DocuSign’s CEO on getting in over your head (and succeeding)
FORTUNE — As the youngest-ever vice president and general manager of GMF Robotics, the industrial robotics division of automaker General Motors, Keith Krach used his early momentum in tech business to help found Rasna (which was sold in 1995 to Parametric Technologies for $500 million) and Ariba. He continued his entrepreneurial path by joining DocuSign — an electronic signature company that facilitates legal, contractual, and tax documents online — and becoming the company’s chairman and CEO.
Krach holds a BS in industrial engineering from Purdue University and an MBA from Harvard, and he sits on several boards, including Angie’s List and Purdue University’s board of trustees. We asked him about his early days in business and what he considers to be his biggest achievements, as well as the thrill-seeking he does in his free time.
1. Which business or technology person do you admire most? Why?
Mitch Daniels, former governor of Indiana and current president of Purdue University. We grew close during my tenure as chairman of the board of trustees at Purdue, and I have always been so impressed by his courage, humility, thoughtfulness, and innovation. I believe some of the signs of a great leader are the intense desire to fully understand those around you, the ability to course-correct to act on the best ideas, and an openness to everyone and all perspectives. It’s this openness, humility, supreme confidence, and intelligence that set Mitch apart.
2. What is the best advice you ever received?
Jump in water over your head. When you see an opportunity, take the risk and jump. It’s scary, and there will be times you’ll get burned, but the overall payoff can be tremendous. I have found that living that way gets addictive. The rush of pushing yourself, betting on yourself, and learning from the good, bad, ugly, and epic cannot be matched — that, to me, is really living.
3. What is your greatest achievement?
I used to think that my greatest professional achievement would always be the honor of being a founder and the CEO of Ariba, where we achieved a market cap of $34 billion and created a great sustainable company that lasted for 17 years before being purchased by SAP (SAP). However, with my last two years as DocuSign’s CEO, I now believe that my greatest professional achievement is still ahead.
There is no doubt in my mind that by the end of the decade, every successful company will be fully digital. DocuSign is at the heart of that digital transformation, and we have the opportunity to truly impact the way business is done across organizations of every size and industry, everywhere in the world. What excites me most is that everyone — from the individual to the global enterprise — is a potential customer who we can offer real value to and make their lives easier and better. The potential is literally infinite, and we are moving full speed ahead on building a great company that will last, revolutionize, and make a real difference in the world.
4. What do you do to live a balanced life?
Achieving balance is about having a balanced life, not a balanced day or week. It’s about range — intense work time infused with intense playtime and moments of intense down time. CEOs of high tech startups have to think this way because the job is an all-out sprint without the luxury of pacing oneself. I love that about my life and work, I thrive off of it.
I’m lucky that my wife and five kids are my best buddies. They understand the intensity of my kind of balance. Making time for them gives me my ultimate happiness that makes everything else possible even on the craziest of days.
5. Describe an ideal day.
Bear hugs from my family on my way out of the house, high-fives as I walk through the door at work with brilliant people around me, big wins on the scoreboard, and happy customers who love what we’re doing. Right now I get to enjoy a lot of ideal days. It’s a great time for us, and we’ve got beautiful blue skies ahead.
6. What was the most important thing you learned at Harvard Business School?
Perhaps the biggest thing that I learned is that it’s not what you know but what you think of in the moment that matters.
7. What is one unique or quirky habit that you have?
I love to program. I’m a closet geeky coder at heart. Life is all 1 and 0s.
8. If you could have one superpower, what would it be?
X-ray vision, of course.
9. What was your first job?
I worked for my dad at his steel fabrication company, Litco Industries. Maximum employment was five people, so I learned to do just about everything from intricate welding to sweeping the floors. Some of my greatest lessons about hard work, honesty, and adding value came from those years of watching my Dad.
10. What do you do for fun?
My older kids tease me that my idea of fun is any activity for which you need to DocuSign a waiver. I love the thrill of traveling to a new country and learning everything I can about the people, culture, food, and what they do for fun. That’s how our family bonds the most. If it’s taking a running jump off a cliff and gliding over Rio together, drinking fresh cobra blood in Vietnam, survival training in the Amazon, great white shark cage-diving off the coast of South Africa, doing a drift dive in Indonesia, or climbing the peaks of the world, our family is in.
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