When Workday closes its fiscal year 2024 just over one year from now, for the first time in the company’s 18-year history, it will have a single CEO other than cofounders Dave Duffield and Aneel Bhusri.
So just who is newly named co-CEO and future sole CEO Carl Eschenbach, on whom Bhusri and Duffield and Workday’s board are betting so heavily in spite of the fact that Eschenbach’s never run a SaaS (software-as-a-service) company before?
It’s an essential question because on Feb. 1 of next year as Workday’s fiscal year begins and Eschenbach takes over as sole CEO, and Bhusri becomes executive chairman, Workday will almost certainly have eclipsed $7 billion in annual revenue as it handles HCM and Financial for many of the world’s largest corporations.
So first, a few quick highlights into Eschenbach’s sterling background that have been mentioned publicly since the announcement came out late last year, and then I’d like to share some verbatim comments from Eschenbach that reveal the character and soul of Workday’s future CEO.
- Carl Knows Scale. In his 14 years as a top exec at VMware — including stints as president, COO, EVP of global field operations, and acting CFO — the company’s revenue soared from $31 million to $7 billion, and its workforce from 200 to 20,000.
- Carl Knows Cloud Innovation. In part through his role as a partner at legendary VC firm Sequoia Capital, Eschenbach is on the boards of some of the highest-growth and most-innovative cloud companies in the world, including Snowflake (#9 on the Cloud Wars Top 10), UiPath, Palo Alto Networks, and Cohesity.
- Carl Knows Workday and its Market. Eschenbach has been on Workday’s board of directors since 2018, so he’s uniquely aware of the strategic opportunities and challenges for the company.
In the Workday press release announcing Eschenbach’s appointment to co-CEO and the company’s plans for him to become sole CEO just over a year from now, Eschenbach says, “I’ve long admired Workday and how it has redefined the enterprise software industry, with a focus on putting people at the center, a values-based approach to leadership, and a relentless focus on customer service and innovation…. “I’m thrilled to . . . help us build on this great momentum and take hold of the massive opportunity in front of us.”
A Deeper Look at Workday’s Future CEO
Beyond those top-level perspectives, I was intrigued by some personal thoughts from Eschenbach from the Sequoia website, and I’d like to share a few that I found to be most interesting.
- “When you change your life from one that is focused on success to living a life focused on significance, it’s amazing the impact you will have and what you get in return.”
- “My father, who I consider my mentor, worked at a dynamite factory, then started multiple businesses — we sold ice cream in the summers and Christmas trees in the winters. He was a hard-working man who taught me integrity, humility, and, most importantly, placing family first.”
- “I got a wrestling scholarship to a four-year college. But I saw my brother-in-law go to a technical school and start building a successful career, and I decided to switch to DeVry. That was a crucible moment for me. Without it, I never would have gotten into tech.”
- “After more than 25 years on airplanes, I wanted to be home for my kids’ high school years. When Jim Goetz first suggested Sequoia, I thought, ‘No way. I’m an operator, not a VC.’ But it’s been an amazing journey.”
- “When it comes to hiring, I focus on SKQs — skills, knowledge, and qualities. Founders need all three, but the first two can be taught, so I focus on the qualities. Do they have integrity? Do they care about others? Do they love being part of a team? Do they have drive, are they passionate? Are they resilient but flexible? These are things that typically can’t be taught.”
And from a different page on the Sequoia website:
- “Life is not a dress rehearsal. When you wake up and look in the mirror in the morning, you should ask yourself what you’re going to do that day to make yourself better — and by extension, the people around you.”
- “I believe complacency kills companies, and it can make you fall behind as a person, as well. You have to keep pushing yourself.”
- “Be contagious. Companies have a tendency to run at the pace of their leaders. If you don’t bring passion, enthusiasm and energy to the table as a founder, you’re already behind —because why would anyone else want to join you? But if you’re driven and responsive and you work hard, that energy will be contagious.”
- “I really believe the old saying that any day above ground is a great day…. Money and financial security can buy a lot of things, but they will never buy you time.”
One other thing to know about Carl Eschenbach is that I’d bet a year’s income to a cup of coffee that he and Aneel Bhusri are close friends. And I say that not just because they’ve been on the Workday board together for more than four years, but because being close friends is Bhusri’s #1 condition for making the co-CEO model work—and that’s how he and Eschenbach will be operating for the next 12-1/2 months.
Here’s Bhusri on the subject of the importance of co-CEOs to be close friends from an interview I did with Bhusri about two years ago in a piece called “While Oracle, SAP, and Salesforce Snub Co-CEO Model, Workday’s Loving It”:
“And much like Dave [co-founder and former co-CEO Dave Duffield] and I are very close friends, Chano [former co-CEO Chano Fernandez] and I are close friends as well. I get asked the question, ‘How do you make the co-CEO model work?’ Number one, friendship. Number two, you leave your ego at the door. We’re just not big-ego people and so we need to figure out what do we need to do to be successful as a company because we’re stewards of this company,” Bhusri said.
From this deeper look into who Carl Eschenbach is, I think Workday’s future is in very good hands.
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