Mike Hanrahan is the GM of one of Walmart’s Store No. 8 projects, where he has worked for eight months. He was also the cofounder and CTO of Jet.com, an e-commerce company recently purchased by Walmart. Hailing from Wexford, Mike has been in New York for eight years with his wife and four children. He loves nothing more than spending time with his family and is passionate about all things tech and playing golf.
Tell us more about what you do and how you got there.
I am currently heading up an internal project under Walmart’s Store No. 8 innovation hub. It’s not a public project right now so I can’t say too much about it, but it’s typical of other Store No. 8 initiatives in that it’s looking at cutting edge technology and how it can be applied in a retail context. My role there is very much like being a CEO of a startup. I get to define the vision and strategy for the project and then figure out how to execute on it. For the most part this means hiring great people and giving them the latitude to operate.
I moved into my current role about six months after Walmart acquired Jet.com. I was one of the co-founders of Jet and was CTO of the company. We had a fantastic three years building Jet and it was a lot of fun and hard work. I learned a lot during that period, especially about how to build teams and operations to design and run very large-scale distributed platforms that are native to the public cloud.
Going way back, I worked in London for 14 years building risk and trading systems at a number of different banks, along with building a number of technology driven startups. While I have been a technologist for the last 20 years, I am a Chartered Accountant by training and am still a member of the Irish Institute of Chartered Accountants.
What do you enjoy most about what you do?
Walmart is really moving at the speed of a start-up right now so it’s a fun time to be running a Store No. 8 project. Meeting amazing people is the thing I enjoy the most, which is fortunate for me as it is the one thing that by far and away moves the needle more than anything else on our project. I get to interview and hire some of the best talent throughout the U.S. and also get to work alongside the amazing talent already sitting right across the company.
One of the things that comes with meeting such a diverse group of smart people is that you can learn so much. You end up learning things at both ends of the spectrum, from the strategic components like how to think about cutting edge tech in a retail context to the “in the weeds” components such as the technical nuance of different deep learning networks.
I also enjoy the room we are given to operate. While we are part of Walmart, nothing is mandated to us. We get access to the assets of Walmart and we can make our own decisions on how we operate, the technology we employ etc. To have that freedom is very empowering and really creates a “startup-like” environment on our project.
What advice would you give to Irish professionals moving to the U.S. for work?
We moved to the U.S. from the U.K. eight years ago, and while you might think both countries are very similar, it ended up being quite a culture shock. Health Care is one example. You really need to invest the time to understand how it works to ensure you get the best package from your employer and ultimately the best health care for your family. It sounds like a simple thing, but it can trip you up if you are not careful.
From a career perspective, my experience working in the U.S. is that you need to be at the top of your game if you want to standout and succeed.While everyone appreciates the value of team work, the market in general is quite competitive. You need to really understand what your skill set is and how it brings value to an organization. People treat their roles and skills in the U.S. much the same way world class athletes do. You should know what it takes to be the best at what you do, understand any gaps in your knowledge and skills and have a plan to close them.
You should always be trying to learn more about what you do, have an eye on companies and people who are excelling at what you do and have an opinion on what it takes to get better. This applies to anything you might end up doing, from data entry or working tables in a restaurant, to building and running big organizations.
Who was the biggest influence on your career?
Marc Lore has undoubtedly been the biggest influence on my career. I first worked with Marc more than 20 years ago when he was running a small risk management group at Credit Suisse in London. The energy, passion and desire to be the best at what we did there was inspirational.
I have worked for Marc at a number of different companies since and every time I see the same passion. One of the biggest lessons Marc taught me was about empowerment. He has allowed me the space to work as I want and has fantastic trust in people he hires to just get the job done. This is a quality I have rarely seen in other leaders and it really acts as a force multiplier.
Also, it sounds a bit of cliché, but my parents were a big influence on my career. They both worked extremely hard and although retired now, they were very entrepreneurial — although in those days it was just called being a small business owner!
If you had one piece of advice for yourself earlier in your career, what would it be?
The best piece of advice I could have given myself was that to succeed you can’t do it all on your own. Myself and a friend called Pat Phelan co-founded a number of startups in London in the early 2000s and every time we made the same mistake of not looking for outside investment. We tried to grow all of those businesses organically, which is nearly impossible to do in a very competitive marketplace.
I think we had the ideas, work ethic etc. to make some of those ideas successful if we had had enough capital. At the time we never really internalized the lesson that it was better to own 10% of a $10 million company than 100% of a $100,000 company!
What are your passions outside of work?
There are a lot things that interest me that I wish I could spend more time on. I love to read, love to play golf and pool, but in truth most of my free time is spent with the family. I have an amazing wife and four amazing children, so of course when you work long hours during the week you want to spend time with them at the weekend.
My wife is pretty outdoorsy and has the kids into soccer, skiing etc., while I am more of home bird, so I will play board games with the kids and try and teach them about computers and technology. One thing in particular I enjoy is sitting with the kids while they do 20 or 30 mins of math on Khan Academy. It really helps with their math skills and it’s something I can’t recommend enough to other parents….it’s free, easy to use and a great way to learn.
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