Meet Renzo Taal. He's a passionate innovator who also happens to lead Enterprise Sales for Salesforce in the Asia Pacific region. During this interview, you'll learn what inspires him, lessons he's learned throughout his career, and how putting people first has been key to his success as a leader.
Although I'm a Dutch national, I spent 10-12 years of my childhood in Asia; in Indonesia and Malaysia. From a career perspective, I got my MBA in the Netherlands and then worked for a European strategic consulting company for two years right after I graduated in the 2000s. From there, I moved to Dell where I spent nine years (38 quarters to be exact!) and had the opportunity to work in three different countries — Belgium, China, and the United States.
In 2012, I had the opportunity to take on a completely different role for Philips. This included being the business owner for their CRM (customer relationship management) implementation, which was very exciting for me. This experience has been critical to my success as a leader at Salesforce because I've been on the other side of the table as a potential customer, evaluating what type of technology would help us (Philips) get an extended view of our customer and gain more insights.
I've been a Salesforce user since 2008 when I was at Dell and we were told that we would be implementing Salesforce. My reaction was, “Salesforce who?”. Of course, that's completely changed, but at the time it was a pretty revolutionary decision. The platform looked very different 10 years ago, but I saw what the technology could do and this was a big driver for me at Philips to consider (and eventually choose) Salesforce as our transformation platform.
The transformational project I was running at Philips was ending, and I really wanted to get back to IT and technology. When I considered where I wanted to go next, my main objective was to go into cloud technology, which was at the forefront of the next wave of technological innovation. Salesforce was by far the leader in the space. I also saw how excited people, including our CFO at Philips, were getting about this new technology and I knew this was a different kind of company. When I got the call to join Salesforce at the beginning of 2014, I said “Hell, yes”!
I started leading the Enterprise Business for Northern Europe. At the time, the team was very lean, and over the four years that I was there, the business grew more than tenfold. It was spectacular to see that growth and I always aimed to introduce myself to every new person that came through the door — even people outside of sales.
It's worth the investment, and I've started to meet everyone here in APAC, too (as much as I can). My aim is to make sure everyone feels welcomed into our ohana and that we are building a trusted relationship from the beginning. I also want to hear from candidates about why they want to join, what they are looking for in their next job, and any reasons why they might be hesitant to join. This means we can be sure we are putting enough resources behind them so they can hit the ground running and be successful.
It's really simple, but being deliberate about creating a culture of feedback has been the key for me. I can't read minds, right? It's not like osmosis, people have to tell you how you're doing. As a leader, you have to create an environment where people feel secure to give you honest feedback and ask honest questions about what you or the company can do differently — things you can change as a leader. This is the key.
That's a difficult one, but the one thing is to pace yourself. It's so fast-paced here, and the only way to be an effective leader is to empower your team to make the best decisions for themselves, the team, and the customer. I've learned that you can't do or know everything, so you need to trust the people around you. The reality of this matter is, we have 30,000 employees globally - when I joined we had 10,000. This means that we have to leverage the power of the Salesforce platform and our people in order to continue to scale at this rate. If you don't trust and empower others, you become the obstacle to progress.
One of the most important things I've learned is to always start with the people, not the numbers. I think we do that naturally at Salesforce.
Absolutely, there have been many. In every company I've worked at, there was always an executive that's inspired me, but I've found that influence doesn't always have to come from senior leadership. I've been inspired by and learned from peers who have different leadership styles than me, and I've learned from others on how not to lead, which is equally important. I've learned stylistic and behavioral things that I don't want to emulate because of the way it comes across or the way it makes people feel. I've also had the opportunity to learn from incredible business leaders outside of the company. Being in the role I'm in, I spend a lot of time our with customers and have been able to learn what inspires their leadership style.
“Adapt and overcome”. Things are constantly changing, and I think naturally, some people don't like change. It's sometimes really hard, but you just have to adapt. You have to overcome your resistance, because if you constantly oppose change and aren't open-minded, two things can happen (in my opinion).
My advice would be to find a way to develop the skills you need for the role you want, to think outside the box and push yourself out of your comfort zone. That's what my new role is doing for me. I was very comfortable in Northern Europe — I knew everyone there. That's why I took on this challenge because it's great from a learning perspective — it keeps you fresh, alert and motivated, even though it's going to be challenging along the way.
I'd also recommend anyone looking to grow their career to seek outside perspectives and experiences (if possible). For example, I'm now leading Sales, but when I was in China working for Dell, I ran their services business. I had never led a services business before, but it was a great experience to have. You want to challenge yourself to take on new opportunities, even if it is a lateral move.
As a company, one of the fundamental things we're focusing on is international expansion. Europe is only a part of that story, and I think they are doing phenomenally well. Asia is our next frontier — the opportunity is massive. If you look at the total addressable market in some countries, we will double that in the next 2-3 years. The wave of technology acceptance by companies here is fantastic. So being able to be a part of that same growth story, which has been my world for the past 4.5 years, is one of the main reasons I was inspired to move and take on this new opportunity.
The preparation was a little different for me, because I grew up in Asia and have traveled many times throughout the region, so I haven't had to prepare too much. The main thing is to be aware of the cultural differences and to ensure that is part of your mindset coming into a new role in a new country. Understanding and accepting the fantastic new dimensions this culture brings is so important.
Salesforce APAC will be five times as big and will be the home for many new members of our Ohana — customers, partners, employees, and communities. It will be a super exciting region where you will see companies really adopting new technology. I think we will continue to win “Best Place To Work” awards across the region, and we will be looked at as one of the key digital technology companies and trusted advisors to our customers.
I look for five things:
Even though the company is doing phenomenally well, it's just the beginning of the opportunities we have here in APAC. The company has a great aura around it. That has everything to do with the technology and our integrated philanthropic approach with the 1-1-1 model. For example, my meetings last week with government officials and CEOs, all we talked about was giving back and Trailhead. How are we enabling our ecosystem to be educated on thing like AI machine learning in the Fourth Industrial revolution? It's all on Trailhead. These are the things that are fundamentally unique about Salesforce. It's a company that's doing good, driving innovation, giving back and changing the world for the better.
I actually really like gadgets. Obviously, my phone. I can run my business from it, and it has everything on it — all of my Salesforce apps, Netflix, games, Spotify, etc. And Philips Hue Lights. You can buy them at the Apple Store and put them into the sockets of your lights so you can control the lighting of your house from your phone. You can dim them, change the color...you can even make a disco out of it if you want to create a dance party in your house!
There are many others, but those are the few that come to mind.
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