Welcome to the Workday Rising Daily! Every day during our annual customer conference this week, we’ll post a daily news report on what happened at Workday Rising. Today you’ll get highlights from our Kickoff Keynote with Andre Agassi and Soledad O’Brien, and recaps of executive sessions that took place on Monday.
Tennis star Andre Agassi started his inspirational Kickoff Keynote discussion at Workday Rising by paying homage to the city that came together in the face of tragedy one year ago.
Journalist Soledad O’Brien, who interviewed Agassi onstage, noted he was a Las Vegas native and mentioned the just-announced $1 million Workday endowment to a University of Nevada, Las Vegas mental health clinic that has been providing critical mental health services to many people in Las Vegas following last year’s events.
“I don’t think there was a person who lives in this city who wasn’t personally affected,” said Agassi. “Las Vegas is the best city in the world to live, but most people don’t know it yet. It’s an incredible city because it was born in the middle of the desert. It has its culture just like New York City has its culture, but here it’s pretty simple: If you dream it, you can do it. That’s how we roll.”
O’Brien also asked him about going from being the No. 1 ranked tennis player in the world to No. 141 in the space of two years and then climbing back to No. 1.
He started by reminding the crowd that outside validation rarely equals happiness. The first time he was ranked No. 1, a friend called to tell him the news. “And I was like, I’m number one. Wow. I don’t feel like it. . . .That moment was the start of a demise in my life.”
He came to realize that he’d never been in the driver’s seat of his own life; driven to tennis fame by a demanding father, he was always a passenger. Then, after watching a news segment about how limited educational opportunities for disadvantaged youths can set off a long chain of bad consequences, he realized he wasn’t the only young person who didn’t get to make their own choices. Agassi decided he wanted to make a difference, which led to the founding of the Andre Agassi Foundation for Education. An estimated $185 million raised has helped fund 81 charter schools that boast highly successful graduation rates, according to Agassi.
“The best part about the second half of my career is it had nothing to do with me,” he explained. “And funny enough, when that transition happened, I started to take it in and enjoy tennis.”
Winning three NBA championships in four years has taught Golden State Warriors General Manager Bob Myers a lot about building a winning team. Speaking to a gathering of executives at Workday Rising, Myers distilled culture down to a few simple values, including valuing relationships, betting on people, and taking ownership of both your failures and your successes.
Myers explained how his own career is a series of steps tied together by relationships he’s made along the way. “One interaction can help you—or hurt you—five years from now,” he said. Moving from a sports agent to assistant general manager at the Warriors came about due to a former colleague’s recommendation. As general manager, he’s brought that same focus on relationships to how he’s built the organization. “You’re betting on people. Everybody’s fun when you’re winning. I try to figure out who someone is in their worst moment,” said Myers.
Myers also talked about how culture is something that’s lived. He shared the story of how in 2015, the Warriors’ new coach, Steve Kerr, asked Andre Iguodala to give up his position in the starting line-up and come off the bench. As Myers put it, “That’s the equivalent of someone saying, ‘I know you’re an SVP, but we’re going to make you a director.’”
Iguodala filled that role all season until he famously was asked to start in game four of the 2015 NBA Finals. The Warriors went on to win the championship. Said Myers, “Andre told everyone all season, ‘This is what coach wants.’ And then he ends up winning the Finals MVP. That’s culture.”
In the past 20 years, global professional services firm Aon Corporation has acquired more than 500 companies. Christa Davies, executive vice president and chief financial officer at Aon (and a Workday board member), said that all those acquisitions have highlighted the importance of company culture.
“What we’ve learned about culture is that you need to learn about and know a company before acquiring them,” Davies said in a conversation with Phil Wilmington, vice chair at Workday, in a gathering with executives. “If it isn’t a good culture fit, you can lose talent,” she added.
“It is hard to fit that culture map into your due diligence,” Davies acknowledged, “but finding that out well before the acquisition dance has been more successful for us.”
Aon has also worked hard to make everyone proud of working there. “We’ve invested a lot to help our people think at an Aon level instead of ‘these are my systems and these are my countries,’” she said. “The most important thing is culture and being an Aon company first.”
(For more on how Aon has managed the complexity of growth through acquisitions, read, “Solving Global Business Challenges with Workday: Q&A with Aon’s VP of Finance Solutions.”)
David Eagleman, a Stanford neuroscientist and internationally bestselling author, told an auditorium full of business leaders that the single biggest thing they could do to unlock creativity in their personal and professional lives is simple, but hard: Do things differently.
“When you come up with an answer to a problem, don’t stop there, come up with a number of answers. That’s how you become more creative.”
If you’re not sure where to start, the author of “The Runaway Species: How human creativity remade the world,” suggested people can begin by trying a different route to work (something Eagleman tries to do every day), or putting your watch on your other hand. Something as seemingly basic as that, he said, knocks our thinking out of a sort of self-induced hypnosis.
“Our brains take the path of least resistance, which is good for surviving this long as a species, but it’s not good for creativity within our companies,” he said. “What we all need to do in our lives and in our businesses is challenge ourselves. When you challenge yourself to build something new, that builds new pathways in your brain and more connections between pathways.”
On a business level, he cited research that supports the idea that more vibrant, fun offices actually do inspire more creativity. He said Thomas Edison made it mandatory for inventors working for him to not just come up with one solution, but a number of solutions to every problem.
“When you come up with an answer to a problem, don’t stop there, come up with a number of answers. That’s how you become more creative,” he said.
There’s a big skills gap in the U.S., and business leaders can help close that gap by opening up more opportunities to youths from diverse backgrounds, said Jay Banfield, chief innovation officer at Year Up, to a room full of executives at Workday Rising.
That includes people who are excited to learn and work hard but may not have a four-year degree. “You need to reassess positions in your business—is it a position required to be filled by someone straight out of college?” Banfield asked.
Year Up has successfully placed thousands of youths aged 18 to 24 at companies across the country—in everything from quality assurance jobs to creative positions. “When people are really hungry for an opportunity, they can be some of your best people,” he said, and encouraged attendees to join the Opportunity Onramps movement.
Banfield hosted a panel featuring three young professionals who have succeeded through the Year Up program: Jason Coullette, vice president at Bank of America; Kyontae Williams, compliance and audit manager at Salesforce; and Nabil Sheikh, information security incident manager at Workday.
The panelists discussed how through Year Up they were able to grow into successful professional careers that at an earlier point in their lives didn’t seem possible. Another added benefit, they said, is they’ve taken their stories of success back to their communities, helping others see that success is possible with passion, commitment, and hard work.
Read more onsite reports from Workday Rising: “Workday Rising Daily: News Highlights from Innovation Keynote,” “Workday Rising Daily: The Culture Imperative,” and “Workday Rising Daily: Going Even Further Together.”