Culture of Empowerment

KP Unnikrishnan (Unni) , Vice President, Marketing  (Japan & Asia-Pacific)

I had the privilege of hearing Nir Zuk, the founder of Palo Alto Networks, speak at an event in the Asia-Pacific region (APAC) when the company was still a startup. When I heard him talk about wanting to change the world, create disruption, and do something different from what the industry had traditionally been doing. It was very motivating and inspiring! 

In my brief conversation with Nir, he laid out his vision for the company, which had at that time a negligible presence in APAC. A few months later, when someone from Palo Alto Networks reached out to me for an opportunity in marketing, I remembered his inspiring talk and vision to disrupt the cybersecurity market.

But I did have a couple of concerns: Was this another exciting startup story that would fail to prove itself in the market? Would the vision of the founders get translated to action? Was the senior management serious about the company’s worldwide expansion plan, and how soon would that be achievable?

I had several meetings with the leadership team to understand the goals and the plans. By then, I was impressed by what I learned and observed about the company’s products, vision, and culture. And so I bit the bullet and came on board.

A Safer Tomorrow

I have two daughters, and I constantly think about their future. Working for Palo Alto Networks is rewarding in that respect. First, this is such an inclusive and diverse company that I feel reassured about the future we are building for young girls like my daughters. It’s really important to me to work for a company that believes anyone should be able to participate and be respected and empowered in the workplace. 

We live in a world where everything is automated. When my daughters are ready to enter the workforce, their entire lives will be digital, and I want them to be safe. Today, they’re still young enough that they can jump into things without thinking about security. They just assume they are safe. I have to constantly remind them of what I do and how we can’t take our safety for granted. I’m proud to be working for a company that is working to ensure a safer tomorrow for them.

I really enjoy the work I do. I look forward to starting work each day — it’s about doing your part to make a change. I want my daughters to see that it’s important to work hard and challenge yourself, but also that it should be meaningful and fun. I’ve never had the Monday morning blues since joining this organization. Every Monday, I wake up ready to get started. I want them to see that that’s possible for them as well.

A Day in the Life

As Vice President of Marketing, my work encompasses so many different activities. It’s about getting the Palo Alto Networks brand and demand out into the market, and that means more than marketing in the traditional sense — it’s also about education. It’s our job to help people understand the need for security in the digital age and how we can help with that need. That education extends to working with our partners, those who are selling or making systems that utilize our cybersecurity products, to help them understand how our products work and why they’re important. 

It’s also our job to ensure that customers are fully utilizing our products. We are not a company that wants to sell you something and then disappear. We are consciously working every day to make sure customers see the value in our products, get the maximum functionality out of those products, and trust us enough to continue using them. 

Another part of my work is being involved with training programs for new hires, and I talk to them about our philosophy, our workplace culture, and our marketing efforts. It helps me to be connected to almost everybody who comes on board, and that’s fun. I’m so happy to be in a position to help Palo Alto Networks grow and to help people’s careers grow as well.

Since I started here six years ago, Palo Alto Networks has experienced impressive growth. When I look at how far we’ve come from when I started — when we had just a handful of employees and very little brand recognition — to where we are today, I’m really proud. When I first came on board, there were only three of us on the Marketing team, and in my time we’ve grown to where the marketing team in the theatre is over 30.

As a company, we are a dominant player in the market, and because of that and the fact that the entire Palo Alto Networks team is passionate and energized about what we do, we are constantly meeting people who know about us and want to work with us, and that is great. 

No Job Is Too Small

Although we’ve grown by leaps and bounds, the company culture hasn’t changed. Sometimes when a startup grows, cultures get diluted and new leadership will cause that initial startup spirit to erode. But even as we’ve gone through a leadership change, those good aspects have remained. It makes me feel confident about my choice to work here. 

This is not a company where you follow a narrow, prescribed job description and work in a silo. Instead, everyone rolls up their sleeves and does what’s needed. No job is too small. I love that approach. I come from a culture where you get the job done first and then decide who gets the credit, so for me, that really resonated. 

In this organization, people are empowered to try new things. We aren’t punished for making mistakes, and we aren’t limited to our specific roles. It’s not a place where corporate leaders create new policies or procedures without input and say, “You can only do it this way.” 

Instead, we have fantastic synergy where we all know our mission, and we are encouraged to follow those “Eureka!” moments and go make new ideas happen in order to accomplish that mission. It’s not about the job title. You wear the Palo Alto Networks team hat first. That’s the priority. Then comes your department, and after that comes your particular role. Titles aren’t as important as doing whatever needs to get done.

Obviously, there are company guidelines and a strategy to follow, but within that, we are empowered to do what’s right for the customer and the business, first and foremost. Because of this approach, we’re all a really strong team, and we have so much respect for and trust in each other. There’s such a strong culture of camaraderie, respect, and integrity. People are always making the effort to work harder, be better, do more. 

“Inclusion and diversity” have become buzzwords in the corporate world, but it doesn’t always mean those companies walk the walk. Palo Alto Networks takes action and makes it part of the culture. That’s why the word “inclusion” is one of our company values. In practice, this means that no matter who you are, how young or experienced you are, or even how new you are to the company, we all play an important part of the work being done. We all can make an impact. And everyone within the organization holds themselves accountable.

And we’re all committed to continuous learning. The industry and the market are constantly evolving, so the way you might have done something five years ago to be successful may not bring you success tomorrow. You can’t be content with the status quo. The onus is on each person, as an employee, to stay educated and ensure you have the tools and knowledge you need. I tell my team, “Your career and your destiny are in your hands.” You can’t blame others if you aren’t where you’d like to be. You have to take the ownership — ask for what you need, find solutions to problems, learn what you need to know, and carve out your own role.