In an ever-expanding digital universe, Brad Rencher and his team at Adobe Systems Inc. navigate the Cloud like rocket men.
From sleek offices in Utah Valley, the digital marketing experts thrust themselves with gusto into a vast frontier rapidly evolving world of ideas and information.
Instead of wearing jetpacks, they tote sophisticated software, that captures nearly sixteen million digital transactions per second from five thousand companies around the globe. Their mission: to help businesses connect with online consumers in smarter, more personalized ways—all at dizzying speeds.
Since joining Adobe in 2008, Rencher has fostered and steered growth with a steady hand. A former Morgan Stanley banker who executed mergers and acquisitions in the tech sector, he drove the January 2012 acquisition of Efficient Frontier, which applies the kind of algorithmic trading used for hedge funds to buying advertisements in the digital realm.
That shiftfrom classic marketing to data modeling—is ushering in a new era in the industry. “The days of buying advertising and pushing your message over a lunch with a few people in New York are changing,” says Rencher, senior vice president and general manager of Digital Marketing, one of two global business units at Adobe.
That type of change excites Rencher, whose passion reverberates across a billion-dollar business. But he is also driven by devotion to family, faith, and personal development—the things that complement people’s professional ambitions and make them whole, he says.
What’s more, he has stored away life lessons from a wealth of personal experiences—serving a mission, attending college, meeting his wife, learning the banking business, and entering the technology sector. “Finding your calling can take time,” he adds.
Doing Hard Things
A little league coach and cyclist who logged three thousand miles last year, Rencher straddles the fence between geek and jock, but it wasn’t always so. The third of six children, he grew up in Centerville, Utah, a town where sandlot kids would point to the mountains as they stepped up to the plate, determined to hit a homer over the craggy peaks.
Like his childhood friends, Rencher dreamed of becoming a major league baseball player. He had an untouchable curveball. But as he entered his last years at Viewmont High School, the unthinkable happened.
“I didn’t get any better, and everyone else did,” he says.
It was 1989, and Rencher’s contemporary issues teacher—one of his favorites—pulled him aside and said, “Your future is not in sports. You have bigger things to do.” That was a turning point for Rencher.
A year later as a missionary in Korea, Rencher received a letter from his former basketball coach, Clyde Nelson, whose squad had just won the state championship. In recognition of Rencher’s contributions to the team, a piece of the basketball net from the winning game had been carefully tucked inside the envelope.
“That taught me that you can have an impact in lots of different types of organizations, and you don’t have to be the guy playing all the minutes or scoring all the points,” he says.
Foreign missionary work brought its own challenges. “In my family we have a saying: ‘Renchers do hard things,’” he says.
The opportunity to put the family motto to the test came while learning Korean. According to the Defense Language Institute of the United States Department of Defense, Korean ranks among the five most-difficult languages for a native English speaker to learn, alongside Arabic, Chinese, Pashto, and Japanese.
“To be a successful missionary, I felt strongly that I had to communicate—and communicate well,” Rencher says.
He gained inspiration from the Korean youth, who dedicate themselves to long hours of intense study, first at school and then through after-school academies focused on math, science, and languages. This work ethic is what Rencher believes has transformed Korea into the economic juggernaut that it is today—a nation with more high-speed broadband access than any other place on earth. It’s also what helped transform him into a successful Korean speaker and missionary.
After his mission, Rencher followed in the footsteps of his father, a BYU business school alumnus, by enrolling at Brigham Young University. There he majored in finance and minored in organizational behavior, a pairing that helped him understand both the numbers side and the people side of business.
“I learned pretty quickly that if you’re going to exceed expectations, you have to put in the time. There’s no shortcut. I got to know the night watchman at the library pretty well,” he says.
A Marketing Revolution
In the fifteen years since Rencher graduated from BYU, he’s witnessed how the internet has drastically changed the way people communicate and consume information.
“All of us have what we call a digital self—a collection of all of the signals we send out online—and those signals define us,” Rencher says.
Companies from Sprint to American Eagle Outfitters rely on Adobe technology to capture those signals, based on the interests and activities that people willingly share online. Then they transform data into personalized experiences that inspire customers to act. It’s part predictive, part reactive, Rencher says, but it’s all data driven.
