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Former Veeam CEO looks back, company looks ahead

Peter McKay, formerly president and co-CEO of Veeam, said a lot of factors went into his departure from the company, and he plans to become a CEO again soon.

As Veeam leadership vows to stay the course with its strategy following an unexpected executive shake-up, its former co-CEO Peter McKay said he aims to lead a software company again by the end of 2019. But for now, McKay said he is ready for some downtime.

Last week, co-founder Andrei Baronov became the new Veeam CEO. McKay left the data protection company after two and a half years as an executive, including 18 months as president and co-CEO.

"The experience was awesome," McKay said in an interview. "I'm really going to miss the team."

Dan Thompson, research director at 451 Research, called McKay's departure from Veeam "a shock."

"He was a really solid leader," Thompson said.

McKay reflects on Veeam work, next steps

McKay joined the company as COO and president in July 2016, following nearly three years in executive roles at VMware. Previously, he was president and CEO at Desktone, which was acquired by VMware in 2013. He had shared Veeam CEO duties with Baronov since May 2017.

Veeam, which is based in Switzerland, grew from a $400 million company to one with nearly $1 billion in annual revenue during McKay's tenure. He said Veeam was already successful when he started and joining the organization was a "great opportunity for me to come in and scale it."

Headshot of former Veeam co-CEO Peter McKayPeter McKay

In the last two and a half years, Veeam grew its enterprise base considerably, added several high-profile partnerships and acquired AWS backup company N2WS.

McKay seemed disappointed that the company hadn't quite hit that long-discussed billion-dollar goal before he left.

"The timing was less than desirable, but there were a lot of factors that went into it," he said of his departure.

McKay listed the nonstop nature of the job, wear and tear of the work, and the time away from family as major reasons for leaving. He said there were a few other factors, but declined to elaborate. When asked if it was entirely his decision to leave, McKay declined to comment. He said it was mutually agreed that it was the right time to exit.

Ratmir Timashev, Veeam's other founder and now executive vice president of worldwide sales and marketing, said he was surprised by McKay's departure.

"That was Peter McKay's decision, driven by a desire to pursue some other opportunities," Timashev said last week when the Veeam CEO news became public. He said he couldn't comment further.

McKay said a breach two months ago did not play into his decision to leave and the issue was resolved to his satisfaction. Veeam said human error caused a database with 4.5 million unique email addresses to be accessible to third parties for two weeks.

Timashev also said the issue has been resolved and McKay's departure does not have to do with the breach. Though Veeam does not believe the breach resulted in any damage, the company plans to provide more follow-up information soon, as a third party performed an analysis, Timashev said.

McKay also said he didn't have a problem with sharing the Veeam CEO duties. As co-CEO, McKay oversaw Veeam's "go-to-market," finance and human resources functions, while Baronov led research and development and product management.

McKay did acknowledge that the co-CEO setup can become tough for an organization because of the possibility of it becoming two companies. In the short term, though, McKay said it wasn't a challenge and he got along with Baronov.

"I probably wouldn't look for another co-CEO position, but we made it work at Veeam," McKay said.

He said he'll miss the people at Veeam the most, noting that he has worked with some of them for close to 20 years. More than 100 people responded with commendations to his LinkedIn post last week that discussed the end of his tenure.

"In one sense, I'm humbled, I'm proud," McKay said. "In another sense, I'm sad."

McKay said he is looking forward to relaxing for a while. The time off so far included a trip to the World Series victory parade for the Boston Red Sox last week. He said he will spend more time at his children's sporting events and with family in general, work around the house and enjoy leisure travel. He also plans to devote more effort working on boards, including the board of email marketing calendar company Coherent Path.

McKay said he does not have a new job lined up, and will begin his job search around the beginning of 2019. He said he doesn't know the exact field yet, but it will be in software.  

McKay has given himself a timeframe of between the second and fourth quarters of 2019 to be back as a CEO again.

"I still have a ways to go," McKay said. "I'm not retiring, that's for sure."

Veeam moves forward with 'same plan'

Timashev said he and William Largent, a former Veeam CEO who is now executive vice president of operations, will split McKay's duties. Timashev was Veeam's CEO from 2006 until 2016, and has remained active in executive roles since then.

Thompson, of 451 Research, said he doesn't anticipate major strategy changes following the Veeam CEO switch. Both founders and Largent have served as CEO and have all played major roles in shaping Veeam.

Thompson said Veeam may want to get back to its roots and focus more resources on the IT professional.

"What has made Veeam popular is the software works amazing and IT pros love it," he said, noting that Veeam's recent marketing of "Intelligent Data Management for the Hyper-Available Enterprise" is geared more toward leadership.

Edwin Yuen, senior analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group, said Veeam has done a good job moving beyond its initial focus on protecting virtual machines. Now it provides more comprehensive data protection, including support for physical machines and public clouds.

"I think that's absolutely critical for them to go forward," Yuen said.

Veeam's biggest challenge may be maintaining its growth rate as it approaches $1 billion in revenue. In October, Veeam said the third quarter was its 41st consecutive quarter of double-digit growth, claiming bookings increased by more than 20% year over year. Veeam's cloud business has seen a huge surge, growing in the third quarter by 26% year over year, while enterprise business increased close to 25%.

Veeam claims 320,000 customers, 59,000 channel partners, more than 20,000 cloud and service providers, and about 3,600 employees.

The strategy and tactics are not changing.
Ratmir Timashevco-founder, Veeam

"They've always been on track," Yuen said. "They've been growing in a good direction."

Yuen also noted the stability of Veeam's leadership team, including founders Baronov and Timashev. Baronov had no comment at this time.

Timashev said the company has a strong roadmap, including an update to its flagship Veeam Availability Suite scheduled for January. Veeam also said Monday that Daniel Fried rejoined the company as general manager and senior vice president of Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA) and will oversee the strategic and operational direction of the area. Olivier Robinne, formerly senior vice president of EMEA sales, has left the company after seven years to pursue new opportunities, according to Veeam.

In a highly competitive market, Timashev cited Dell EMC, IBM, Commvault and Veritas among Veeam's top rivals. He said Veeam also occasionally competes for deals with startups Cohesity and Rubrik.

Although Veeam's largest competitors offer an integrated appliance option for their software, Timashev insists Veeam will never produce its own hardware. He said it will continue to partner with hardware vendors on appliances, pointing to deals with Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Lenovo and Cisco.

He also said the company will remain private "for now."

"The strategy and tactics are not changing," Timashev said. "We're going with the same plan."

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