Take 5 With Pete Schlampp: Taking Advantage of Inflection Points

We sit down with Workday's leaders to learn more about what makes them tick and get their perspective on the industry—in five questions, give or take. Read what Pete Schlampp, executive vice president of product development, has to say about why he left medical school and the huge opportunity for finance software.

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You could consider Pete Schlampp a serial “builder”—he’s built handfuls of products, three companies, dozens of teams, and, in his spare time, he’s pretty handy in the workshop with a metal lathe and a MIG welder. He has experience spanning startups and large enterprises, in the U.S. and abroad—which gives him the ability to spot disruption and get everyone on the same page about how to capitalize on it.

Joining through Workday’s acquisition of Platfora in 2016, Pete quickly made his mark through the development of Workday Prism Analytics, which became the fastest-growing product in Workday history. He stepped into his role as executive vice president of product development in December 2019, leading the team and supporting Workday customers through a critical year marked by the pandemic, widespread recognition of social injustice, and political change.

Despite his 20-plus-year career, he wasn’t always on the high-tech path. His desire to help people took him on a brief detour to medical school early on. But, as the internet age dawned, he saw an amazing opportunity to make a different sort of impact on people’s lives. He packed up his car, left medical school, and came to Silicon Valley to build products. After having a few doors slammed in his face in his early interviews, he persisted in following his dream of building products that can change people’s lives. 

Now he’s humbled by the opportunity to help people on the scale of Workday—used by 50 million workers around the world. We caught up with Pete to learn what he’s building now, and what’s next.

What’s one particularly memorable product you’ve helped to create?

At one of my first startups, we created the first email security appliance—a spam blocker—that leveraged a reputation score to flag if IP addresses could be trusted. It came to market as the industry was at a breaking point with email—99 out of 100 emails were spam. CEOs were saying, “I can’t use email anymore!” This technology changed everything.

That’s what I love about technology—you can look back at inflection points and see massive impact. Technology can make the world change overnight. This was one of those examples.

Your first year leading product development for Workday coincided with a worldwide pandemic and widespread recognition of social injustice issues. How did the environment shape product strategy?

Yes, it’s a year that brought a lot of lessons and insights. We sent our entire workforce to work from home just days before our first major product release of 2020. We did everything remotely for the first time with zero warning or prep time. That experience encapsulated what we faced the rest of the year: We had to move fast, make quick pivots, and do things we’ve never done before.

First, we pivoted our strategy to accelerate innovations needed to meet customers’ critical needs. We began offering packaged solutions that brought together facets of Workday’s enterprise management cloud to solve timely challenges. Our Vaccine Management offering, which helps organizations plan, track, and report vaccine status, was just one great example of a solution that went from concept to customers’ hands in a matter of weeks. And, we’ve empowered our customers and partners to build their own unique applications—such as return to work apps—by opening up our platform with Workday Extend

In addition, we’re investing in getting more real-time sentiment data into Workday with the acquisition of Peakon, so our customers can better understand how their employees are feeling and support them in both a hybrid work environment and a world where diversity and inclusion are more important than ever. Separately, but still related, we’re working on completely redefining the employee experience with our technology—not just the experience within Workday, but also thinking about how to bring our functionality into wherever people get work done, such as apps like Microsoft Teams and Slack.

Lastly, we sought to provide our finance customers more flexible ways to transform their operations. We know moving a core financial management system—the bedrock of a business—is a massive project and it can come with risk. We began offering customers new ways of using Workday that immediately provided advantages of the cloud, without having to rip and replace their whole system. And, being cloud-based, our customers found that they were able to close their books remotely—even if that wasn’t the original plan.

“That lesson, of being open to new experiences and working across teams and cultures to form something even better than you expected, is one that helps me today.”

Pete Schlampp Executive Vice President of Product Development Workday

What are some of the technical disruptions that are influencing how you’re thinking about building products?

There are many disruptive forces, but I always come back to data—it’s the foundation of it all. There’s so much opportunity to apply data science—in similar ways as the consumer tech world has—to enterprise data. Workday is the center of gravity for two of the most critical pieces of data, people and finance, and our customers trust us with it—so much so that they’ve asked us to be the hub for their operational data as well. We can use that data, in trusted ways, to delight our customers and deliver value through greater automation, a better conversational user interface, enhanced decision making, and so much more. We’re just scratching the surface.

What excites you about where Workday is headed?

We’re seeing a disruption of financial software moving to the cloud—much like we did with HR when Workday got started—and a groundswell of IT support for end-to-end cloud strategies. We will look back in three to five years and say this was the moment when all large companies moved finance to the cloud. CFOs woke up on April 1, 2020 and said, “we can’t do this anymore.” There’s a solution that will instantly solve their issues and it’s in the cloud.

Catching inflection points—or disruptions—that’s what excites me about our business today. We are well poised to lead this disruption, and we’d better not miss it. 

If you could have dinner with someone from the past or present who would it be and why?

It’s tough to choose. I’d have to say Gregg Popovich, the head coach and president of the National Basketball Association’s San Antonio Spurs. Yes, he has led the Spurs to an impressive winning record, but it’s not really about what he’s done, but how he’s done it. His players say he is the type of coach to give direct feedback in the moment and then, “love them to death.” That’s what everyone wants from their leader—to know where they stand and feel fully backed and supported. I aspire to lead this way.

What would you say is a defining leadership experience you’ve had?

Earlier in my career, I was asked to go to a development site in Bangalore, India to influence the team to work more like a “startup in Silicon Valley.” This was an incredibly misguided endeavor! I was at a large enterprise that had recently acquired the company where I was working. All my experience was from startups, which basically entailed a handful of people getting stuff done. It didn’t exactly work in a site of thousands of people with a complex organizational structure.

I had to learn how to work cross-functionally, and cross-culturally. I walked away with a huge appreciation for the team’s culture, the way they did things. And together, we built some new ways of working that have stood the test of time. That lesson, of being open to new experiences and working across teams and cultures to form something even better than you expected, is one that helps me today.

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