People.ai
marketing Legend

René Bonvanie of Palo Alto Networks

How many marketers do you know that defined a groundbreaking go-to-market strategy at one company and established another firm as the world leader in its category? Such legendary marketers are few and far between, which is why it pays to study René Bonvanie.

You might assume René carefully plotted a course from the start to make his mark at Oracle and then Palo Alto Networks — with stops at SAP and Salesforce.com in between. But even he couldn’t have imagined the fascinating journey his career would take him on. After all, he started as a DJ in Amsterdam…before coaching the Dutch men’s national field hockey team.

You plan it out, as if it were a video/movie production. Every beat is taken care of and you string the beats together. You make sure everyone is always on a high and there is never a dull moment.

If nothing else, René is determined. In between dropping needles on the latest albums by KC and the Sunshine Band, Earth Wind & Fire, and Chic, he was a top-ranked field hockey goalie. Seeing an opportunity to apply his leadership skills, he became head coach and helped the team win the national championship.

While those experiences might seem completely irrelevant in high tech, René built upon lessons learned in the DJ booth and on sports fields to fine-tune his marketing approach. He tapped into his ability while a DJ to tune into an audience’s energy and then harnessed it to great effect in the marketing world. Similarly, he called upon his coaching experience to cultivate chemistry on his marketing teams. “In taking my field hockey team to the nationals, I learned the importance of organization, long-term planning, team composition and encouragement.”

Lest you think René went straight from a national championship to Silicon Valley, know that he first earned a Bachelor’s degree in Economics – an experience that paved the way for his first tech career opportunity.

While an assistant to a professor in organizational sciences at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, René was asked to implement a relational database. “That project got me into the philosophy, math and technology behind relational databases, and helped me realize all you can do with data at the core.”

It also set the stage for René to cross over from mathematician to marketer and land his first marketing role. “I was already a storyteller and saw an opportunity for a different approach by combining storytelling with hardcore science. In other words, I saw marketing as an opportunity to turn science into an art form.”

For a closer look at René’s fascinating career and tremendous achievements – from the club scene and playing fields to the world of high tech – dive into this extended profile.

Download the full interview