Salesforce and Workday CEOs on Leading in Crisis

Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff recently spoke with Workday Co-Founder and CEO Aneel Bhusri about how the role of big business is changing, and how its evolution must be rooted in values.

Julie Jares July 08, 2020
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At the midpoint of 2020, the global community continues to battle a health crisis, an economic crisis, and a social justice crisis. In the face of this upheaval and uncertainty, business leaders are focused on the actions they hope lead to positive change.

In a recent installment of a Salesforce series called "Leading Through Change," Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff spoke to Workday Co-Founder and CEO Aneel Bhusri about how the role of corporate America is changing, and how its evolution must be rooted in values.

“When I went to business school,” said Benioff, “it was always about the business of business is . . . business. But I believe the business of business is improving the state of the world. How do we use our companies as a platform for change?”

Bhusri agreed. “Companies can step up and show that we have a soul and we want to do the right thing. We all need to think about more than our share price. We’ve got to think about our community, our employees, and our customers in a far more complex way than we have historically.”

These two Bay Area leaders and friends talked about this time of change—in their own companies, their communities, and the world at large—and their hopes for the future. Comments have been edited for clarity.

Focusing on Social Justice

“Each of us has to look at our own house first,” said Benioff. “We have to create more allies inside our own organizations, develop more transparent reporting, and really look in-depth at our pipelines and promotions.” At Salesforce, said Benioff, they’re combining recruiting and equality under the oversight of the company’s chief equality officer, because company leaders realized these two areas needed to come together in order to make progress.

“We’re looking at our own people, our products, our purchasing, our public policy, even the public schools. We’re asking if we’re moving in the right direction with our philanthropy and our platforms,” said Benioff.

Bhusri is also putting Workday under the microscope. “I think companies like ours can step up and be forces for good and forces for change. What we're trying to do at Workday is not just do the right thing internally around equality and opportunity, but because we are an HR provider, we're working with our CHRO customers across the globe to give them the tools and techniques to improve their results as well. Every CHRO in the country I’ve talked to wants to do the right thing.”

“We have to create more allies inside our own organizations, develop more transparent reporting, and really look in-depth at our pipelines and promotions.”

Marc Benioff CEO, Salesforce

Reinventing Products, Skills

In addressing how technology companies can help get the economy going again, Bhusri said, “Innovation, new ideas, and creativity are going to help us get through this. For example, marrying the employee and skills data we have in Workday with Work.com makes reopening for our customers a lot easier because the data and solution sets are complementary and powerful.”

He added that he’s amazed at how quickly Workday customers are reinventing themselves to fit this new world using Workday technology. “A large manufacturer built an app on Workday to track COVID-19 cases and inform them where to move manufacturing capacity. A major retailer delivered more than a million one-time hazard paychecks to take care of their employees,” Bhusri said.

Bhusri also discussed the skills gap, a longstanding issue that COVID-19 has pushed to the forefront. There are 41 million people out of work (at the time of the webinar recording), and many of the jobs people once had aren't going to come back, said Bhusri. 

“Now, through private-public partnerships, we have a real opportunity to retrain millions of people and give them skills that are going to make them successful for the next decade. We're working with states to identify the hiring needs of their largest employers, while those governments invest in the training programs needed to reskill those workers,” he explained.

Changing the Conversation, and the Future

There’s nothing like a crisis, said Bhusri, to force you to lean on your core values. “If we lose this moment of opportunity, shame on all of us. I feel really energized right now because this is a time where the right conversations are happening. There has to be a major change in mindset. Great Place to Work CEO Michael Bush makes a great point—you’ve got to listen and understand, and then you’ve got to take action.”

Bhusri notes that it’s been a painful and difficult year, but he remains hopeful. ”We’ve learned a lot about how to deal with pandemics, and we'll learn a lot about how to be resilient. We will come out a stronger country in dealing with racism. It gives me hope we're taking on these issues and not being silent while trying to do the right thing. We're going to look back at this as one of the most meaningful times in our life.”

Watch Marc Benioff’s complete interview with Aneel Bhusri.

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