Alumni Profile: Tom Heiser '84

July 26, 2012

Tom HeiserTom Heiser"Like many Isenberg graduates, I arrived at UMass without a silver spoon but with something to prove," recalls Tom Heiser '84, president of EMC's RSA Security division. Purchased by EMC in 2006, the division provides security, risk, and compliance solutions for businesses. "At Isenberg and UMass I went from an untested 18-year-old to a resilient 22-year-old focused on career challenges."  Along the way, Heiser, an accounting and information systems major, challenged himself with courses in both his major and in programming from the university's computer sciences department. "That coursework and the 20 to 40 hours that I worked each week fueled my work ethic and taught me the importance of execution," he emphasizes.


One week after graduation, Heiser became the 45th employee at EMC, the current global leader in data storage platforms. Heiser's 28 consecutive years with the company demonstrates that you can build a career of continuous growth and accomplishments with a single employer. "I advise employees on my teams to embrace change, get outside of their comfort zones, and keep their learning curves steep," he remarks.


Heiser's passion for change took root on his first day at EMC:  the accounting graduate shifted into sales, opening EMC's first sales office in New York later that year. As a change agent, he became product manager for the company's first mainframe storage system and from 1996-2000 led EMC's first significant sales channel effort. After that, he launched and ran a new product category/line--his company's market-leading Centera storage system. And as Senior Vice President of Corporate Development & New Ventures he led the team responsible for EMC's mergers and acquisitions. In 2011, he became president of one of those acquisitions, RSA Security.


Three Key Challenges/Learning Experiences. "Learning from and overcoming obstacles have been crucial to EMC's competitiveness and my own professional development," Heiser emphasizes. "With that said, three crises at EMC have been defining challenges. In 1988, many of our then 300 employees didn't know it, but we were six weeks away from failing to make payroll. In truth, the quality of our products needed overhauling. We needed to see things through our customers' eyes and adopt continuously improving quality standards.  The sea change that followed helped us to change course and grow into the industry's leader during the 1990s."


That success, notes Heiser, ultimately led to a second challenge, in the wake of the 2000 dot-com bubble. "During the late 1990s, we achieved the #1 ranking in returns on the New York Stock Exchange," Heiser recalls. "But we lost our competitive edge by failing to respond decisively to market disruptions, many of them from start-ups." At the height of the crisis the company laid off approximately 9,000 employees worldwide; in one year, its revenues dropped from $8.5 billion to $5.7 billion. With Heiser as a key player, EMC rebounded by developing a leaner strategic portfolio of innovative products, both through mergers & acquisitions and in-house development.


The Isenberg graduate's third defining challenge came in March of 2011, scarcely a month after he became president of EMC's RSA Security division. That's when he and the division's executive chairman, Art Coviello, Jr.'75, (also an Isenberg alumnus) announced a data breach in RSA's infrastructure. "That was a shock, but we've leveraged it as a learning experience and an opportunity to improve our products," notes Heiser. "Fortunately, we discovered the cyber threat internally, promptly informed our customers, and replaced all questionable products. And we've responded with product solutions that we are now bringing to the marketplace," he remarks. "Events like that can prove jolting, but it's all how you respond to them. From learning experiences like these, adapt strategically, you'll emerge as more resilient, more competitive!"