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Running away from home taught Atlassian exec Simons a valuable skill

| Saturday, March 10, 2018, 2:51 p.m.
Jay Simons, president of Atlassian, is seen in the company's offices in San Francisco on Tuesday, June 9, 2015. (John Green/Bay Area News Group/TNS)
Jay Simons, president of Atlassian, is seen in the company's offices in San Francisco on Tuesday, June 9, 2015. (John Green/Bay Area News Group/TNS)

Jay Simons, 45, is the president of Atlassian, the enterprise software company that went public in 2015 and has since doubled its market value to more than $12 billion.

In his 10 years at the company, he has risen from vice president of sales and marketing to overseeing all revenue-generating activities such as operations, marketing and customer retention. Australia-based Atlassian has offices in five countries. Simons runs the San Francisco office.

Never quit

Growing up in Aberdeen, Wash., Simons said his parents never pressured him to pursue any particular career. But his mother, an aquatic director at the YMCA, had one rule: If he opted into something, he wasn't allowed to quit.

He started piano lessons at age 4, and when his mom wouldn't let him quit around age 10, he decided to run away from home. “I got picked up by the local sheriff, and he called my mom, and I asked my mom to come get me. She said, ‘Do you promise that you're going to practice?' And I was like, ‘No, I don't want to play piano.' So she said, ‘Then you can stay there,' and then she hung up. I remember the sheriff asking, ‘What did she say?' and I was like, ‘She hung up.' ”

Decades later, Simons admits his mom was on to something.

Music abroad

As someone who cares deeply about the environment, Simons aspired to be an environmental lawyer. He studied political science and environmental science at the University of Washington in Seattle while working at a law firm. On the side, he played piano at bars and restaurants for beer money. Before heading to law school, though, a partner at the law firm advised him to take a year off. At 22, Simons had only known Washington, and it was as good a time as any to travel.

After hearing Simons play at a bar, an agent who books musicians for cruise ships gave Simons his business card.

“So I called him and he said, ‘I've got this opportunity in Yangon, Myanmar, that starts in three weeks. Can you do it?' ” Simons said.

He decided to go.

Be interdisciplinary

When Simons returned to the States in 2000, he got an entry-level sales job at a software company called Plumtree.

In his post-piano career, Simons has only worked at two companies: Plumtree and Atlassian. His mom's rule might have something to do with it.

“When the going gets tough, you don't get going,” Simons said. “You stick it out, you press and you struggle through it. I persisted and leaned in when things got tough instead of popping over to the next best thing.”

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