Ken Juster, 52, has been through quadruple culture shock the last two and a half years—and is loving it. A longtime lawyer at Arnold & Porter (’81-’89, ’93-’01), he went to work for a company, Salesforce.com, in January ’05. He went as a top member of the management (EVP for Law, Policy, and Corporate strategy), not as a lawyer. He switched his affections from public policy to tech. And he moved from DC to SF.
He picked well. The company, which helps sales folks track their work over the Internet instead of with their own cumbersome software, had 700 employees when he joined and now has 2600; $170M in sales and now a run rate of $700M; and a stock then at 13 and now in the mid-40s.
Why'd he do it? Ken was back Sunday to see friends at a McLean party hosted by Sutherland Asbill’s Jeff Bialos and attorney wife, Waverly Group’s Leslie Kerman. We grabbed food and fired away:
How’d you find this plum?
In late 2004, when I was an Under Secretary of Commerce, I got a call from Larry Sonsini, who I knew through mutual friends. He said there was a fellow visiting DC named Mark Benioff, the CEO of Salesforce.com, and that he thought we’d enjoy talking. We met for drinks at the Ritz Carlton downtown. I figured it’d be an hour, but it was three hours. I was pretty intrigued by what he was doing.
He said it would be a paradigm shift in the software industry that could expand around the world. He struck me as an unconventional thinker, intellectually curious with international interests like mine.
What else were you thinking of doing after government?
I wasn’t. I had generally thought about trying my hand in the business world, probably as a lawyer. But what struck me about this was the chance to be in management working closely with a CEO on strategic development of a company.
How’d you decide?
I talked to a lot of people in the financial and tech world about whether I should take the risk. Everyone gave it two thumbs up, saying it had really huge growth potential. I got a lot of e-mails from Marc. I did some video interviews, and went to visit, meeting with six or seven people over a couple days. I suddenly said to myself, Wow, if I’m ever going to do anything, now’s the time.
Ken with Hogan Bob Kyle. Bob’s got 7 year old twins. Ken’s footloose and family-free.
So you just upped and moved?
I had to put a lot of my stuff in storage, and lived at the St. Francis executive suites at 3rd and Fulsom, then a year later moved to a four-room condo above the St. Regis hotel. It’s just seven blocks from the office at First and Market, and both my office and apartment overlook the Bay Bridge. I’m a 10-minute walk from Giants games, and a 20-minute ride by BART to Oakland to see the Yankees.
Why the Yankees?
Well, I'm from Scarsdale. But also, I got to know Mariano Rivera when I represented Panamanian interests. This June we even got together for lunch and he brought Alex Rodgriquez along.
What were your first months like?
Of course, people were not wearing suits or sitting in offices, and most everyone was much younger. I read a lot of stuff, played around with the Salesforce application online. At Marc’s urging I went to as many events as possible, especially customer demos around the country from New York to Beaver Creek. He thought it might take a year for me to figure things out, but after three months I felt comfortable. He went to China that April and I went with him, which was helpful because I had a lot of relationships from my time in government. I could help explain technical things to the media in a non-technical way.
What do you do?
I’m involved in every major aspect of the company, such as big deals with customers, and besides law and policy I now oversee human resources and recruiting, and worldwide real estate. I’ve worked on four acquisitions and a major investment. I’ve helped conceptualize expansion, especially in Asia, and I interface with the board. Last year I took two trips each to India, Japan, and China, and will do about four or five trips this year.
Friends at the party included World Bank president Bob Zoellick, left, and InterAmerican Development Bank CFO John Hauge. Bob's also a lawyer by background, and had a title similar to Ken’s at Fannie Mae.
What’s the difference between there and here?
In Washington, a great deal of attention is paid to process. How you do things affects how you get things done; you have to deal with constituencies to accomplish a goal. In high tech, it’s quicker and dirtier, there is less attention to fine points, but rapid change and a need to get things done yesterday. I’ve obviously been trained in the former way, and one of my jobs is to bring regularity and systematic conduct to a public company. But it’s refreshing to do things the tech way, too.
And the difference in daily life?
They don’t get the heat, there’s great scenery, and you can get to Napa in an hour. But you also don’t find the intensity of interest we have here in what’s going on in world affairs. I’m happy to get back to DC and New York. A lot of DC friends come through San Francisco, maybe three or four visits a month. I get them good rates at the St. Regis. I come back to DC to talk to various agencies and embassies, to grow federal and international sales.
Do you miss being a lawyer?
I don’t do extensive review of documents like I did in arbitrations. But I still use my lawyer’s skill set to take a lot of unstructured data and place it in an analytical framework. As you get older, even in a law firm, you often try to become more of an adviser and problem-solver, which is what I’m doing. I used to work with boards and have to do minutes. Now I work with a board but have other people to do the minutes.