Corey Thomas, five-year Chief Executive at Boston-based cybersecurity company Rapid7, secured his spot the old fashioned way, working up the corporate ladder with hard work and a steadfast commitment to his goals.
The tech executive, who successfully led his organization through its initial public offering in 2015, grew up in a humble household situated in a working-class suburb of Atlanta. From a young age, the son of an electrician and a school district secretary had a love for building things, always repairing knick knacks laying around the house and using his imagination to design something new. He landed his first job at age 12 as the assistant janitor at a set of local churches in his community.
At Vanderbilt, Thomas doubled majored in electrical engineering and computer science. Securing a major milestone as the only individual in his immediate family to attend college, he wasn’t raised with the privilege of financial security. “If I could sit behind a desk and make $60,000 a year, the world would be awesome,” the multi-million-dollar CEO remembers telling himself in high school. In 2016, his total compensation amounted to about $3.3 million.
Under the management of the 41-year-old tech executive, Rapid7 has roughly tripled its revenues, up 42% year-over-year in 2016 to $157.4 million. As cyber breaches have continued to hit global headlines in the recent period, 17-year-old Rapid7 has benefited from a boom in spending on enterprise security budgets.
Thomas attributes much of his success to the influence of his mother, who pushed him against his will to go to a magnet school instead of pursing a vocational track. The CEO also praises the many mentors he has encountered along the way who have counseled him on being a leader.
After two years working at Deloitte Consulting, he received his MBA from Harvard, graduating with the top 5% of his class as a Baker Scholar. It was at Deloitte where Thomas realized his passion for the tech field, telling Medium in an interview, “I recognized that computers have endless limits, and no rules, and this has carried throughout the entirety of my career.” Thomas spent some time at Microsoft and a Seattle-based startup, wherein he twice accepted pay cuts in order to learn skills to become a better leader.
As an underrepresented African American at the top of the corporate ranks, when asked if he has faced discrimination, Thomas prefers not to think about it in that way. “The answer is no,” he told the Boston Globe in an interview. “If you asked the other way, Have I felt people didn’t want to work with me or gave me a hard time? Yes, absolutely.” Thomas has chosen to learn from setbacks instead of letting them bring him down. “I just thought of those obstacles to drive around or drive harder. It’s how you process things.”
Thomas drew from the resilience of his grandfather, who he says had a “very simple attitude” on the subject. “Racism exists, and so you just got to decide if that is going to stop you from what you are going to do,” he used to say.
Considering the fact that just over a dozen black executives have ever made it to the Chairman or CEO position of a Fortune 500 company, Thomas serves as an example and inspiration for a major segment America’s aspiring professionals, demonstrating that anyone can achieve their dreams with enough resolve and hard-earned stamina.
The tech CEO, who enjoys playing the ukulele with his son, (although he contends that he is not very good at it), was brought on at Rapid7 in 2008 as a sales chief, later transitioning to the role of Chief Operating Officer. In 2012, he was instated as CEO of the security data and analytics company. Thomas humbly suggests, “they could have gotten a professional CEO, who had been there, done that. But they gave me a shot as first-time CEO.”
The CEO indicates that one of the most crucial functions of his leadership position lies within recruiting and developing talent. “How can you have a strong company if it’s not fortified with premier talent from the ground up?” Thomas suggests that, “finding the perfect balance between employees that allow us to compete in a saturated market and those that embody the company culture we foster here at Rapid7 is the ultimate goal.”
The CEO believes in giving everyone, even the littlest person the company, a chance for their moment in the spotlight. “You never know someone’s potential unless you give them the opportunity to live up to it.”