Tech exec goes for passion, diversity, and innovation as she grows Austin-based company
by Mary Denny
"Lean into your super powers, build teams that complement each other, and go big!" That advice comes from Heather Brunner, a dynamic, passionately committed Austin business and community leader.
During her 25-year career in the technology industry, Heather has leap-frogged up the corporate ladder, landing leadership positions with companies ranging from large, global organizations such as Accenture and Oracle to small, hungry startups such as Bazaarvoice, which she helped grow into a publically traded company. In the process, she has managed a variety of business functions including marketing, finance, sales, business development, customer services, R&D, and technical operations.
"This experience has provided me with insight into how each of these disciplines need to work together to create success," she says, "and they have been instrumental in my journey to serving as CEO of WP Engine," a position she assumed in May 2013. WP Engine is an Austin-based company that provides managed WordPress hosting for mission critical sites around the world.
As CEO, Heather says, "It's my job to ensure we are building a compelling vision to seize our massive market opportunity, a culture that nourishes our employees, and a customer experience that creates vocal advocates." And Heather is very, very good at her job.
She is justifiably proud of building "an incredibly diverse, world-class executive team" that includes Austin's Best CFO (2015) and Austin's Best CTO (2014), according to the Austin Business Journal. With Heather at the helm, the team has led WP Engine to more than double year-over-year growth and secured $41.2 million in funding, enabling expansion into San Francisco, San Antonio, and London. Thanks to Heather's insistence on passionate, engaged employees and an emphasis on innovation and award-winning, 24/7 customer support, WP Engine was named the best place to work in Central Texas in 2014 by the Austin American Statesman and #2 by the Austin Business Journal. Last year, the Austin Business Journal named Heather the top medium-sized business CEO in Austin, "an incredible honor and a milestone in my career."
In addition to leading the WP Engine team, Heather is generous with her time and talent. She serves on a number of non-profit boards and is a mentor at Capital Factory, Austin's largest and most active technology startup incubator.
"It's a lot of fun to learn about great new business ideas being developed and leverage my experience to help others get traction with their new ventures," she says.
How does she do it all? "Working in a fast-paced, high- growth environment is like running a marathon," she explains. "You have to prepare, be tenacious, and pace yourself." Heather's pace is undoubtedly fast, but she stays grounded by focusing on her family— "my wonderful husband of 20 years" and two daughters, "the joy of my life"—staying active, and practicing yoga.
And then there's the Trinity influence. A fifth generation Texan who grew up in Houston, Heather chose Trinity after her parents took her to see Chekov's The Good Doctor at the Ruth Taylor Theater. "I knew then that Trinity was the right place for me," she says. As a student she loved the diversity of students and professors who "made my experience fun and widened my horizons as a person." Her fondest memories are representing her class as student senator for three years and being named Homecoming Queen in 1987. She will never forget the incredibly creative theme parties thrown by her friends in Thomas Hall. Professors Rich Butler (economics) and Donald Clark (history) were favorites who became trusted advisers. She also singles out then Dean of Student Activities Pete Neville, who taught her "invaluable team leadership and planning skills that I literally still draw on daily." But it was an opportunity to study International Economics at Cambridge University that changed the trajectory of her life and launched her on the path to the technology industry, where she has thrived in an environment of rapid change and a sense of helping create the future.
"I am tremendously blessed in so many ways," she acknowledges. "I aspire to lead a life with purpose, to go after big opportunities, and seek ways to contribute to the greater good. My hope is that via my actions, I can inspire others to do the same."