“People ask me all the time ‘Why is it that everyone I meet from Virginia Tech is so passionate about the school?’ I tell them, you’d just have to go there to see for yourself.” That’s where it all started for Todd Headley who began his successful career right here at Virginia Tech where he earned a BS in Accounting in 1985.
Most recently, Todd was the Chief Financial Officer of Sourcefire, a Columbia, Maryland based cyber security company (NASDAQ: FIRE) from 2003 until it’s acquisition by Cisco (NASDAQ: CSCO) in October of 2013. Todd joined Sourcefire in 2003 when it had only 30 employees and $2M in annual revenue. Over the course of the next 10 years, Todd was instrumental in helping grow the business to over 700 people with nearly $300M in annual revenues. Sourcefire raised a total of $55M in four rounds of venture financing, completed a $93M IPO in 2007, made two technology acquisitions and was ultimately sold to Cisco for $2.7B.
From 1992-2003 Todd held key financial management positions in four Washington DC area, venture-backed, technology start-ups, each of which was ultimately acquired – Riverbed Technologies, Roadshow, BioNetrix and POMS. Todd has helped build and guide companies from their early stages through significant growth periods, and he has handled several M&A transactions, negotiated enterprise licenses and technology partnership arrangements and spear-headed international expansion. Currently Todd serves as a director at two privately held, security-minded companies: ZeroFOX and Phantom Cyber.
Aside from his professional roles, Todd is also a strong advocate of mentoring relationships and dedicates a great deal of his time to building these relationships with anyone who reaches out to him. “Mentoring is critical. I don’t believe a person should ever stop learning or growing, regardless of the professional position they’ve reached,” said Headley. In his own experience, mentorships have saved him a great deal of trouble along the way. Having a mentor on your team to point out the pitfalls that lie ahead is the proverbial crystal ball in your entrepreneurial toolkit. “It’s as simple as telling them ‘when you get to this obstacle, don’t panic. Here’s what I suggest you do.’” As a mentor, Todd says having a sense of humility is crucial. “You have to be able to understand their passion. Listen to someone articulate their goals and then figure out how your experiences can help them accomplish it.” To this today, Todd considers these relationships and the associations of people he keeps in touch with to be his greatest professional success.
Regardless of whether he’s mentoring a rising entrepreneur or acting as a sounding board for a seasoned CEO, Todd always encourages them to practice what he calls “The 3 P’s”: passion, persistence, and patience. “You’re going to need passion to weather the storm. You’re going to get told ‘no’ a lot or ‘I’m not interested.’ You need to turn the other cheek and persistently pursue your goals.” The third “P,” patience, goes without saying. Nothing happens overnight in the startup world and Todd’s experience at Sourcefire is a prime example of this. He laughs, “It took 11 years to become an overnight success. It was a tremendous amount of passion, perseverance and patience from the entire team that ultimately led to the company being acquired for such a big number.”
In talking to Todd it’s clear that regardless of these tremendous professional successes, he strives to put things in perspective, the secret fourth “P” in the formula for success. In reference to the Cisco acquisition, “It was a great moment in time, but life goes on and you’re on to the next thing. You have to try and not ride too much of a high. Don’t get ahead of yourself.” This kind of perspective also comes in handy when failure hits hard, and it will for most. Failures may seem insurmountable, but perspective is what will help you bounce back; and when you do, those failures will put your success into perspective. “Having failures makes success taste even sweeter, because you know just how much effort it actually took to succeed.”
If you ask Todd, he’ll say none of these successes would have been possible without the foundation he built during his time at Virginia Tech. “Virginia Tech is a very relaxed school with high academic standards. You can be whoever you want to be at Tech. It doesn’t matter where you were born, what your parents do for a living, what your skin color is or religious orientation may be. It’s what are you doing? What is your contribution? What positive difference can you make?” The opportunities and programs offered at Virginia Tech were a catalyst for Todd and led him to his first position in 1985 with Arthur Andersen where he worked for four years as a public accountant. “The way Tech was structured, the big accounting firms came to campus to recruit. This allowed me to find a job in my chosen major and it got my career off to a great start. I’d like to say a collective ‘thank-you’ to the university, the dean and the professors for that.” Whatever their passion may be, there is an outlet and an opportunity for students to pursue it at Virginia Tech. “There are no barriers. Nothing is off limits. You’re going to get a fair shot at Virginia Tech and you should go for it.”