Salesforce’s Bret Taylor talks digital transformation, remote work, and Slack

Bret Taylor, co-CEO of Salesforce, opened up about his views on the pressing issues of the tech industry in a Q/A session in a webinar with a group of select attendees last week.

Taylor began the session with some hard numbers on business. The company has the bullish goal of reaching US$50 billion in sales by 2026, double what it’s currently earning. Taylor appears confident about meeting that target, given the rising investment in technology across all industry sectors.

“We focus on the technology and products and say ‘what are the organizational structures we need to actually achieve, one plus one being equal to more than two?’ which is really the vision you have when you do an acquisition. And I think the proof is really in the results.”

Salesforce reached US$26.5 billion in revenue last year, a growth of over 25 per cent year over year, and is on track to US$32.1 billion this year, representing a 21 per cent growth.

Remote work, agility, and platforming

The great migration to remote work has highlighted the need for companies to be dynamic and adaptive, he observed. The role of the chief information officer has risen to prominence to help enable the right technologies for peak operations. Taylor underpinned agility as the biggest accelerant in a business’s digital transformation journey.

“CIOs now have a much more important seat at the table of executive teams and boards as digital technology defines all of our businesses. But with that power comes great responsibility to make the right long-term decisions,” said Taylor. “In the past two and a half years, we’ve had a global pandemic, a supply chain crisis, inflation, a labour crisis and the great resignation. Now it’s not only about projects, but about platforms; how can CIOs set up the platforms that they need for the next unforeseen event? And I think it’s a really mature way of looking at the technology.”

Salesforce co-CEO Bret Taylor.
Salesforce co-CEO Bret Taylor. Source: Salesforce

Planning for success on platforms invokes several advantages over siloed, singular projects. Platforms are technologies that are used to run and build other technologies. A platform’s modular architecture offers superior innovation, lower development times, and much higher scalability than a one-and-done solution. And whereas many products are closed and proprietary, many platforms are open and easier to maintain. It’s that flexibility and scalability that ultimately provides organizations with the agility they need to adapt.

On the great debate between in-person versus remote work, Taylor said that he’s heard a manifold of different ways his partners plan to structure their workplace.

“I think you’re gonna see a lot of innovation in the way companies approach work in the technology world,” he said. “You’re seeing a lot of companies start with no offices at all and invest solely in digital technologies. On the other hand, I’ve talked to a lot of executives who are grappling with the great resignation and the labour crisis in so many industries. And a lot of their theory is that the lack of human connection that we’ve developed in this pandemic is contributing to it, and just how important it is that we reconnect safely in this epidemic and leverage testing and vaccines and others so that we can actually reconnect and form those human relationships that are the foundation of healthy and thriving teams.”

During the pandemic, Salesforce has experienced a massive surge in headcount, partially due to its acquisition of Slack. Taylor said that the company now has over 75,000 employees, 30,000 of whom joined during the pandemic. Because of the shift to remote work, many of them have never stepped inside a Salesforce office or met their managers and coworkers in person. Now that restrictions are easing, Salesforce must decide on a good work structure to keep everyone happy.

“What people are craving are those moments of collaboration and those moments of creativity,” he said. “I think there’s a general perception that those creative collaborative moments are easier in person…and that’s really been our focus at Salesforce.”

The Salesforce CEO explained that the company has adopted a concept called flex team agreements, where teams create their own structures for flexible work, including the days they want to come into the office and the days they want to stay at home. They may also have no meetings one day and work over Slack.

“The policy we’ve taken is really recognizing that flexible work is more of a team decision than individual decision,” said Taylor.

The remote work culture has seeped into the hiring process as well. Taylor said that the employee’s location now holds much less weight in the hiring process. The company is open to hiring anyone where they are. This approach will open a broader range of talents from a broader range of cities.

“It was always silly that you had to fly out to Palo Alto and San Francisco to start a company when these digital technologies exist in the cloud. Why can’t companies exist everywhere on the globe?” Taylor noted. “I think this pandemic accelerated that trend, and I think it will be a positive trend for global entrepreneurship.”

How’s Slack doing?

A big question hangs in the air towards the end of the interview: what’s happening with Slack? Salesforce completed the acquisition of Slack on July 21 of last year for US$27.7 billion, marking a historical purchase for the company as it looks to pair the communication suite with its CRM offerings. On that topic, Taylor reiterated the power of adopting a platform rather than just a solution.

“Slack is going incredibly well!” he said. “It’s really exceeded all of our expectations, both on metrics like revenue, in which we exceeded our guidance–by my recollection–over $30 million, but also customer success stories.

Customers who use Slack know that the power of Slack really is in the power of the platform, that it really is a system of engagement that connects all the tools you use at your company.”

What’s Salesforce’s position on the conflict in Ukraine?

The conflict between Russia and Ukraine has seen heavy sanctions imposed by companies in various countries. Taylor said that although Salesforce doesn’t have a business in Russia, it has cut its relationships with the small number of customers in the region. The company has also sent aid to Ukraine, which includes $4 million in donations to nonprofits, as well as donating resources to refugees.

“Our bigger impact is in our focus on our humanitarian efforts,” he said.

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Tom Li
Tom Li
Telecommunication and consumer hardware are Tom's main beats at IT Business. He loves to talk about Canada's network infrastructure, semiconductor products, and of course, anything hot and new in the consumer technology space. You'll also occasionally see his name appended to articles on cloud, security, and SaaS-related news. If you're ever up for a lengthy discussion about the nuances of each of the above sectors or have an upcoming product that people will love, feel free to drop him a line at [email protected].

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