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The Race for Innovation - An interview with the President and CRO at Salesforce: Part One

We speak to Gavin Patterson, President and Chief Revenue Officer at Salesforce and the former CEO of BT Group PLC, on economic bounce back, company culture and the future of work.

Michael Drew, Partner and Global Head of Odgers Berndtson Executive Search’s Global Technology Practice continues the
At home interview 
series with Gavin Patterson, President and Chief Revenue Officer at Salesforce.
Watch the entire series: CEOs At Home 

With the latest optimistic economic predictions recently announced, what's your view on the economic bounce back and how can businesses prepare for growth?

Gavin: Well, we've just closed our Q1 and it's been an absolutely stellar quarter, certainly the best Q1 in the company's history. If I look at every cloud, and look at every geography, it has been strong. Even the fact that the country is coming out of the pandemic isn't a hugely distinguishing factor.

Companies are investing, and organisations are investing, they’re realising that if they don't have a digital strategy, they don't have a strategy at all.

They're recognising that this is a discontinuity in the way we live and work, and the way we're governed, and the way we're educated. As such, if they don't invest coming out of this cycle, they're going to be found wanting at the other end. It's pretty consistent across the piece.

Mike: Is it a race for innovation in that sense now?

Gavin: Yes, I think it is. What I see and indeed hear from customers, is that time to value is really important.

Gone are the days when decisions around digital transformation projects took years to get to. These decisions are now being made in months, or in many cases often weeks, sometimes days, in fact, but the quid pro quo is they want results now. If you're looking at a payback of over 12 months, then that's not going to be good enough.

So, time to value, seeing the benefits generated along the way is absolutely key. To do that, the transformations need to be as standard as possible, using standard best practice configuration rather than customization of the software. When our customers are doing that, they're seeing the results and seeing the results quickly.

Mike: Technology has been a business enabler during the pandemic without question. Through the conversations that you are having with your customers, particularly the CEOs, what's keeping them up at night? What are the areas of technology they're most inclined to invest in over the next 12-24 months?

Gavin: Well, I think the threat around cyber continues to be top of mind not just for the CEO, but for the Board, and that is an evolving threat that is continuing to mutate and create more challenges.

Over and above that, it's all about digital transformation. It's all about rethinking the business through a digital lens. Am I going fast enough? Is the market changing in a way that is going to leave me disadvantaged or not prepared? Are there new competitors that are coming in without the legacy cost structures, or the legacy systems, or the legacy cultures that are going to be more fleet of foot?

I would say, of my 30-year career, I've never seen a period like this before. As we emerge from the pandemic over the next few quarters and the next few years, I think the landscape could look fundamentally different.

Mike: Absolutely. What's your view on the future of work and where does Salesforce stand on this topic?

Gavin: Well, we're there to help our customers achieve what they want to achieve. We call this success from anywhere. We're there to serve our customers, those who want to revert more to a traditional or a historic way of working. We're also there to help customers who want to learn from the experience of the last 12 months and change the way they work, and become more of a hybrid model going forwards. I think we can adapt, we can be flexible, and serve our customers however they want to be served, however, how they want to serve their own customers is really at the forefront of our thinking.

With respect to our own business, we won't be snapping back to the same model that we had before. We've learned enough in the last 12 months to realize that, actually, a hybrid model with the majority of people either not going into the office at all, or going in two or three days a week is the most likely scenario in terms of the way we work going forward. We aim to ensure that colleagues across the business are able to collaborate and work together, but also, that they're able to learn the culture is one of the biggest challenges.

About 16,000 people have joined Salesforce in the last 12 months out of a working population of 60,000. It's regenerating and increasing its scale very rapidly. It's a very strong culture, a very tribal culture in many ways, that you've really got to buy into it and feel that you can do your best work in.

One of the biggest challenges is how do you ensure that people feel part of that culture and feel inspired by it when they're not seeing colleagues face-to-face? That is probably the biggest challenge I'm facing at the moment.

Mike: I was thinking about the Salesforce Ohana culture. You've just returned from the US, of course, and lots of people think about the positives that come from flexible working, but there are some negatives as well. If you take learning, for example, there's a real danger that the younger generation, who've learned so much through osmosis, they'll miss out on some of that experience completely if you're remote almost 100% of the time. What's your view on that, and how can Salesforce avoid that scenario?

Gavin: Well, I think you make a very good point. In terms of the mix of in the office versus working remotely, I think it won't be the same for all. What I see is some of the newer, younger members of the Ohana, those who are entering the business, quite frankly, they will be coming together in an office environment more, maybe three, four, even five times a week because that's part of the way they learn the business. As you're more experienced and perhaps spending time with bigger customers, actually, maybe that makes changes.

I think the other dimension is one that I've had some experience of over the last six months. As a leadership team, Marc (Founder and CEO of Salesforce) has been getting us together once a quarter in a completely safe environment in Hawaii, where we can meet outside, as there's very little, if any COVID there. We are tested every day, and we form a bubble.

Every time we've come together as a team, I think we've all come away with a sense of how important it is to ensure that you have that regular contact. Even if you are predominantly a remote worker, the Salesforce view is that you will continue to come together but perhaps in a different way.

Perhaps you'll come together maybe once a month, once a quarter for a longer period of time to work together in your teams and replenish the relationships that are absolutely fundamental to the way you work. It's a way of keeping the best of both worlds.

I can see that working, I've certainly experienced that firsthand myself and there's no doubt about it. Face-to-face meetings are absolutely critical to certain types of business, certain points in the business process and will continue to be part of how we do business in the future.

Mike: Absolutely agree. That concludes part one but do look out for part two, found here.

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