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In Case You Missed It: Lessons in Leadership with Dug Song

On Wednesday, March 31, Dug Song, chief strategy officer for Cisco Secure and co-founder of Duo Security, joined the Chamber to discuss his perspective on leading in a technology-forward world, and share lessons learned throughout his journey from entrepreneur to corporate success.


Duo Security was the first “unicorn,” or over billion-dollar valuation software company in Michigan, and the largest software acquisition in Michigan. Song shared some of the leadership lessons he learned as he sought to compete in a multi-million-dollar market, and what it took to become a competitor and leader.

Three things are needed to build an effective business:

  • A winning story and strategy: You must understand who you serve, why you serve, and how you serve. Have a clarity of focus and build a purpose to direct your employees.
  • The right team: Build a team that will be more creative and willing to fail but get up faster and learn from those failures. The right team starts with hiring, and for Duo Security the goal was to build a diverse team, who could solve problems from a variety of perspectives.
  • A superior execution: For Duo Security a superior execution involved engineering the business and encouraging risk taking to learn together as a team. Make sure every member of the team can work to the fullest and remove drama from the workplace.

“Fundamentally what defines us is that we are a learning organization. We’re not smarter, don’t have better resources. We don’t work longer or harder than any competitors,” said Song. “The real difference between our organization and all the others going after these same opportunities is that we learn together, faster, maybe more effectively, these new routes of success than our competitors.”

“When you take care of the team and the people, and make sure you have operational rhythm in what you do, the score takes care of itself,” said Song.

Hiring for Cultural Contribution

Building a successful team primarily depends on bringing together diverse and varied skillsets to widen the businesses’ toolbox. For Duo Security that meant looking for employees beyond the security industry.

“We spend a lot of time in interviews understanding why someone would want to be here…we have to understand what motivates them and map their interests and needs to ours. We need to understand their values as well, how they work in a team, how they treat each other,” said Song.

Removing Barriers to Brilliance

As a leader, Song enlists specific practices to remove barriers within an organization and build trust with employees, including:

  • No non-compete contracts.
  • 16-weeks of parental leave.
  • Full company-paid medical benefits.
  • Paid leave: MLA, paid bereavement, paid jury duty, paid military leave, etc.
  • PTO (and minimum days employees must take off in a year).

“For us, it’s always about the people and the work never the roles and the titles,” said Song.

Leadership and Racial Justice

Companies do not exist in a vacuum, so it is important for organizations to take meaningful action and support the communities that support them. Business can be a powerful force for good and can create wealth for the community, whether through economic justice, environmental sustainability, culture, or more.

“It is a deep responsibility for us as leaders in our organizations to speak out, and to represent those that we serve – which are not just our customers but our teams and employees too,” said Song.


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