Take 5 With Doug Robinson: A Solid Value System Makes Great Teams

While Doug Robinson didn’t reach his childhood dream of playing in the NFL, he brings his strong teamwork ethic to leading our global sales team here at Workday. Read how Robinson got his start in the business, what makes him excited about Workday’s future, and what he thinks makes our people so special.

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As a young boy in Ohio, Doug Robinson was certain of his path. He’d go to The Ohio State University to play football and then get drafted by his favorite National Football League team, the Cleveland Browns. It all seemed straightforward to 12-year-old Doug. 

However, just like the vast majority of us, the career path Doug had in mind as a child took a few twists and turns on the way to adulthood. While he did go to college in Ohio, it was at Ohio University. And instead of suiting up for the Browns when he graduated, Doug went to work as a financial analyst at a large bank. But it was shortly into this first job out of college that Doug’s curiosity about software sales was sparked. The rest, as they say, is history. 

Now, more than 25 years later, Doug has held a variety of sales leadership positions in enterprise software, with the last 11-plus years at Workday. During his time here, Doug, who took on the role of executive vice president of global sales in February 2021, has been instrumental in helping Workday address the varied needs of our now more than 8,000 customers around the world. 

We sat down with Doug recently to learn more about what turned him on to a career in sales, what gets him excited about Workday’s future, and what makes him tick as a person.

Let’s start back at the beginning—how did you end up in sales?

I studied finance and management information systems in college, so I decided to put that to use and started as a financial analyst at a large bank right after graduating. I was part of a team that was doing an implementation of an enterprise-wide forecasting and core banking system. It was a really technical role, and I realized, like I think a lot of people do at that point in their life, that I was misplaced in my first job. 

“We’re on a path to $10 billion in revenue. We’re not content to simply eke out a little bit of growth each year.”

Doug Robinson Executive Vice President, Global Sales Workday

But during that process, I got to know the sales executive who sold the software to my company. I was intrigued by his total command of the business issues my bank was dealing with, his ability to bring expert resources to the table, and the overall project itself. Seeing that really impressed me, and I wanted to learn more about the role and enterprise software in general. So I asked if I could take him out to lunch and ask him questions about his career and quickly realized that enterprise software sales was where I wanted to be. 

You made a few stops at other enterprise software companies before joining Workday in 2010 as a regional sales director. What was it that drew you to Workday?

I distinctly remember when Workday won Chiquita Brands and Flextronics as new customers in the company’s early days. Both are still customers today, but they were real market proof points at that time. And just seeing two large, successful companies make the move to Workday got me intellectually curious, so I started to reach out to people I knew at Workday. 

I remember thinking, “Boy, if I don’t get there soon, I’m going to miss out on this great opportunity.” And here we are 11 years later, and we’ve only scratched the surface of the opportunity in front of us. 

You’ve talked about how you believe Workday has the best sales team in enterprise software. Is there one thing you can point to that makes the team special? 

Being in sales for more than 25 years, I’ve seen lots of different sales teams. I’ve seen really effective ones and really ineffective ones. To me, what always bubbles to the top here at Workday, what makes us so effective, is the unencumbered way our people sell. And what I mean is that there is literally never a moment where your integrity is put into question. We never cut corners—integrity is always paramount. So when you are freed up to always do the right thing in terms of the customer and their employees, the results simply follow from that. And that’s a big reason why I believe our team is so special. 

The pandemic was extremely challenging for everyone. Were there any key learnings that you and your team had through it all that you believe will help you in the future?

As you might guess, I’ve had a lot of time to think about this over the last 18 months. Certainly, just like everybody, we were knocked on our heels a bit when the pandemic first hit. And as a result, I think we got really good, really quick, at applying a certain litmus test anytime we’d interact with a customer or prospective customer. Because we knew they were dealing with the same challenges we were as a company, so we’d ask ourselves: “Is this of critical business value to this customer or prospective customer, or will it only serve to frustrate?”

This helped us focus and apply an increased level of scrutiny to how we engage so that we bring real business value to each and every interaction. We’re a better sales force for having gone through that, and I see our teams around the globe continuing to apply this litmus test today. If we can get that to stick for the long haul, we’ll continue to be able to deliver an amazing experience for our customers. 

You mentioned earlier that you believe Workday is only scratching the surface of the opportunity in front of us. What excites you most about Workday’s future?

We’re on a path to $10 billion in revenue, which represents more than doubling the size of the company. We’re not content to simply eke out a little bit of growth each year. To me, it’s exciting to be part of a dynamic company daring to be great. We’re building something enduring here at Workday. 

“When you are freed up to always do the right thing in terms of the customer and their employees, the results simply follow from that.”

It also gets me excited when I go out and meet new salespeople and hear them articulate the value of Workday in a wholly new and innovative way that I haven’t heard before. You get to see what we’re doing here at Workday evolve, and evolve with new and diverse talent that is helping to take us in exciting new directions. I often tell our employees that the job they will have in two years likely doesn’t exist yet at Workday. That’s what it means to be part of a dynamic organization.  

What’s the best leadership advice you’ve ever received?

Never put a governor on human potential—especially when it comes to goal setting. Put a great team together with a solid value system, empower them, and then ask, “What can be achieved?” They’ll take the business farther than anything I might dream up.

OK, let’s wrap this up by bringing it back to (American) football, since I’m sure a few readers are fellow Cleveland Browns fans. Two-part question for you. What’s your favorite Cleveland Browns childhood memory? And second, since it’s safe to say the Browns have had their struggles over the last 20 years, how confident are you that they’ll win a Super Bowl during your lifetime?

The operative phrase there might be “a few fans.” My favorite memory was getting to meet Earnest Byner after a training camp practice in the mid-’80s. He was their starting running back and couldn’t have been more gracious and engaging.  

As for their Super Bowl chances in my lifetime? I am pretty focused on staying healthy—so I’m doing my part to give them the longest runway possible. And remember, never put a governor on human potential. I believe.

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