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Employee Experience

Atlassian CMO Robert Chatwani: ‘Don’t start with the opportunities in front of you. Start with you’

As part of our Breakthrough Builders podcast series, our VP of Tech Jesse Purewal chats with Robert Chatwani, CMO of Atlassian how he registered a staggering 20,000 South Asian bone marrow donors in just 12 weeks. He also recommends how you can discover your own purpose, and how a simple but powerful idea led to a partnership with the World Bank, and an entirely new business model at eBay.

Listen to the complete podcast episode of Breakthrough Builders with Robert Chatwani

Early reflections

In 1972, against the wishes of his family, Robert Chatwani’s parents left India to start a new life in the United States. Robert, currently the Chief Marketing Officer of Atlassian, described what his father was bravely renouncing in his conversation with Jesse Purewal on our Breakthrough Builders Podcast:

“My dad was the rebel in the family. I had a really conservative grandfather who had a very specific life in mind for each of his kids and I think my dad, at some point, decided he didn't want any part of that.”

This legacy of forging one’s own path endures in Robert’s career and life journey.

Behind the Breakthroughs

In his career’s early stages, Robert relied heavily on experienced mentors to help him start on a path of purpose and accomplishment. Robert recalls influencers at McKinsey prompting him to think deeply about not just the pursuits that would be beneficial to his career advancement, but also those that would lead to his personal fulfillment.

Following this advice led to a critical reflection and a bold decision – after three years at McKinsey, Robert left the defined path laid out for him, and teamed up with friend Sameer Bhatia to move to Silicon Valley and start a company. Robert characterizes this big leap as one of many pathfinding choices he made, counter to the expectations of many others:

“So much of what we attempt to do in life, we shape and define by what we believe others expect from us. Our teachers, our friends, in this case, my parents. And those expectations often shape the way that we make our decisions. But I decided for myself that I wanted to build something.”

With a reinvigorated appetite for adventure, Robert and Sameer built an early online B2B barter platform. Successes, failures, and lots of learning eventually landed him at eBay.

Robert tells the story of how it was a common purpose that connected him to the organization at eBay, but as soon as he felt that connection weaken, he knew he had to move.

“I was at eBay for 12 years, culminating in the biggest role that I ever had in my life, which was CMO of the company. But it came to a point where I had a disconnect in my final years there between the strategy of the company and the company's purpose. For the first time in my life, I had this deep-down feeling of actually being an inauthentic leader. It led to ultimately one of the hardest career decisions I had to make, but also one of the simplest and most straightforward career decisions, which was to leave the company.”

Building with Purpose

Robert continues to focus relentlessly on accomplishing his dual purposes of, as he puts it: 1) Creating and building businesses that create hope and opportunity in the world, and 2) being an inspiring role model for his family.

He also remains convinced that it is a connection to personal purpose that will guide people in blazing their own trails: “Don’t start with the opportunities in front of you or the expectations others have of you. Start with you.

Listen to Robert chat with our Chief Industry Advisor, Tech, Media & Telecom, Jesse Purewal in a recent episode of our Breakthrough Builders podcast.

Breakthrough Builders is about people whose passions, perspectives, instincts, and ideas fuel some of the world’s most amazing products, brands, and experiences. It’s a tribute to those who have the audacity to imagine – and the persistence to build – breakthroughs.

Listen to the full conversation with Robert Chatwani