An Interview with David Canellos, Axiad’s New CEO

February 22, 2024

Just yesterday, Axiad announced David Canellos as its new CEO. David has spent 20 years in cybersecurity leadership roles and is embarking on a new, exciting journey with the company. You can read more about his appointment in the press release. We recently interviewed David to dive in even deeper about his new position, his plans for Axiad in terms of strategy, market opportunity and culture, as well as what he enjoys doing outside the office.

Read on to learn more about his philosophy and upcoming plans for the company’s future.


The Career Journey

Tell us about your career from starting out as an engineer, moving to sales, and, ultimately, to cybersecurity leadership. 

I paid my own way through school as a coder and a programmer to earn both my undergraduate and my master’s degrees. Once I completed my master’s, I went out into the industry and worked at the Pentagon and a few other places, but ultimately, I very quickly realized that I was not “God’s gift to programming,” and it wasn’t the career for me. From there, I moved into a consulting role, then into a pre-sales engineering role, then into a sales role, a sales management role, and finally, to a general management role.


What initially attracted you to the cybersecurity industry? 

The pivotal moment in my career was at the end of 2003 when I just thought to myself, “I don’t want to do this anymore.” I thought about what inspires me. I had the realization that everything would be going digital, and then it hit me. Security has meaning for me. It has agency for me, and what I mean by that is, I thought about how important it is to protect the digital world since it can be a very dangerous place.

Traditionally, people view protecting the domains of land, air, sea, and space, but I view cybersecurity as the “fifth rail.” To me, this is a very critical domain and important industry, and the fact that we have companies like Axiad defending our digital world has meaning. In other words, the cybersecurity industry was a conscious career choice that had intention around it. This is more than just a job or a career for me – it’s a personal mission that I’m “all in” on. And so, once I had this realization, I was very fortunate to find the right company that allowed me to really learn on the job – and the rest, as they say, is history.

What’s one of the biggest obstacles you’ve overcome along the way?

I think the biggest obstacle that I’ve overcome is my leadership style. Early on in my career I was a control freak and a perfectionist… and honestly, some days that side of me still comes out. I’ve learned that letting go is best and it has served me well. If you are a perfectionist, you will fail. Perfection is the enemy of good.

I’ve also learned over the years to hire an A-team that you can trust across the board. Once that A-team is in place – and that’s everyone on your team across all departments, from engineering, sales, finance, etc. – empower them by adopting a model of servant leadership, which has now become a hallmark of my personal operating philosophy. This leadership style prioritizes the growth, well-being, and empowerment of employees.

Giving your team the power to say “yes” and make decisions because they have the data to do so, instead of holding them up, is extremely powerful and important. It’s also vital to let your team make mistakes because no one is perfect in business, or in life, for that matter. I make multiple decisions every day and I’d say if I get 80% right, that’s a good day.

What are your keys to success?

There are always three keys for success in the role as CEO: 1. making sure there’s money in the bank and staying liquid; 2. strategy and vision and executing against that; and 3. hiring a world-class leadership team and then cascading those types of hires throughout the organization.

At Axiad, we have great investors who are confident in the success of this company. I have a solid plan for strategy and vision that I will execute on. And then, as I mentioned, I think Axiad has a solid core team. However, we’re going to build the team out even further with diverse people from outside the authentication space that can bring fresh views to the company to help us enable an identity-first Zero Trust future for our customers.

Moving Axiad Forward

What do you hope to achieve as Axiad’s new CEO? 

I’m dedicated to fostering an environment at Axiad where everyone’s empowered, contributions are valued, and where the company’s employees collectively challenge themselves to reach their fullest potential. Ultimately, I want to empower the company’s employees to execute and deliver value to customers that are under attack from some of the most egregious breaches in our recent history.

At the end of the day, my philosophy about growing Axiad into an even more successful business is to know your employees first, customer second, and board of directors third. This is because happy employees lead to happy customers, which leads to happy investors and board members.


What do you think is Axiad’s biggest opportunity?

The identity security space is ripe for disruption. More than half of the cybersecurity spend last year went to five vendors: Microsoft, Palo Alto Networks, CrowdStrike, Zscaler, and Fortinet – none of which are in the identity security space. This is because the identity space remains fragmented.

Axiad can be a speedboat, with the ability to move much quicker and be nimbler than its tanker-like competitors in the identify and access management space. These competitors are going through tough times financially with layoffs, and many are being acquired by private equity firms, so there’s a big opportunity for Axiad to continue delivering innovative solutions that will make a big impact in the market.


How do you plan to evolve the company’s culture?

I can be the “chief culture officer,” but ultimately, we all are co-owners of the company culture. I define company culture as the behaviors we encourage and celebrate minus the behaviors that we don’t like but we still tolerate. A good company culture will incorporate a sense of urgency and accountability and include key traits such as respect, communication, and collaboration. With this strategy, Axiad can flourish.

This approach can be challenging to do with remote companies, like Axiad, that have many distributed teams across not only the U.S. in many different states, but also in Canada and India. To help bring everyone together, one tactic we’ve implemented already is the creation of the hashtag #OneAxiad, which symbolizes our desire to break down internal silos and to work together as a unified team.


What are you passionate about outside of work?

The old adage is that CEOs can do five things but they can only pick three. So, the three things for me, in this order, are: 1. Family 2. Work, and 3. Health. I’m passionate about all three of these areas of my life. I value and enjoy spending time with my wife, daughter, and two sons, plus playing with my two Goldendoodles. As I’ve mentioned, cybersecurity is my focus, and I find it both equally interesting and fun. This will be the fourth cybersecurity company that I’ve led, and I’m really looking forward to swinging for the fences at Axiad. In terms of my health, I eat healthy, work out, do yoga and meditation, and enjoy walking with my wife.

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