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tom keiser

Tom Keiser

CEO of Hootsuite

Keiser is the CEO of Hootsuite, a social media management platform. After earning a bachelor’s degree in systems science from the University of West Florida, he worked his way up to executive roles at Ernst & Young, Gap Inc., L Brands, Zendesk and now Hootsuite.

How did your studies at UWF prepare you for your career?

I attended the University for my junior and senior years of college from 1986-88. Prior to UWF I attended Auburn University for my first two years of college, unsuccessfully navigating between business and engineering classes, and struggling to figure out what I was interested in. When I found out that UWF had a programming degree called systems science within its business school I transferred. At the time, the systems science program was primarily taught by former Navy vets, and focused on foundational logic and programming in Fortran, Assembler and Cobol, with the business school contributing the problem statements we would solve. I struggled with programming initially, but at some point, after spending many nights in the lab confused and frustrated, a light bulb went off and it started making sense. I loved the tangible results of building systems that worked, and understanding how those systems contribute to solving business challenges. Determination, working hard to understand problems, learning from failure, and finding the logic threads are all key aspects I have taken from my education and continue to use today.

Is this the career path you always envisioned for yourself?

I didn’t start off with a clear picture of what I wanted to do and become, but I have always been driven to succeed. I began working when I was 14 years old (working on night cleaning crews of businesses around Pensacola). I liked working to achieve tangible results, solving problems and making money. My first job after college was as a Cobol and Assembler programmer working on telecom billing systems. I left after three and a half years really concerned that I didn’t have much more to learn. I then spent 12 years working all over the world as a management consultant with E&Y Consulting which became Capgemini, learning how to work with customers, lead teams and solve increasingly large and complex business problems by leveraging technology. Those roles prepared me for senior leadership roles, and over the next 10 years I was CIO for two of the largest specialty retailers in the U.S., LBrands in Columbus, Ohio, and Gap Inc. in San Francisco. I then moved from large retail to small Silicon Valley tech to get closer to modern technology, and became CIO and then COO of Zendesk, a SaaS company focused on customer service and experience. In July, I became CEO of a SaaS company called Hootsuite, which is a social media management platform.

How do you define a great leader?

I am a believer in the servant leadership model. I work to be someone who empowers leaders, clears the path for them to be successful, holds them accountable and raises their expectations of themselves. The shadow of the leader matters, so being an example of good leadership is important and what I constantly strive to achieve.