34: Nearly booted from high school, Talend's Mike Tuchen learned a lesson he uses as a CEO

 
Talend CEO Mike Tuchen used learned the hard way that sometimes, you have to double down on your strengths.

Talend CEO Mike Tuchen used learned the hard way that sometimes, you have to double down on your strengths.

By Deborah Findling with Jon Fortt

Mike Tuchen is best when he’s feeling down. Halfway through a project he kicks his efforts into overdrive just when others might start to relax.  

Tuchen is the CEO of Talend, a company with a billion-dollar market value. It helps its customers take advantage of their data and apply it effectively. But before kicking off a career that has included an executive stint at Microsoft and a turn as CEO of Rapid7, he was nearly kicked out of boarding school and had to figure out how to make a contribution as the runt of his Brown University rowing team. 

Tuchen joined the Fortt Knox podcast to share a story that's not your typical wunderkind-makes-good tale. But he shows that when the pressure is on, winning can mean making surprising choices. 

Own Your Choices 

High school was a time of self-discovery for Tuchen, who had just signed up for an elite boarding school filled with talented students. At his old school he was the class brain. With so much competition at this new school, he soon became more of the life of the party.  

When he got shipped home on a three-day suspension, his parents didn't yell at him. They challenged him. Decide what you want to do: Go back and get serious, or quit the school. 

“I realized what I was doing right there clearly didn’t lead me to anywhere I wanted to go," Tuchen says. "I was this close to being not the successful guy I wanted to be – but a high school drop-out.”  

He went back to school, he reset his goals and focused on physics. “I ended up winning the physics prize and in my last few years of school truly winning some awards, being one of the top kids for that.”  

Strategy is Strength 

If you were to sketch an idea of what a Brown University rower might look like it would not be a teenaged Mike Tuchen. Yet, despite standing 5’11’’ and weighing just 155 lbs at the time, he was a key player in their races. 

Tuchen takes lessons from his time on this team to this day. Sitting in the rear, he was responsible for steering the team, building a strategy. 

“You can go for very short bursts of maybe 30 seconds or a minute” rowing your hardest, Tuchen says. “The question is when and how do you use those bursts?”  

Eventually the team started winning races by choosing their moment. At the halfway mark, the team would give it their best push. They could often push to the front, gaining a boat length or more, demoralizing other teams in the process.. 

Tuchen applied these skills to his first management opportunity, using the chance to creating belief and excitement, motivating people around a goal. 

Risk is a Privilege 

Tuchen’s father immigrated to America from Germany, with just a few dollars in his pocket. His scholarship held some constraints but ultimately led him to a job at AT&T – a company where he spent his entire career. 

"That completely changed his life, and created the opportuinity that I had," Tuchen says. 

Where his father could not afford to take many risks, Tuchen took plenty, knowing he had a stable family to support him. Now he appreciates what his father sacrificed so that he could have more options.