Workday CEO: 10 Powerful Business Leadership Lessons

Workday CEO: 10 Powerful Business Leadership Lessons
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If the problem you're solving is not hard, it's not worth doing. - Aneel Bhusri, CEO of Workday

In 2005, two longtime friends and software visionaries Dave Duffield and Aneel Bhusri decided to form a cloud-based finance and human resources startup. Duffield had founded PeopleSoft in 1987, where Bhusri served as senior vice president of product strategy. The result of their 2005 collaboration was Workday. Today, Workday's enterprise applications for finance and HR are disrupting the global software industry, servicing some of the largest companies in the world, including my company Salesforce. Today, more than 1,000 organizations, including Fortune 50 enterprises, are Workday customers.

Dave Duffield and Aneel Bhusri - Founders of Workday, 2005

Ray Wang, bestselling author and CEO and founder of Constellation Research, and I invited Aneel Bhusri to our weekly show DisrupTV to discuss business, leadership lessons learned during his incredible journey, as well as emerging and highly disruptive technologies in the financial and talent management industry.

Aneel Bhusri is co-founder and chief executive officer at Workday. Aneel has been a leader, product visionary, and innovator in the enterprise software industry for more than 20 years. In addition to his role at Workday, Aneel serves on the boards of Intel, Cloudera, Okta, and Pure Storage. Aneel is also an advisory partner at Greylock, a leading venture capital firm that he has been associated with since 1999.

1. You cannot replace luck and timing

From a startup to a highly successful company with a 98% customer satisfaction score, Workday has been a great success story. Bhusri and his team have a consumer internet mindset that drives the management and innovation philosophy at Workday. The same leadership guiding principles that led to Bhusri's success as a successful venture capitalists at Greylock are employed at Workday.

"You can't replace luck and timing. With Workday our timing was perfect. We started in 2005 right as cloud computing was beginning to take off. Salesforce had really established this new business model and so we were very lucky that way," said Bhusri. Hard working entrepreneurs who adopt a beginner's mindset and are intellectually curious tend to be more lucky and at the right time and right place.

2. Find a good mentor

Bhusri advises entrepreneurs to find a great mentor. "I found a great mentor early on in my career, Dave Duffield - a legendary software innovator, great individual and a wonderful leader and human being," said Bhusri. Bhusri also embraces reverse mentoring, where he purposefully connects with younger employees at Workday, customers and business partners to help better guide Workday's innovation vision and company strategy.

3. If the problem you' are solving is not hard, then it's not worth doing

"You don't see a lot of great companies built on easy problems to solve. In many cases you see a startup and people say, 'wow, that looks too hard of a problem to solve' and that's when I say go do it because that is where real opportunities get created. If you are successful, you are not going to find a whole bunch of competitors chasing you because you are solving a real hard problem," said Bhusri.

4. Listen to your customers

"Our very simple philosophy is that we really take care of our employees and they take care of our customers. Every employee at Workday thinks about how they are going to help customers be successful. It is a simple formula but a lot of companies go out and they don't listen to their customers, they don't try to solve hard problems, making it tougher for themselves to create a great business," said Bhusri. Dave Duffield and Bhusri genuinely love collaborating with customers. Both also are very employee centric. Duffield and Bhusri interviewed the first 500 employees at Workday. They didn't interview the candidates for their skills, they were looking for good cultural fit, customer focus, and being good team players. Then Duffield and Bhusri let the first 500 Workday employees hire the next 5,000 employees.

5. Your culture is your brand

"There's a lot that I've learned by watching how Marc Benioff and Salesforce build a great company around being tight with customers and have those customers be strong advocates for Salesforce. I think that's the new way of doing business in enterprise software. The beauty of the cloud model is that it brings you closer to your customers and that customer intimacy is mutually beneficial for both customer and company," said Bhusri. Workday is a true cloud provider and so customers are using the same version which leads to a great amount of transparency and sharing is far greater than legacy, on premise solutions.

6. Business leaders value analytics and reporting

Workday just finished their second quarter and the results shared with Wall Street demonstrated the second-biggest quarter of selling financial services - the same phenomenon that Workday saw in HR is now in finances. There are several factors according to Bhusri, namely analytics and reporting. Getting accounting done is a commodity. CFOs are looking for better analytics. Workday is delivering unified planning and transaction capabilities that can only be delivered using a true multi-tenant cloud architecture. Finance is looking for real value and they want better analysis and reporting.

7. All applications must be intelligent applications

"The next wave of cloud adoption is about taking advantage of all the data companies are collecting to make better decisions. Machine learning allows businesses to analyze massive amounts of data and find nuggets of insights to help leaders make better decisions," said Bhusri. Workday's first machine learning algorithm is talent insights, an application that predicts which of your top performers would stay or leave your company in the next 12 months with better than 90% accuracy. Machine learning can also assist in areas of career path and succession planning. Today, some of the largest banking clients of Workday are using their machine learning applications to career path their employees. Smart companies are using data to make predictions and to stay ahead of their competition.

8. Strong innovation velocity requires a true cloud

Many of today's tech companies are 'cloudish' and not really cloud, according to Bhusri. To keep up with today's innovation velocity, companies must adopt true multi-tenancy cloud technologies and architectures. You cannot write new powerful machine learning algorithms against data-sets if the systems are not running the same exact version of the software configured - a true cloud model. The companies that are doing this right are Amazon, Google, Salesforce and Workday and that's why we are able to keep up with the pace of innovation," said Bhusri.

9. Leadership diversity and succession planning are key to success

Workday is growth and success is all about their company culture and people. Bhusri believes that to cultivate a culture that celebrates diversity means having a proactive process that is focused on leadership succession and building the next generation of leaders. Duffield and Bhusri started this very early at Workday with the goal of creating a multi-generational leadership opportunity to build a great company by mapping and executing succession across the entire company. Great companies are always identifying the next set of great leaders.

10. Charity and mentoring is in the DNA of great companies

Bhusri values mentoring his employees and giving back to the community. Bhursi is also very welcoming and accessible, seeking feedback from all stakeholders. Millennials give Bhusri a lot of reverse mentoring, as he believes that the only way to stay on top of technologies is to hang out with younger people, a lesson he learned from Dave Duffield.

"At the end of the day, we are all part of a community. Giving back at the Workday Foundation is just recognizing that and being part of a broader community. We are just a small piece of the community. We have been very fortunate and our growth and success is largely due to our community. The most exciting part about the Workday Foundation is that our employees actually drive where we give and they really drive the giving. Our employees get personally involved. It is fabulous when your hire the right people, with the right value system, and they want to give back and they push us to give back," said Bhusri.

Bhusri is a legendary entrepreneur, venture capitalist and CEO. He is also a passionate collaborator, mentor and listener. Duffield and Bhusri are passionate about building a company with happy employees who work hard to ensure their customer's success. I encourage you to follow Aneel Bhusri on Twitter at @aneelb. Ray and I also spoke with two extraordinary HR experts and thought leaders Steve Boese and Holger Mueller and asked them to share their views on emerging talent management and future of work trend. To learn more about HR innovation and industry trends, please watch the video above for Boese and Mueller's valuable insights.

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