, managing customer expectations, the art of competition, and how disappointing it can be to lose a sale. But the key learning for me at Nalco was that you can’t be good at a job you don’t like. Selling chemicals is…well…boring. They’re all the same. What I was interested in was technology.

I’ve been fortunate to have worked for a lot of great companies—EDS, Calico/People Soft, Marimba/BMC Software, Cadence, Borland and now Adobe. I’ve been with Adobe for nearly five years and am responsible for worldwide field operations. In this role, I run the global field organization (including channel sales, and retail/e-tail), presales, post sales, Adobe consulting, the customer success organization, and the global sales operations teams. Adobe is a great company, in a great market. I joined the company because I believed I could make an impact. My charter is to head up a world-class field organization that drives consistent revenue growth and supports our customers’ success–I believe I have the team in place to do that.

Q: How is heading Adobe’s WWFO different from the companies you’ve worked with previously?
A: The most obvious difference would be size, scale and diversity. At Adobe we’re targeting a broad range of segments – from consumers who buy our shrink-wrapped software to global enterprises and government agencies. I was attracted to Adobe because I wanted to make an impact on the growth aspirations of the company. I wanted to take what was already a great field organization and help make it better by steering us on the path to becoming a $5 billion company.

Q: What are the opportunities you see for Adobe and your team?
A: Capitalizing on the market trends of today. Everything is moving online. We’re living in a multi-screen world where content must scale to be viewable on the tiniest handheld device up to the largest screens. Our products, solutions, and brand already scale around the world, so it’s a matter of execution to capitalize on those trends. It’s wonderful having an Adobe business card, which is essentially a golden ticket to meeting with any customer. That’s a tribute to the fine work this company has done up to this point and my goal is to help drive that forward.

Q: How do you motivate your team?
A: I try to lead by example. I’m in front of customers all the time and expect my team to take its cue from that. I’m very empathetic about what it takes to be an effective sales representative. I work to paint a clear picture of the opportunities for people on my team and reward those who deliver.

Q: What do you think are the most important qualities in a salesperson?
A: The ability to listen is a big one. Following that, it would have to be understanding the customer’s business. What are their problems? What keeps them up at night? And then the ability to find the solution inside Adobe that solves those problems is key. Sales people who can integrate all those pieces are on the road to success.

Q: What tips do you have for first-time people managers?
A: Hire well. Have talented people on your team. The number one scarcest resource in business today is people talent – not working capital. Having great talent on your team can make or break your business. Know where your talent is and mine it. If it’s missing, go get it. When I’m hiring people, I want to see that they have passion for what they do as well as a strong work ethic. An understanding of the job at hand coupled with a successful track record, are also critical. Whether a first-time manager, or highly-seasoned executive, these are the things to look for.

Q: What tips do you have for new college graduates?
A: When looking for a job, it’s just as important for you to evaluate a prospective company, as it is for them to evaluate you. As you begin the search to find the right “fit”, keep in mind that you are not just “finding a job” but “charting a career path”. So, in addition to evaluating the short term benefits think about some of the long-term pros/cons. Be diligent and ask yourself:
• Is the target company in a growth industry?
• Do they have customers that are growing and successful?
• Does the company have a history of reinventing itself?
• Can I see myself working here and making a difference?

Q: Who has been your most influential mentor?
A: Hands down, that would be John Olsen who I worked with while at EDS and two other subsequent companies. John always respected me professionally, readily offered career advice, pushed me to do the “next thing” and most importantly, reinforced the importance of change. This relish for change has become a pillar of my own management style. The best piece of advice John ever gave me was this, “Execute on the job you’re in today and magical things will happen down the road.” This has proven true in my experience.

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Very practical and inspiring. Its great to know Adobe has leaders like Matt…we are sure to win!

Thanks for sharing your inspiring story. Selling is a challenging art and I am glad to note that a true passionate leader running our sales. I like your mentor’s quote “Execute on the job you’re in today and magical things will happen down the road.”