The topic was part of a recent keynote address at Adobe’s digital marketing summit in Salt Lake City, where Rencher shared the stage with executives from Facebook, Viacom, and The Huffington Post. Clad in a black cardigan and dark-rimmed glasses, he emerged in front of giant screens that shimmered like the aurora borealis; faced the four thousand marketers, publishers, and advertisers in the auditorium; and asked, “Can you read our signals? Can you map our patterns? Can you actually learn the small things that bring meaning to our lives and delight us? If you can do that, it will change everything.”
For Adobe, business is booming as chief marketing officers around the world look to do just that—harness new technologies to better drive their businesses. Based in San Jose, California, Adobe experienced a record year in 2011, achieving $4.2 billion in gross revenue and 11 percent year-over-year growth.
About three-quarters of that revenue funneled through Digital Media, maker of the Adobe Creative Suite software. The remainder flowed through Digital Marketing, developer of the Adobe Digital Marketing Suite. Under Rencher’s leadership, this arm of the company is now its fastest growing.
Road to Adobe
While at BYU, Rencher met his future wife, Sara, who had sold his father a gift at a ZCMI department store in downtown Salt Lake City.
“It was not an arranged marriage,” Rencher jokes, “but my father set us up. He said, ‘You’ve got to come meet your future wife.’” Rencher resisted at first, but he was instantly smitten when he finally saw her—hard at work, helping a customer.
The couple married in 1998, and Rencher began working for a small investment bank in Minneapolis—a job he says he landed by flying all over the country, beating down doors, and saying, “You can work me really hard.”
It was during the fast-paced, high-tech years of the dot-com bubble. Microsoft had just released Windows 98, a successor to its groundbreaking Windows 95 operating system, and Corel had just purchased WordPerfect—developed at BYU—from Novell.
In Rencher’s experience, the big firms in New York were too distracted to learn the needs of budding web-based companies. His was a boutique firm that orchestrated mergers and acquisitions for tech clients. Rencher began to develop a niche—and his family.
In 2004 the Renchers moved to Evanston, Illinois, a leafy Chicago suburb on the shore of Lake Michigan, where Rencher earned an MBA at Northwestern University. He was introduced to successful entrepreneurs and executives from around the world. They inspired him.
“These people are really just like you and me,” Rencher says, “but they encompass what I call the ‘why not us?’ mentality, that if someone is going to change the world, then why not us? That’s when I started to think bigger about what was possible for me and my family.”
Empowered with management skills and a new vision, Rencher joined investment firm Morgan Stanley in Silicon Valley, where he continued to work with technology clients until one of them, an Orem-based web analytics company called Omniture, recruited him. The move to Utah gave Rencher the opportunity to work on the people side of a business and help others drive innovation, even after Adobe bought the company in 2008. It also gave him more time with Sara and their three children.
“My father taught me early on that the way to balance a career and a family is to dive into some of the things that your kids are doing,” says Rencher, who now coaches baseball and basketball, just as his father did.
That balance is something he encourages at Adobe, which employs more than 9,700 people around the world. Close to home, a new office will open this fall for 1,100 workers near the Point of the Mountain, between Utah Valley and Salt Lake Valley, with inspiring views of Utah Lake and Mt. Timpanogos. Like the company itself, the building is collaborative, creative, and cutting edge. It links to a light-rail system and bike trails—great news for Adobe’s cycling team.
“I love technology. I love what it brings and the innovation that it drives in our lives, and I believe that it is changing the world—how we communicate, how we connect with our families and friends, and how productive a person can be, both in his or her personal and professional lives,” Rencher says.
At the same time, he says, there’s no substitute for being present—as a manager, husband, father, and coach. “It’s the small things that make a difference,” he adds.
In the digital revolution, that might be the most revolutionary idea yet.
Article written by Bremen Leak
Photography by Bradley Slade
About the Author
Bremen Leak studied journalism at BYU before joining BusinessWeek in 2005. He now works for Johns Hopkins University, splitting his time between Washington, D.C., and Africa—where there’s always a good story to be found.