Tod Nielsen

Posted by Joseph Phillips, Jr. on Friday, November 4, 2011 at 1:17 PM PDT


On November 3rd, Tod Nielsen, Applications Platform co-President at VMware, spoke at the Albers Executive Speaker Series.  Tod has more than 20 years of experience in the software industry, including previous positions at Oracle, Borland Software, Microsoft, and BEA Systems.  He had plenty of good advice and insight to share with our students.  Tod is also the brother of Melore Nielsen, SU’s Dean of Admissions.


Tod made a presentation on lessons he has learned over the course of his career and framed them as Five Pillars.  The first pillar is the importance of “Milestones.”  Everyone can look back and see certain critical moments or decisions along the path that one takes.  It is also important to look forward, to think about where you want to be in five years, and what the things are that must happen to get there.  The five year plan may not materialize, but it is important to have one.


The second pillar is “Diversity.”  Tod emphasized the importance of having a diversity of experiences early in your career that you can build on later in your career.  He encouraged students to make lateral moves in the organization in order to build that experience, something people often resist.  He also noted the benefit of working in a dysfunctional organization or for an ineffective leader.  That way you learn what does not work!


The third pillar is the “Mentor.”  He stressed the importance of finding mentors over the course of one’s career.  Their advice will frequently be very valuable.  It is also important to find a mentor who does not think like you and can offer a different perspective.


“Customers” are the fourth pillar.  You need to remember that the product is for the customer, so make sure to find out what they want and need.  Tod also emphasized the need to talk to a diverse set of customers, and not extrapolate from a narrow group to a broader audience.


The final pillar is to “Give Back.”  He stressed the need to leave the world a better place than you found it.  This needs to include your time, talent, and treasure, but especially your time and talent.


In the Q&A, Tod gave a number of important insights on the current and future state of the technology industry.  He also said the following:


What is the most important characteristic of a leader?  The ability to listen to others.  Too few leaders do it, and most of the time the people in the organization know what is going wrong and how to fix it.


What is the most important thing you look for in hiring a manager?  It’s passion for what a person does.  Domain expertise is overrated.


What keeps you up at night about VMware?  The pace of innovation – is the company too far ahead of customers and the market?


All in all, it was a fun and interesting evening.  Tod’s talk will be available via podcast.  Check at


The next speaker series event is on January 24th, when John Stanton visits.  Stanton is a highly regarded leader in the wireless industry.