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Bold Leader Spotlight: Keith Krach, Transformational Leader

A trendy but empty office space

As an engineering student at Purdue University, Keith Krach was in awe when he was accepted into Harvard’s MBA program. Now, everything will come full circle for this transformational leader. This coming year, Keith Krach will join George Schultz, Andy Grove, John Chambers, Bill Hewlett, Dave Packard, Charles Schwab, and Gordon Moore as a recipient of the Harvard Business School Association of Northern California’s Business Leader of the Year—while hundreds of his peers celebrate his accomplishments. Throughout his incredible career, Keith Krach has epitomized bold leadership in every possible way. Given the tremendous impact that he has made on so many—for this former CEO of DocuSign Inc. to receive such accolades is undoubtedly fitting.

a caricature of Keith Krach, former DocuSign CEO, standing beside the logo of DocuSign
Keith Krach, a bold leader and the Chairman of DocuSign is a serial entrepreneur who also had major success at Ariba and General Electric.

From GM’s Youngest VP to DocuSign CEO

Keith Krach originally made his leadership mark in a well-known company that provided great opportunity and great values. At 26 years old, Keith Krach became the youngest vice president in General Motors Co. history. As leader of GM’s robotics division, he introduced disruptive innovation that revolutionized automation. But Keith Krach had a broader vision. In 1988, he led Rasna Corporation, a maker of engineer design software, that would eventually sell for $500 million in 1995.

After leaving Rasna, Keith Krach then co-founded Ariba in 1996. Ariba, which created the category of B2B e-commerce, became one of the fastest growing software companies in the world. As chairman and CEO, Keith Krach took Ariba public with an eventual market cap rate of $40 billion.

“Arriba is one of those companies that comes along and creates a sea change in the way businesses and individuals organize themselves or conduct business. Keith Krach …. is the guy rowing the boat,” as cited by Forbes.

Then, in 2009, Bold Leader Keith Krach took up the reins of leadership as DocuSign CEO, a position in which he served until 2017. In each of these ventures, his leadership has been the key factor that has made his tremendous success perpetually present.

In fact, “dedication, brilliance, creativity and gumption” are the characteristics Ernst & Young praised Krach for when they honored him as EY Entrepreneur Of The Year® 2015 Northern California Region for Cloud Services.

Keith Krach — Inspiring Leadership Through Perpetual Transformation

If you ask Keith Krach, digital transformation in today’s age is not happening quickly enough. He has noted that speed is the ultimate currency and that bold businesses must embrace innovation if they want to compete. His leadership philosophy that challenges the status quo and pushes the envelope is evident in all of his professional endeavors. From his days at GM to his tenure as DocuSign CEO, Keith Krach has invited change leveraging technology along the way.

Inherent to Keith Krach’s leadership style is the push for constant diversity as well. From his perspective, he has described the diversity of thought as being the catalyst for genius and the secret sauce for building high-performance teams. In fact, as DocuSign CEO and in other leadership positions, he has referred to “AQ” to be just as important as IQ.

AQ stands for “adversity quotient”, a term coined by Dr. Paul Stoltz, best-selling author, and authority on the topic. Diversity and inclusion not only foster innovation but also allow teams to overcome challenges through creativity. Naturally, innovation often faces adversity, and diversity is the critical ingredient in achieving success in such environments.

Delegating Both Task and Authority as Empowerment Tools

For Keith Krach, taking risks and acknowledging failures are essential tasks in developing leadership in others. While anyone can delegate tasks to others for experience, true leadership development requires delegating authority as well. But blindly doing this can be not only counterproductive but also reckless.

For Keith Krach, empowering others through delegation requires a deep understanding of their motivation and skills. As a student of people, he comes to appreciate individuals’ unique values and capabilities. And with these insights, he is able to inspire them toward ever-increasing excellence.

During his time as DocuSign CEO and in other leadership roles, Keith Krach identifies three important steps for empowering others. Firstly, hiring the best people available for the job is vital. Secondly, people work together best when focused on a single mission centered on a noble cause. And lastly, being able to provide a clear vision of direction is essential for everyone’s success. Through these valuable leadership insights, Keith Krach has become masterful in developing future leaders of tomorrow and is taking bold steps now to mentor at scale to build the next generation of transformational leaders through his Virtual Mentor Network.

A Values-Based Transformational Leader with a Larger Purpose

Throughout his leadership career, Keith Krach has stressed the importance of value, character and integrity. These elements of bold leadership have been trademarks from his time as DocuSign CEO and in every other leadership position he has filled.

In part, Keith Krach learned integrity and humility from his father who was a machine shop owner. His father always noted that ego was a detriment to effective leadership. Keith Krach has certainly taken this to heart. Either he does things the right way or not at all.

Bold Leader Keith Krach developed the DocuSign Impact Foundation
Keith Krach developed the DocuSign Impact Foundation

These same values are reflected in Keith Krach’s philanthropic efforts as well. As DocuSign CEO, he created the DocuSign Impact Foundation to help transform people’s lives through noble causes. Likewise, the Krach Family Foundation supports numerous charities, nonprofits, and outreach programs.

When Keith Krach served as chairman of Purdue University’s Board of Trustees, he catalyzed marked change in improving STEM education, global outreach and student education access through the Purdue University Global initiative. He also set the stage for continuing Purdue leadership by selecting Mitch Daniels, then sitting Governor of Indiana, as Purdue’s president. Keith Krach’s bold leadership extends well past his role as DocuSign CEO into every area of his life.

Bold Leadership Worthy of Bold Recognition

Though Keith Krach stepped down as DocuSign CEO in 2017, he has remained chairman of the company. Likewise, he continues to serve on the boards of many other notable organizations and businesses. In addition to Purdue University, Keith Krach has served as a board chairman for Angie’s List. He has similarly been the International President for the Sigma Chi Fraternity.

Looking forward, Keith Krach has dedicated himself to a new mission: Paying it forward—by serving to inspire and mentor a new generation of transformational leaders in the public, private and social sectors.

Through his Virtual Mentor Network, he is tapping the insights of great leaders, like retired Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal; former NASA administrator, Dan Goldin; City Year Founder and CEO, Michael Brown; and many others, to mentor at scale—building leadership skills that will ultimately improve standards of living and quality of life for everyone, all over the world.

Without question, the Harvard Business School Association of Northern California made a great choice for their leadership recognition award. Leadership doesn’t get much bolder than Keith Krach.

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