May 19, 2022
Illustration: Christoper T. Fong/Protocol
Welcome back to our Workplace newsletter. Today: a day in the life of a very busy VMware exec, productivity blackmailing, and what Gen Z wants.
This is the fifth installment in Protocol's new Calendar Series, where we take you inside a day in the lives of the world’s biggest tech execs: the meetings on their agenda, how they manage their time, their best productivity hacks and what they prioritize in a busy day. Read the rest of the series.
Sumit Dhawan is the president of VMware, responsible for the company’s go-to-market functions including sales, customer experience and marketing.
Dhawan, whose one-year anniversary in the role is coming up in June, is very customer-centric. He typically meets with roughly a hundred customers a month, which translates to two or three customers a day. Because of Zoom, it’s become much easier for him to reach that milestone. Some of these meetings are sales calls, but most are just “listening, connecting [customers] to each other, understanding where their priorities are.”
Out of all the execs featured in this series, Dhawan has perhaps the most packed calendar, with nearly every minute of his day scheduled. Some of those are purely his way of blocking that time out. If he doesn’t do it, “people would schedule over it, so blocking ensures it’s actually time for me to get some of my own thinking work done.”
I spoke with him about a typical day in his life: in this case, Tuesday, March 8.
His schedule has been edited for brevity and clarity.
7:45-8 a.m. | Join our global pre-show to the Q1 FY23 company meeting
Our fiscal year starts on the first of February, so our global sales leaders were all meeting. I addressed that team. We did a little pre-show.
8-9:15 a.m. | Session 1: Q1 FY23 company meeting
After that, we had an all-hands company meeting. We do it once a quarter, where we bring the entire company together. I addressed the company along with the CEO, as well as the rest of our executive staff. We go through the highlights from the quarterly results. Given this was after earnings, we go through recognitions of what individuals did and how they did it.
In this particular session, we talked a little bit about what we were doing in terms of diversity efforts in the company with the head of HR.
9:30-10 a.m. | Black POD conversation
I’m the executive sponsor of part of “Power of Difference,” which is different diversity and inclusion communities within the company. And I’m the executive sponsor of the Black POD, which is for our Black employees. We meet with all the leaders in the community, directors and above (or maybe even senior managers and above). It’s an open forum for listening. This is purely just a conversation without an agenda. I’m always there. In this case, there were no other executives, and it’s just me who is doing the listening. But we rotate, and they will bring different executives. It’s a pretty new series that we started about six months ago.
Most of these conversations are related to procedural process improvements. For example, we found out that there are better ways to pipeline candidates and recruit members of certain communities for specific executive roles.
10-11:30 a.m. | School ceremony
My son is a high school senior. He’s graduating soon. He played football for his high school, and he was getting awarded as the high school quarterback. It was great to be able to take the time to go to his school. They had a little ceremony, so I drove over to his school, saw him get the award and then came back.
11:30 a.m.-12 p.m. | Block/lunch
I usually have my lunch with people, but with COVID, it’s a little tricky. But we’re starting to, now that the mask mandates are gone. I usually try to bring someone for 30 minutes to go grab a bite to eat so we can chat, usually my direct reports, of which I have six. And then a few other members of my staff.
12-1 p.m. | Customer meeting: IT services
Out of my hundred meetings in a month, about 25% of them are being done face-to-face right now. With an in-person conversation, it’s usually good to open up new topics and new strategic issues. A relationship that’s already quite well-built is pretty well-handled, even for new topics, over Zoom. But generally, bringing up a new strategic topic of discussion is harder to do over Zoom; I prefer to do it in person.
1-1:30 p.m. | Sync #1 on Partner Leadership Summit
Partners Summit is coming up exactly a week from now in Austin, so we are having two or three sync meetings. This is the first one on what we want to accomplish at that event. Usually, my style for the first meeting is coming prepared with objectives on what messages we want to send and what we want to learn. And then the comms leader can build out a stronger plan and then have subsequent sync meetings to make progress.
