Awards and Events
Profile of a People Leader: Adam Marrè
This conversation took place shortly after we announced our 2019 People Leader of the Year awards. Adam won the award as a leader in our technical organization and was one of three recipients of the award. If you’d like to read more about the awards and find the other recipients’ interviews, you can head over to this story.
Both the awards ceremony and this conversation took place over Zoom due to office closures as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In this interview, we got to know Adam better and discussed his leadership philosophy, how he measures success as a leader, and got some interesting insight into the things that drove him to become a leader.
Qualtrics Life (QL): Tell me about your career journey and how you came to Qualtrics
Adam Marrè (AM): I started out as a video game developer at a place called Avalanche software. I did that right out of college. It was a small company - I think I was the 47th employee hired. I was made a design leader within the first year.
Then 9/11 happened and that changed everything for me. I wanted to do something that had a more direct impact on the world. I decided to join the FBI but I lacked the necessary experience so I joined the US Army first. I worked as a counter-intelligence agent for the army for 4 years and then joined the FBI. I investigated cyber cases, gangs, drugs, chased spies, really a bit of everything. One of the early locations I was assigned to was a small city in southern Oregon. There were only four agents in that office so we handled everything for a large geographic area. I joined FBI SWAT in Oregon which is a collateral duty - something you do on the side. That’s also where I started to become a cyber agent, which meant I got access to special cyber investigation training. After Oregon, I was transferred to Puerto Rico, where I was assigned to the Cyber Squad. I also became a SWAT team leader and eventually the senior team leader. So, I was commanding the entire SWAT team in Puerto Rico, conducting all tactical operations for the division.
Then, I got a transfer to Utah. We wanted Utah because it’s where my wife is from. I created a cyber task force in Provo, which covered all cyber investigations through the south end of the state. As my kids got older, I decided I wanted to be home more. I loved my time in the FBI and being a special agent, but I ultimately decided it was time to go in another direction. It was a hard decision, but it was the right one for me.
One of the things I did as part of the FBI was outreach. I would go to companies and give presentations to help them feel comfortable reporting cybercrimes to the FBI. I made a very simple LinkedIn profile as part of those outreach efforts. Sometimes people actually report crimes to me through it, so that’s why I had it. As a result of my outreach work, David Cawley reached out to me through LinkedIn to invite me to come to talk to the Infosec team and later to give a presentation at Qualtrics. After that presentation, I went out to lunch with the privacy officer and I just threw it out there, “Are you guys looking for anybody?” That turned into the job. I actually wasn’t going to take the interview after that but my wife convinced me I should. I ultimately took the job because the spirit of Qualtrics was just something special. I’ve been to hundreds of companies giving presentations and investigating cybercrimes and never felt anything like the culture at Qualtrics. So, I jumped in.
QL: Have you always known you wanted to be a people leader?
AM: Usually, leadership opportunities have just kind of come to me, like being made a design lead at that game company or starting a task force in the FBI and having to take on a leadership role. I’m definitely not someone who comes into an organization thinking I’m going to be a leader and make changes, but when I do see a gap in leadership, I will step and fill that role as needed. My father was actually a leadership mentor and coach for his whole life. He was the president and co-founder of the Covey Leadership Center for seven years before he started his own. So, I grew up with leadership training all around me.
There are two main things I really enjoy about being a leader. I love the one-on-one time with an individual, helping them to see what they’re capable of and to achieve things they didn’t even think were possible. The other thing is getting the synergy of the team to work together so that the sum of the whole is greater than its parts. On the security team, we have an intense job. We have to protect the business. No one’s life is on the line of course, but we are willing to give up our time, wake up in the middle of the night, and cover for each other. That’s one of the things that bonds our team. We constantly get to serve each other.
QL: I love your focus on both individual and team growth. Do you have a personal leadership philosophy that you use to help achieve those goals?
AM: The bottom line is you have to care, and it can’t be faked, it can’t be artificial. You have to really care about the people on your team. I believe in the adage, “To know someone is to love them.” The more I learn about somebody, the more that caring comes. After you care about someone, everything else falls into place and becomes natural. It becomes natural to give them everything they need to succeed. It becomes natural to be their advocate. It becomes natural that when you see their flaws you want to give them feedback about the things that are getting in their way.
It’s something that I saw my dad doing all the time growing. He was the kind of guy that when my friends came over, he’d end up in a deep conversation with them about what they want to do in life and discuss what it will take to achieve that goal. So, I guess I’ve just hung on to that and always ask my team members what they want and then do everything I can to help them get there.
QL: How do you measure success as a leader?
AM: For me its impact. What impact did I have? That’s measured in different ways. One is the impact I had on the organization and the other is the impact on the individuals/ team as a whole. Is the team better and have we accomplished the mission? Typically if you take care of the team, then the impact on the organization comes.
QL: Are there any highlights or moments that stick out to you from this past year as a leader?
AM: In 2019, we faced some of the biggest challenges as a team that we had ever faced. One problem took us a couple of weeks to bring to a full resolution. We probably worked 20 days straight without any real breaks. We were all exhausted but everyone stepped up, no one complained. It was amazing to watch. We also learned how to handle incident response even better, implementing processes so that no one gets so exhausted again.
The bottom line, it’s so hard for me to take credit for anything when I have such incredible people working with me. The highlights are all theirs.
QL: Tell me a little about what this award meant to you.
AM: Absolute incredulity was my initial reaction. I was wondering if I was being punked. This was the first time they gave out the award and there was no announcement that it was even a thing. I honestly still can’t believe it. It’s not something I was pursuing and it’s still not something I’d pursue, because it’s not what it’s about for me.
Honestly, I’d rather this was more of a team award. I’d prefer they all got to stand up and get recognized for being such a wonderful team. I am grateful though. I know it’s given as an indicator that I’m serving my team well and for that I’m grateful. I’m proud that they feel that I’m looking out for and serving them.
QL: So one last question: what’s something about you that might surprise people?
AM: We already talked about this some, but people are usually a little surprised to find out that I made video games. Most of what people know about me is that I was an FBI guy. We made kid's games primarily. We got bought by Disney, so I made some Disney games too.
|Adam is an alumnus of Cochise College, Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center, BYU, SANS Technology Institute, and started his career at Avalanche Software.|