Few people know the enterprise-tech business as well as Workday cofounder and co-CEO Aneel Bhusri, so it was uplifting to hear him say that CEOs from across multiple industries are generally optimistic about the economy and remain fully committed to driving digital transformations.
In a 1:1 interview during the Workday AI/ML Innovation Summit last week — you can watch the full video here — Bhusri said, “I think there’s long-term optimism. We’re in a healthy business cycle, from an innovation perspective, and from a globalization perspective.
“In the short term, we’re all trying to figure out what’s actually going to happen with the economy: are we going to go into a recession or not? If we do, I think it’s going to be a mild recession. But there’s a good chance we don’t have a recess, and I’d put the odds are 50/50,” he said.
“It’s all about how these higher interest rates impact the economy. But I don’t see this as a COVID kind of shock to the system, or the global financial crisis of 2008-2009. I’ve been around long enough to know that this is, at worst, just a run-of-the-mill recession.
“And I think CEOs are still very committed to their digital transformation efforts.”
It’s a particularly interesting time for the universally respected Bhusri, who since co-founding Workday with Dave Duffield exactly 18 years ago has led the company to an annualized run rate of $7 billion and a market cap of $50 billion. With Workday in the thick of the AI/ML revolution and expecting to grow this year by 17% or 18%, Bhusri said it’s the ideal time for him to prepare to step down (up?) as co-CEO and become full-time executive chairman.
That transition will happen in February of 2024, as Workday kicks off its new fiscal year with co-CEO and board member Carl Eschenbach becoming the full-time CEO. (For more on that, please see Who Is Carl Eschenbach, and Why Is Workday Betting its Future on Him?)
While you can see our full 13-minute video here, I want to highlight two more observations from Bhusri: first on why customer CEOs are excited about AI and ML, and then on his thoughts about his next role at Workday.
The AI and ML boom
“If you talk to any CEO, talent is a Top 5 initiative. We’re transitioning from a job-based world to a skills-based world, and that’s a big transition,” Bhusri said.
“The other one is just being having better systems to not just look at what happened in the past, and in the present, but also in the future. And that really drives you towards AI and ML. And I see many CEOs already deploying those kinds of technologies in their core business: in insurance, it’s around claims processing; in banking, it’s fraud detection; and in manufacturing, it’s anomalies on the shop floor. And retail has been using AI for a long time for recommendations,” Bhusri said.
“But now it’s about bringing it into their business platforms like HR and finance. And we’re more than ready to help customers automate some drudgery type of work and also be a very powerful analytic assistant on the side to help make better decisions.”
Moving on up to Executive Chairman Next Year
“I’m thrilled that Carl’s on board,” said Bhusri, who earlier had said he’d been wooing Eschenbach for several years.
“I took Workday as far as I could operationally, and now we’re 6 billion in revenues with a pretty healthy market capitalization. Operationally, I needed to find and the company needed to find a successor, and I’m going to go back to being focused on products and technology as a full-time executive chair.
“I’m going back to my roots of when Dave and I started the company and I got to do the stuff I like to do, which is looking into the future and into what should Workday be building, and not worrying about the day-to-day operating issues, which I’m not so good at anyways.”
Bhusri concluded his thoughts about returning to his primary interest of product strategy with a light-hearted line — although I suspect there’s more than a grain of truth in it — that typifies the sort of person and leader he is, and why Workday during his run as CEO has been so successful and established such a powerful culture.
“So I like to tease Sayan [co-president of products and technology Sayan Chakraborty] that I’m going to be in his kitchen a lot more,” Bhusri said with a laugh. “Yeah, I’ll be spending a lot more time in Boulder where he’s based.
“Because you have to go out to where the big brains are — you don’t make them come to you.”
You can watch the full video interview here.
To hear more data modernization, AI/hyperautomation, cybersecurity, and growth strategies from CIO practitioners, tune into Acceleration Economy’s Digital CIO Summit, which takes place April 4-6. Register for the free event here.