Take 5 With Rich Sauer: Leading With Trust and Empathy

In this edition of Take 5, we talked to Rich Sauer, our chief legal officer and head of corporate affairs. Rich discusses his leadership philosophy and workplace values, his involvement in our employee belonging councils, and a passion of his after hours: renovating a century-old house.

Rich Sauer is open to change. Serving as chief legal officer and head of corporate affairs at Workday, Rich has managed his career with a willingness to take on new opportunities—across cultures and geographies—with empathy, enthusiasm, and curiosity. 

Growing up, he had his sights set on working on Capitol Hill in Washington D.C. After receiving his bachelor’s degree, Rich took a role working for a member of Congress in his home state of Ohio, where he helped local residents navigate government complexities, such as aiding military veterans lost in the system to secure Veterans Administration health-related benefits. 

Rich’s dream of working on the Hill came true: He transferred to the Ohio representative’s D.C. office to be a legislative aide, while also pursuing his law degree at American University’s Washington College of Law at night. After law school, he joined a firm where Microsoft was a client, and after building a rapport with the Microsoft team, he was offered an in-house position in Seattle. 

In his 20 years at Microsoft, Rich built a reputation as someone who could take on different roles and quickly figure out how to succeed. During his tenure, he served as a litigator in Seattle, moved to Singapore to run a regional legal and government affairs team, and returned to Seattle where he led Microsoft’s regulatory affairs team. Next, he took on a role leading Microsoft’s international legal and government affairs, and then a governance role related to artificial intelligence (AI) and ethics.

We connected with Rich to learn more about why he decided to join Workday in 2019, his leadership philosophy, his workplace values, and how he’s supporting a bright future for Workday.

“Trust is the key ingredient for creating high-impact teams.”

Rich Sauer Chief Legal Officer and Head of Corporate Affairs Workday

Can you share more about your journey to Workday?

In year 19 at Microsoft, I moved into yet another new role focused on AI ethics. It was a great opportunity, but I thought, if I’m going to start from scratch again and spend the next year ramping up in a new role, maybe it’s time to do that someplace else? While I valued my time at Microsoft, I decided to explore outside opportunities. I tapped into my network, and that’s when Workday popped up.

I knew a bit about Workday, and what I knew was good. I did my research, and as I saw article after article about the exceptional Workday company culture, my interest grew. Then what sealed it for me was the people. I had a chance during my interviews to meet most of the executive leadership team and some members of the Workday board. Without exception, I came away from each encounter thinking, “Wow, that person was super impressive, incredibly smart, down to earth, and genuinely humble—I would love to work alongside them!” That’s when I decided to join Workday.

As I reflect back on the interview process and what I perceived Workday’s culture to be, I’m happy to report that Workday walks the talk, including commitment to core values and philosophy that happy employees equal happy customers.

What’s the best leadership advice you’ve received, and what leadership qualities do you appreciate in your colleagues?

Early in my career, I went from being an individual contributor to leading a team of more than 50, so I relied on guidance from my people leader who said, “hire great people, create a climate of trust where employees can be their best selves, and trust them to do the job you hired them to do.” Since then, I’ve viewed trust as the key ingredient for creating high-impact teams.

I like to think of trust as the grease that makes all the gears move much more easily. For example, information freely flows, silos fall away, difficult conversations are easier to have if you’ve created an environment where people trust each other, have each other’s backs, and operate as one team. 

The challenges of the pandemic have confirmed the importance of creating a foundation of trust and an empowered working environment. We went from a team dynamic where many of us were in the office every day, to an environment where none of us were in the office for over two years. It’s been challenging and, not surprisingly, harder to build trusted relationships in a remote working environment, but it’s still possible.  

Now as the pandemic subsides, we’ll bring people back together for what we’re calling “moments that matter.” I’m looking forward to reaccelerating our trust-building efforts with in-person gatherings, and more opportunities for people to get to know each other, open up, be transparent, and be even a little vulnerable with each other as we take on a hybrid work environment. 

How does the work of the legal, compliance, and corporate affairs team fit within the broader mission of Workday?

When I think about my team and our contributions to Workday’s success, the opportunities ahead for us feel unbounded. From inception, Workday has earned customers’ trust by making ironclad commitments to secure their data and protect their privacy. That remains as true today as it was 17 years ago. 

Today, the world has become more complicated and the regulatory environment is experiencing rapid changes and expansive regulation that cuts across nearly every facet of my team’s work: privacy, cybersecurity, competition law, environmental-social-governance, trade and export controls, AI/ML [machine learning] regulation, and accessibility. Fortunately, my team is an amazing group of professionals who work to understand these regulations, forecast and shape where they are going, and advise Workday on not just what we must do to comply, but on what Workday can create to help our customers meet their own compliance obligations.

“Workday really walks the talk when it comes to our focus on culture, our commitment to core values, and our belief that happy employees equal happy customers.”

Can you talk about your involvement with our employee belonging councils (EBCs) at Workday?

A few months ago, I had the privilege of being named as the executive sponsor for the People With Disabilities EBC. As an advocate for this community, my role is to amplify the voice of the EBC membership within Workday’s leadership ranks. This includes elevating the needs of our employees with disabilities or the employees who are caregivers as we evaluate our return-to-office plans and future work models. For example, some employees with mobility challenges have shared that not having to commute during the pandemic has been world changing for them. They’ve expressed a desire to get reconnected and have shared that they’re more productive when working more of the time from home than in the office. We’re emphasizing flexibility as we return to the office, so our people managers have the tools they need to support these requests and to find the right balance for each employee. 

In my short time in the executive sponsor role, the learning has been incredible, both personally and professionally. From a business perspective, I hear firsthand how we’re improving our technology to make Workday more accessible for people with disabilities. For instance, I connected with our accessibility and inclusive products team who presented on all they accomplished in 2021 in terms of creating more accessible technology and addressing customer accessibility needs while sharing the latest insights from useability studies. 

I also had a chance to moderate a companywide session that featured an expert in neurodiversity who is doing amazing things to increase hiring and long-term retention rates for autistic individuals seeking careers in all types of professions. In August last year, we also hired a neurodiverse compliance professional on our team who has become actively engaged in the People With Disabilities EBC. So I’m learning a ton, having a blast, and I hope I can give back as much to the community as I am getting from being part of it.  

If you weren’t an executive at Workday, what would you be doing, and why?

I don’t have a lot of your typical hobbies, so I can’t say that I’d be off golfing at some championship course or fishing in some exotic location. I need to be busy. Because I’m in the midst of a substantial renovation of a century-old house, what comes to mind is that if I weren’t a Workday executive, I’d likely be wearing a hard hat and overseeing the work to shore-up foundations, add shear walls, and make other improvements to ensure the house will be standing for at least another 100 years.

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