Journey To Saas-Y Salesforce

Arundhati Bhattacharya, Salesforce India's chairperson and CEO, shares her success mantra of becoming a techie from a banker

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If  you can be anything, be a learner, says Arundhati Bhattacharya, Salesforce India's chairperson and chief executive officer. “I think the first and foremost thing in life is to put your ego aside and become a learner.”

Salesforce

When she was first approached by Salesforce, she was very dismissive of the opportunity. “Are you sure that you want somebody like me? Have you really and truly found out whether this is what is required?” were her words.

Fast forward, as the CEO of Salesforce India she shares her journey. “I already had a pretty good non-executive portfolio but when I found they were very serious about it, I visited SalesForce Towers in San Francisco on their invitation. There I met Marc Benioff, the founder. Marc had given me a book and I was really impressed by the values he had put in there. For instance, there is one story where he lobbies and fights to pay more taxes as these were to be used to depress the homeless situation in San Francisco. This truly moved me. Having seen the corporate, I know that not one of them is willing to pay tax, let alone the concept of more taxes.”

Besides, the equality drive in SalesForce also had an impact on her. “Till date, the company has spent $16.2 million in ensuring pay parity. Obviously this is a company that is living by its values so that was one thing that helped me make the decision.”

She is a woman who is always enticed by challenges. In her career of 40 years, she  experimented with more than 12-13 job roles. “I was in retail, corporate, treasury, I was opening new businesses, I headed investment banking, I was in charge of HR. I did a large number of portfolios. I travelled across North, East, South, West of India and I went abroad. There was a change of locale, there was a change of role, there was a change of everything so you know the company managed to keep me interested and challenged and  I kept learning all the time.”

Over time, she realized that the future is going to be dependent on having a really good IT and digital backbone. “IT is something that is absolutely required. Here I was being offered the wing side seat into one of the most innovative IT companies so that was a big lure. So, I decided to reinvent myself. Salesforce put me through more than 11 interviews.  I thought let me see if I can do something different.”

With a career spanning over four decades this former SBI Chairperson, who is also the recipient of many awards, says that leadership and management style needs to change as required. “As you change places, your style too has to change. For every single position your management style does need to change. The pitfall is when you stick to a style that has worked for you previously.”

“One thing I  should stop immediately, is quoting my previous institution at the drop of a hat. I still do it and I’m sure it bugs the hell out of all my current colleagues. They don’t want to hear all of my stories that I did there, here or everywhere. It is very difficult to stop because you feel that example may probably enable you to make your point but you have to do a lot of learning. The way you did things earlier and the way you will do now are different.”

Talking about the digital world, she lists out the pros and cons. “While the digital platform has enabled us in many ways and made us more efficient, what it has taken away is that personal touch, the person getting to know you and therefore, what could be achieved in one meeting you probably need three meetings. When I’m pitching to a client, when I see his body language, I’m able to understand whether I should go down this path or not. Now, it is very difficult to understand as it becomes very time consuming.” 

It’s not only work but she is also very focused about her work life balance. “As soon as my work is over, I’m available to my people at home. Sometimes, I’m available even in the middle of the day.”

Sharing her success mantra she says we need to  keep people  excited for the challenges that we have prepped. “It is not always the question of money. Money does play a big part but there are things which money cannot do. Everybody has several buttons that need to be pushed. It’s like hitting the right button. It’s all about learning and growing.”