KEITH KRACH ON SECRETS TO SUCCESS
Chairman Emeritus of the Board of Trustees
By Kat Braz, Purdue Alumnus
From his fourth-floor home office perched on so-called Billionaires Row, Keith Krach (IE’79) can see the entirety of the San Francisco Bay and the famous Golden Gate Bridge that spans the strait connecting the bay to the Pacific Ocean. It’s an impressive vista and a far cry from his hometown of Rocky River, Ohio, a Cleveland suburb.
The biggest dream Krach’s father had for him was that he would graduate from college with a degree in engineering. The elder Krach’s hope was that his son would return to Rocky River and eventually take over his modest steel fabrication shop. It was there, working alongside his father, that Krach began to learn the value of an industrious work ethic at a young age.
Krach’s father was 40 when he opened the machine shop after losing his job. When times were good, he employed five people. When times were lean, it was just the two of them. Krach started there in sixth grade doing scut work. By the time he was 15, he could run all of the machines.
“I learned so much from my dad,” says Krach. “I’ll never forget we were driving to the factory one day, and I asked him, ‘Dad, everybody likes you; why is that?’ And he says to me, ‘When you’re with the pope, you pray. When you’re with a drunkard, you drink. Anything in between goes, but always be yourself.’”
It was a lesson in what Krach calls “range with integrity.” It’s okay to adapt to situations to put others at ease; just don’t compromise your own values.
Krach’s trademark charisma also stems from his father. “My dad was so much fun to be around. He’s the funniest guy I’ve ever known,” he says. “I think that is the superpower of leadership.”
Another thing he learned from his father: people support what they help create. Krach’s track record in business is evidence of his ability to serve as a catalyst to rally others. At age 26, he was named the youngest-ever vice president at General Motors. He capitalized on his experience there in the industrial robotics division to transition to tech, where he was a founding member of Rasna Corporation, a mechanical engineering software startup. Krach still remembers calling home in 1995 to tell his parents — dad on the kitchen phone and mom listening in on the bedroom line — the company had sold for half a billion dollars.
“I guess this means you’re coming home to Rocky River!” exclaimed his mother. But his father knew better. He heard the enthusiasm in his son’s voice and recognized his passion for both the business world and the tech industry. “I don’t think he’s ever coming back,” Krach recalls his father saying. He was right. His son would stay in California and go on to achieve levels of success he couldn’t fathom, nor would he live to see.
In 1996, Krach formed Ariba, a startup that revolutionized business-to-business electronic commerce. It was acquired by SAP for $4.3 billion in 2012 and today, $1 trillion of electronic commerce goes through Ariba — more than Amazon, eBay, and Alibaba combined, by the way. The doodle hanging above his office fireplace depicts the plan for Ariba’s system architecture, which he sketched in crayon on a restaurant tabletop with the other six founders.
He replicated success once again as chairman and CEO of DocuSign, another industry disrupter valued at $3 billion. The e-signature software is changing the way people do business so much so that DocuSign has become a verb, just as Google did before it. After passing the reins to his successor in the beginning of 2017, Krach remains active in the company as board chair.
“It’s one thing to create a new product,” Krach says. “It’s a whole other thing to create an entire new industry or market. It’s really that simple. What I learned from my dad was just plain old horse sense. People buy from people they trust and they like. In business, you don’t have a lot of time. So the key is to have deep, meaningful, relationships built on trust. And they accumulate over time.
“If you made a family tree of Silicon Valley, you’d clearly see how everyone is connected. Ariba spawned 10 company CEOs. You’re known by your legacy and the people you’ve worked with,” Krach says. “It’s the land of give back and pay forward. That’s it. That’s the secret sauce.”