1:30-1:45 p.m. | Internal partner meeting pre-brief
That is with a separate group. Think of it as two groups preparing for this meeting that we’re having that will happen next week. This is probably with our events team, briefing me on what they’re thinking of doing in that meeting.
2-2:30 p.m. | Walk to Briefing Center
This is an open time for me to check email, and it’s about a five-minute walk. So it gives me two options: Sometimes I go for a longer walk — use the 15 minutes to walk down the campus either with someone — or sometimes make a call to someone just to sync up during the course of the day. If I have to do anything as things are coming up, someone texts me, I would say, “OK, I’ll call you between 2-2:30,” and then use the time to make that call. So it’s a way for me to block 30 minutes. Sometimes I will just sit in my office to email.
2:30-2:45 p.m. | Customer prep
2:45-3 p.m. | VBC speaker request – customer meeting
This is a meeting in the Briefing Center. Usually, like I said, most of these are not sales meetings. Most of them are where we are having a discussion on customer strategy.
3-3:30 p.m. | Walk back to office
One example of a conversation I might have during this time is with Laura [Heisman], our chief marketing officer, who’s on my team. We have a meeting from 4-5 p.m., but it’s possible that she might say, “Hey, I need a little bit more time.” And I give my 30-minute block to her.
3:30-4 p.m. | Zoom interview: program director, DEI
My chief of staff wanted to have my point of view on this role, so I said, “OK, I’ll interview the person and give my comments.”
My philosophy on the interview process is less related to only the competency of a person. I feel like that’s something that other people on the panel can assess. I’m usually assessing whether that particular job is going to be a fit for what they want to do. Because if they don’t want to do it, then they would feel that it doesn’t work. I feel most panelists are trying to assess whether the candidate is a fit for the position, and I try to assess whether the position is a fit for the candidate. So my questions end up trying to uncover that.
4-5 p.m. | Laura and Sumit – weekly 1:1
This is with Laura [Heisman], our chief marketing officer, who’s on my team.
5-6:15 p.m. | Session 2: Q1 FY23 company meeting
There are two sessions for two geographies. Session 2 is essentially the same meeting [as the morning one], but we do it twice because of time zones, given the global aspect of our employee base. The morning one is typically East Coast and Europe, and the 5 p.m. one would be for Asia-Pacific and West Coast.
5:45-6:15 p.m. | Live Q&A segment — Session 2 Q1 FY23 company meeting
6:30-8 p.m. | Dinner, JP and Sumit
When I’m not traveling, I would say I usually have one to two evenings [a week] that I give away for business-related dinners. Sometimes there is someone in the ecosystem as in the landscape of the market I’m trying to meet. It could be one of the potential partners, someone who is my peer in the industry who’s traveling to the Bay Area. Or in this case, our head of Sales, who works for me. That’s JP, short for Jean-Pierre [Brulard]. And we decided that there were many topics that were lining up and not something we were able to get through in a 1:1. So let’s just grab dinner and talk through a couple hours versus trying to be in an office or Zoom.
“When people first hear about it, they’re kind of appalled,” Danny Reeves, the co-founder and CEO of Beeminder told my colleague Lizzy Lawrence about his product. The online “commitment contract” tool lets people put their money on the line for productivity: If they fail to achieve their stated goal, Beeminder gets their money. Some view it as profiting off of people’s failure or blackmailing yourself toward productivity, while others see it as a unique way of boosting motivation. So what do you think: Carrot or stick?
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I’m always looking to better organize my notes. This thread from fellow reporter Jason Del Rey crowdsources some tips and tools for tracking ideas/notes to follow up on. Yes, it’s useful for reporters, but also for anyone who wants to better visualize their thoughts. Among the tools listed: Obsidian, Roam, Notion, Evernote and Mem, as well as Google Docs, OneNote and Apple Notes.— Lizzy Lawrence, reporter (email | twitter)
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Thoughts, questions, tips? Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org. Have a great day, see you Sunday.