Turnitin CEO Chris Caren: “Here Are 5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became a CEO

Carly Martinetti
Jan 20 · 4 min read

Start working on culture day one. Culture change is challenging: it’s hard work and takes time…often years. Get started on culture right away because it’s an ongoing process. The best and fastest way to shift the culture from my experience is to bring in new people that fit the model, and aggressively coach the opposite type of person up or out.


Today I had the pleasure of interviewing Chris Caren. Chris joined Turnitin in 2009 as Chief Executive Officer. Chris led the transition of Turnitin from a company focused on plagiarism prevention to one that provides solutions that promote academic integrity, streamline grading and feedback, and improve outcomes across educational levels and content areas. Chris previously worked for Microsoft Corporation as GM of Microsoft Business Solutions. Although his career has focused on software businesses, he comes from a family of scientists and educators. He holds an MBA with distinction from Kellogg Business School and a bachelor of science in engineering from Stanford University.


Thank you so much for joining us Chris! What is it about the position of CEO or executive that most attracted you to it?

As a CEO, I am able to make a significant shift in the education landscape. In the case of Turnitin, we inspire educators to be better at teaching and we give them the tools to become better teachers and mentors. Being able to see this dramatic large-scale shift is really only possible when you’re lucky enough to be in this position.

In just a few words can you explain what an executive does that is different from the responsibilities of the other leaders?

I have to be able to see the entire picture of how a change in structure or staffing or product development supports the larger goals of the company. An executive has to learn to focus on big goals. For Turnitin, our focus is on teaching so I have to be able to separate myself from the minutiae to keep the entire company working toward the goal of advancing teaching and learning.

What is the one thing that you enjoy most about being an executive?

It is immensely rewarding to see individuals succeed and stretch their boundaries and to see teams form, collaborate and achieve. But I also really value family life, so being able to make decisions that support people being with their families and supporting that growth gives me great satisfaction.

In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful executive and what type of person should avoid aspiring to be an executive?

People who have scalable leadership often make successful executives — that is, people who actively want to grow, want to learn and seek out responsibility. Whereas people who know a great deal about one thing and one thing only may struggle. Good executives understand the company’s diverse goals and functions and can survive and thrive and lead in any of them.

How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

Yes. First, that’s what our company is about. We exist at the core of education, empowering teachers and assisting students. When our partners are better, the world is better. And that shows up in our work, as a place of cultural transformation where people become a lot more ambitious about what the company can accomplish and are consequently hyper-motivated to excel and achieve not just for the company but for themselves.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why?

Authority Magazine

Leadership Lessons from Authorities in Business, Film, Sports and Tech. Authority Mag is devoted primarily to sharing interesting feature interviews of people who are authorities in their industry. We use interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable.

Carly Martinetti

Written by

2x pet tech founder, publicist, writer, and dog mom. I love learning about what makes CEOs tick.

Authority Magazine

Leadership Lessons from Authorities in Business, Film, Sports and Tech. Authority Mag is devoted primarily to sharing interesting feature interviews of people who are authorities in their industry. We use interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable.

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