Pitaya sat down for lunch with Sagi Dudai, Senior VP of Engineering at Vonage, and GM of Vonage‘s Israeli R&D center in Israel, and it’s clear this company does something special in the way of investing in people. Vonage has over 1,800 employees across the globe, and it’s this sheer magnitude and success that leads us to be curious about maintaining an agile feel and a sense of family within a company so large. Sagi shared his experience and best practices for cultivating a strong internal team across geographies.
Name: Sagi Dudai
Current Position: Senior VP of Engineering & GM, Vonage
How did you get to where you are today? I started off in the army. I was recruited to the MAMRAM unity and served as a developer and a team leader in the intelligence corps. After the army (and a trip to Australia) I earned a Computer Science degree at Tel Aviv University. While I was a student I was a psychometric instructor but felt that it’s wasn’t my ultimate career.
So, once I graduated I started working at Mercury Interactive. 6 years later I moved to Telmap and then Fring (which was a very young and promising startup at the time.) During all those years I was promoted to various leadership positions in R&D, product and operations. I joined Vonage over 4 years ago and graduated with my IEMBA at Kellogg-Reccanati a few years ago as well.
“Excellence is key in every thing we do (at Vonage). We don’t just get stuff done. We get amazing things done and we do that beautifully.”
Tell us about your morning routine… I wake up around 6:30. First, it’s all about kids, kids, kids (I have 4) until 8:30 when I drop the younger ones off at kindergarten. Then, I usually have meetings either in or out of the office. I also try to jog one morning a week (and then again during the weekend).
What is the best thing on your desk right now and why is it there? Hmmmm….Its probably the medal. We were recently celebrating some patents that were issued by the U.S. patent and trademark office. We have this fun ceremony every couple of months where we award the inventors a plaque, a medal and a check 🙂
What is your favorite office lunch? We have a private chef in the office kitchen, and everything he cooks is awesome (well, almost everything :)). I particularly love his Thai food, and most specifically his chicken curry. I also LOVE his Sabih (fried eggplant)- which he usually makes for dinner.
We love the Vonage motto “the business of better.” What does that motto mean to you? Excellence is key in every thing we do. We don’t just get stuff done. We get amazing things done and we do that beautifully. It all starts from talent recruiting and retention. We hire the best and we let them flourish. We give them everything they need and we expect them to deliver the impossible. “A players really like to work with A players” – this is why the recruiting process is so important.
Vonage has over 1,800 employees worldwide. How do you create a feeling of community in the Israeli R&D office of 40 employees, many of whom work with counterparts abroad? People in the Israeli R&D center are very close to one another and this is one of the things we invest a lot in. As you know we have a relatively large HR team and keeping everyone close is one of our top priorities. Its starts from the recruiting process: “A players really like to work with A players” – its not only about working with your colleagues, but liking them enough to hang out with them and develop a relationship. One other very important factor in recruiting is the people’s character & DNA – we will never recruit someone who is not a good fit for the team no matter how smart he or she is. We also invest a great deal in team activities (happy hours, celebrations, hackathons, trips etc) . We even eat lunch together daily. In terms of goal-setting, we give our team a mission as their north star, and the only way they can meet that goal is to work together and collaborate as a team.
How do you achieve work life balance and how does your organization support it? It’s not easy when the R&D and product teams are spread across Raanana, London, New Jersey & San Fransisco. Still, we are all committed to work life balance and “people first” approach. There is no single formula for work life balance rather its a mindset. The teams are full-stack and self organized and its their goal to deliver on time while keeping work life balance. We don’t tell them exactly how to do it and we trust that flexibility will allow everyone to do their best work. Some teams achieve their goals differently than others, and that’s okay. Team work is key above all else. It works pretty well actually.
Personally, I have to be creative so for example I often go with my family to long weekends of camping in the desert where there’s no cell or wifi reception 🙂 I also get to spend more time with the family on Sundays, or when the US & Europe offices are closed on holidays that we don’t have in Israel.
What’s the most awesome activity you’ve done at your company, and why was it so great? We just did a 2 day trip in the desert. I LOVE the desert. We all stayed overnight, and the teams had a wonderful time disconnecting to connect to one another and the nature around us. The activities were great (camel riding, ״המרוץ למיליון״-תחרות בסגנון, סדנת תיפוף), the food was amazing and it’s all about the people. Sitting around the campfire late at night with the team was the best part.
We also have 24 hours straight hackathons which are really fun and always produce cool, unexpected, innovating stuff.
We’re grateful for Sagi’s interview and for the Vonage team inviting us to try their delicious office lunch in the communal company kitchen! If you want to nominate a company with awesome company culture for a Pitaya spotlight, please email firstname.lastname@example.org with a brief description & nomination.