Pay It Forward: A Tech Chairman Steps Down to Ramp Up His Giving, With a Focus on Mentorship

A city Corps member in a public school. photo: City Year

A city Corps member in a public school. photo: City Year

In the new year, Keith Krach will step down as chairman of Docusign. As he moves on to the next phase of his career, Krach says he will focus increasingly on giving back and paying forward the support that allowed him to flourish.

A recent $1 million gift from Krach and his wife Metta to City Year, a nonprofit that places AmeriCorps volunteers in underserved schools as mentors, provides insight into the sort of work the couple is likely to support as they get more involved in giving back.

At 61, Krach has played a pivotal role in scaling several major businesses. Back in the 1990s, he started the Rasna Corporation, which designed software for mechanical engineering. The company sold for $500 million in 1995. Next, Krach launched Ariba, an online service to make business procurement processes faster. Krach left the company in 2001. It later sold for $4.3 billion.

Since 2012, Krach has served as chairman of DocuSign, which makes technology to sign documents securely online. After five years at the helm, Krach will step down as chairman on January 1. Philanthropy promises to be a big focus for him moving forward.  

“I think we’re at a place in life where it’s really time to give back and pay it forward,” Krach said during a recent interview with Inside Philanthropy.

The Krachs have a family foundation run by a full-time staffer. In the past, their gifts have included grants to New Story, a nonprofit that builds houses in impoverished neighborhoods internationally. The couple also serve on the boards of a number of charities. Metta Krach serves on the board of the Bay Area Discovery Museum, where she works to advance STEM education opportunities.

Going forward, mentorship and molding the next generation of leaders will be a big focus of their philanthropic work, Krach said. His passion for education, mentorship and leadership training are on full view with his gift to City Year.

“What City Year does is it goes into high-risk schools, and it’s typically third grade through the ninth grade, so they get them during those transition years,” Krach said. “The AmeriCorps members go into these schools, and they’re not like teaching assistants; they’re really mentors.

“It was like a perfect storm for Metta and me, in terms of focusing on young people, focusing on education, focusing on mentorship and focusing on transformational leadership,” Krach said of City Year.

“The thing that I loved about it was it’s kind of a 60-60 deal, so to speak. The young students—their lives are changed forever,” he said. “You hear the teachers rave. You hear the principals rave. You hear the superintendents of schools rave about how City Year comes in and changes it, and really helps these guys.”

It’s not just the kids whose lives change, according to Krach. “But the other thing too, is for the AmeriCorps members, for these mentors, boy, they get the best one year of not only giving back, but also of leadership training,” he said. “They go off to do great things in society, whether it’s in education, whether it’s in the public sector, the nonprofit sector, the business sector. I just love that kind of 60-60 deal.”

Krach has also supported the organization through Docusign’s corporate giving and employee match program. Michael Brown, the CEO and co-founder of City Year, serves on Docusign’s Impact Foundation advisory board.

The Krachs’ $1 million gift to City Year will allow the organization’s San Jose and Silicon Valley branch to reach about 1,000 students at 12 elementary and middle schools through afterschool programs focused on teaching science, technology, engineering, the arts and math. The grant will also fund a team of school-based AmeriCorps members, including opportunities for professional development.

Krach’s zeal for the influence a good mentor comes from his own experience, when he moved out West to break into the tech world.

Krach started his career at General Motors, where he was responsible for the company’s partnership with Fanuc, a robotics company that now manufactures Apple and Tesla products. Krach became one of the youngest vice presidents in GM’s history, but left his promising corporate career in favor of pursuing work among the startups in Silicon Valley.

“I look at my career after General Motors. I came out and, my God, I just had so many great mentors,” Krach said. One of those mentors was John Chambers, the former CEO of Cisco Systems, the tech giant.

“He was saying, you know, ‘Keith, you can ask me any question, any question you like.’ Which I did,” Krach said. “And about a year into it, I said, ‘Why? Why are you doing this for me?’”

Krach said Chambers told him that when he first came out to California, another CEO had done the same for him. “And so he goes,” Krach says, “‘Keith, I don’t ask for anything in return. I just ask that you mentor the next guy and pay it forward.’”

Mentoring the “next guy” will be the focus of Krach’s second—or third, depending on who’s counting—act. In addition to his support for City Year, Krach plans to start the Virtual Mentor Network. He hopes to nurture the next generation of leaders through a free, online mentoring network that will connect young people with leaders in various fields.

The idea is that it would allow exceptional people to connect with mentees at a much bigger scale. City Year’s Michael Brown participated as a mentor in the network’s pilot program. The goal is to create what Krach calls “transformational leaders.”

“My definition of that is someone who challenges the status quo and mobilizes and unifies people to achieve a noble cause that will leave a profound and lasting impact,” he said.

“I think now more than ever, we need great transformational leaders, because if you look at the rate of change out there, we need principled leaders to make sure the new world is a better world for all,” Krach said. “These days, problems are more complex, more interconnected. We need leaders who can envision solutions to new challenges. The world has become more fractured and divided. We need leaders who can inspire and unify.”

“I think given those mounting challenges, the world needs everyone to lead in a transformational way. I really believe the fastest way to build that is through mentorship.”