Doors wide open: Ian Raper's decision to go against tradition

Riverbed Technology's Ian Raper practices what he preaches when it comes down to his unique management style.
Written by Aimee Chanthadavong, Contributor

A "no door policy" is a management style that is not often exercised. But for Ian Raper, regional vice president of Riverbed Technology Australia, it works.

Ian Raper, Riverbed Technology Australia regional vice president
(Image: Supplied)
Raper does not own a desk anywhere in the business, but instead hot desks with the rest of his team. He is also involved in the hiring process of almost every new employee.

"What we're trying to do about the way we structure and the way we work together is delivering the results, but not in the traditional sense of driving people to get the revenue; it's about driving good behaviour," explained Raper.

This attests to his decision to eliminate a strict hierarchy structure within Riverbed, and his belief in the mantra that "we hire adults because they don't need adult supervision".

"Our policy has been 'no hierarchy, no structure' in the context of nobody is more important than others; it's just we've got different jobs," he said.

Raper also highly regards treating employees with respect as central to the morale of a company.

"At some places I've worked at, I've learnt as much not how to treat people as I have had the experience on how to, because I don't necessarily subscribe to the theory of managing people so you look good.

"Sadly, a lot of people feel that way and I don't know why, maybe it's because of the way they've been taught or managed, but they end up managing up. They want to be seen as the big person and the person who has made the right call.

"I think if you spend your life and your resources on something you're not and try to present something to make you look good, you're going to have a few problems.

"The first is people can see through that; the second is they know how to drive you and they'll keep pushing you to do that; and the third is people aren't stupid, either, and they know what that manager is doing, and would probably end up leaving."

Another key trait that Raper values is trust, something that he grants employees as soon as they are hired.

"It's not a matter of earning trust; you've already got it and that's why you're here. If you break that trust, that's not going to be terrific, because it's going to affect everyone and it will take a lot longer to re-establish it," he said.

But for someone who exercises such an unconventional style of management, Raper's 30 years of working in Australia's IT industry has been quite traditional, holding roles with Memorex Telex, Cisco, and EMC.

He confessed that scoring his previous jobs came down to a bit of luck and help from a network of people, commending Paul Wilson as one person who he now calls a lifelong friend.

"He and I worked together before the Cisco days, and then very closely at Cisco. I then went to join EMC, and after I did a few different roles, he recommended me to the then-head of Asia for a job with Riverbed that I didn't know anything about," he said.

In fact, the genesis behind Raper's flat management style have been due to influences from the five years he spent working with Cisco, where, he said, "There was no concept of micromanagement, there was no concept of limitation of what you could achieve, and we basically went mad.

"The company at the time was unbelievable. Most people know Cisco as a very big company, so I was in there when it was a very baby company, and it was able to be influenced by people rather than the structure, and I loved that freedom," he said.

Even Raper's time at Memorex Telex sheds some perspective on how a workplace structure should work. He said the company was very structured, but it was quickly lost because it grew so rapidly that management eventually began becoming part of teams, rather than telling employees how things should have been done -- a move that he had never witnessed previously.

Raper added that the network of friends he has met throughout his career have also been of great help.

"There's a group of people that have been around long enough to know each other. I think the current terminology is a network. There's a lot of those guys that would recommend me without my knowledge or with, or if somebody rang and said, 'Do you know so-and-so' and I would say, 'Yes, I do, and he's a good guy'. I'm very, very lucky."

For instance, he secured his job with Cisco due to a project he was working on during his time with Memorex Telex. Raper recalled that at the time, Memorex Telex was looking to acquire IBM's networking and storage business as a move to become a systems integrator, and part of the portfolio acquisition included working with Cisco's systems products.

EMC was another company that Raper found himself working for as a result of a recommendation based on a task he was carrying out during his time at Cisco. He ended up staying there for eight and a half years, and eventually became the manager of the company's resource management software division.

"My last job at Cisco was to set up and operate the Cisco and Telstra relationship, which has become fairly large. So EMC was going into the business of selling storage as a service, and Telstra was the first in the world to adopt that. This was the reason why EMC approached me -- because Telstra had recommended me," he said.

Despite Raper's experience, he has managed to retain his humble nature, made evident in his admission that fancy titles are insignificant to him.

"I've got to be honest, I hold no regard for titles, but it is very useful. People want to deal with decision makers and someone that supports them. If there's a customer who is wondering, then it's good for them there's someone who cares about them in a position that can make a difference to them. That's the positive context," he said.

But Raper revealed that he hasn't always been as level headed as he is today, especially back in his days at school, where he was quite the opposite.

"I was a particularly poor student; I had aptitude but no application. I was very competitively minded and played sports at the cost of almost everything else. I managed to scrape my way through that.

"Then I started to do a hospitality degree because I was trying to have the social life and work together, but when I got halfway through the first course, I discovered I was going to be an accountant with one more unit, and an economics major with one more unit. But I figured I was going to be gregarious, so that didn't work out so well.

"Then I went and did a marketing degree, and similarly discovered again I was going to be an accountant with one more unit and a few other bits and bobs, but I still saw myself still waving hands and all, so that didn't work out either."

What pushed Raper in the right direction was his clear idea of wanting to work with people.

"I was fascinated with competition, and, to a degree, about technology and how does it work, why does it work that way. I was the kid that used to pull stuff apart, but never could put it back together again properly. So I was trying to meld those interests, and then I discovered that sales was really hard work but it was also very rewarding at the same time," he said.

But each challenge and achievement appears to be increasingly insignificant for Raper since having children, two girls who are now aged 22 and 21.

"Their achievements are much more important than mine. Everything you may have achieved, it doesn't matter that much. It puts things into perspective," he said.

Even looking at key achievements, such as playing a role in Thoma Bravo's $3.6 billion recent acquisition of Riverbed Technology, does not faze Raper, who admitted that it's more of a relief.

"It is a tortuous process, it's a lot of detail, it's not what you imagine where you sit around and watch people pat each other on the back. There's a lot of detail, lots of twists and turns, lots of context of what it means for them and whether they should support it, and it's a long and can be deep prospect.

"At the end of that cycle, the funny thing is that you often express a sense of relief, you go home and catch a cold out of relief rather than the popping of the champagne celebration because you've worked so hard, you've invested so much to get to that end point."

For now, Raper said he is content with embedding himself in what is happening at Riverbed.

"The company has given me the opportunity to build and to fashion, so no vision beyond this place. For me, I struggle to think beyond what I'm focused on," he said.

At least until the next job lands in his lap.

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