On Monday, the board of directors at SurveyMonkey gathered the employees together and announced they had hired a new CEO, well-known industry veteran Bill Veghte.
Veghte would replace the company’s much-loved previous CEO, Dave Goldberg, who died tragically in May.
“We stood in front of all all our friends and employees in a packed house when we introduced Bill,” executive chairman Zander Lurie, who had been acting CEO, told Business Insider.
“There was a lot of emotion, a lot of tears, and multiple standing ovations,” Lurie said.
And there’s good reason for that.
Although this is Veghte’s first gig as CEO, he’s been a general manager of multi-billion business units for decades, including 20 years at Microsoft overseeing Microsoft Office, Windows, and Windows Server, and about six years at HP where he briefly rose to COO. Most recently he was leading the Enterprise Group.
More importantly, he and Goldberg had been close buddies for 30 years.
“Dave and I went to college together. We were friends dating back to our freshmen year. We were always comparing notes,” Veghte told us. “I tried to get him to come to Microsoft. And when he was an EIR at Benchmark he would call me up and say, ‘I found this great company in Portland you need to meet.'”
Goldberg had been bugging Veghte to join SurveyMonkey’s board of directors for years. Veghte had his hands full at HP, which will split into two companies in November.
Veghte had finally agreed to join the SurveyMonkey board, starting next spring, after HP completed its split.
(Sources had previously told us that Veghte wasn’t planning on sticking around at HP after the split. His role running the Enterprise Group would essentially be Meg Whitman’s job as CEO of the HP Enterprise company.)
Veghte says he considered Goldberg to be his “mentor,” although for the past couple of years he was also advising Goldberg on how to grow a company, expand into international markets, hire a salesforce.
After Goldberg died, the board “reached out to Bill” to become an informal advisor, and asked him if he would be willing to consider becoming CEO. He was. They also hired Spencer Stuart to lead the search.
While they didn’t want to rush the search, employees were grieving and concerned.
Employees had taken to wearing “#makedaveproud” T-shirts at work, Lurie told us, jokingly adding, “I encouraged them to wash them weekly.”
But the “uncertainty over who will be CEO and what the road was ahead” was clearly weighing on them, a senior engineer told Veghte.
Given the history of the situation, the board was leaning towards promoting someone from within. “We had several internal candidates who have chops to do job,” Lurie told us.
As to why Laurie, who had been on the board since 2009, didn’t choose to stay on as CEO, he says, “I have a job I love at GoPro, so I’m in my dream job, and frankly Bill is a better executive to lead this company than I am.” (Laurie is the senior VP of media at GoPro.)
Veghte probably is a better choice. Goldberg was in the middle of moving SurveyMonkey past its roots as an online survey company and into “big data” services. Shortly before his death, Goldberg had rolled out SurveyMonkey’s first new new data service, Benchmarks, which lets customers compare their survey results to others who asked those same questions.
Veghte’s long history at Microsoft and HP makes him well suited to continue Goldberg’s vision. “By hiring Bill as a leader, we feel like we stuck the landing with this one,” Laurie told us.
For Veghte the new job is bittersweet.
While he’s “psyched” about the company and its future, he says, “I share in the loss that everyone feels. For me, from out of this searing sadness comes fierce determination.”