An unconventional career journey and the courage to try new things led Craig Skinner to a sales leader role at Salesforce New Zealand. And he will be the first to tell you that luck played no part, but a thing called hard work.
At the age of 22, while playing crowd controller to a bunch of adolescents, Craig Skinner, Salesforce Head of Sales New Zealand (NZ), had his career epiphany.
“I was teaching a class of intermediate students when I realised I was taming kids and keeping them busy rather than teaching, and I just thought ‘This isn’t what I want to be doing,’” says Craig.
That moment became a turning point in his career journey. What followed was an extensive career in the telecommunications sector before joining Salesforce at the beginning of its NZ journey. Craig started out with Salesforce as one of just a handful of NZ-based employees, and today leads a sales team more than 10 times that size in what he describes as his dream job.
“In those early days, I was working out of a little room off my garage. I was having conversations with customers and they didn’t know who or what Salesforce was. They were nervous about cloud computing and internet speeds – this was 2009 after all,” recalls Craig.
“I spent two years as a Corporate Account Executive. It was hard work and full of interesting conversations – two things I love!”
After two years, ready for the next step in his career, Craig returned to the telecommunications industry in 2011 and took up a national sales manager position with a telco, and implemented Salesforce there.
A few years later, he saw that Salesforce New Zealand was recruiting its first in-country sales manager. Having always felt a connection to the Salesforce Ohana and company values, Craig was on the phone to the recruiter that night. Safe to say, a couple of months later, he got the job.
We spoke with Craig to find out how someone who started their career as a teacher made the journey to becoming Head of Sales NZ at a global tech company, and why he considers personal qualities and a high work ethic more important than CV experience.
Growing up in the Bay of Islands I was fortunate enough to have great teachers, but we didn’t have much in the way of career guidance or counselling. I wasn’t exposed to many career opportunities, so I went into teaching without considering anything else. I was a teacher for six years, and I even did a stint teaching in Jakarta.
Honestly, it was amazing. I was looking after a range of kids across various ages. I was at an international school and many of the kids came from different countries and didn’t speak much English – it was incredible how quickly they picked it up.
I was 22, I had no commitments, and it was an awesome opportunity to go and live in a different country with a different culture. A real adventure.
On returning to New Zealand I quickly came to a point where I realised if I wanted to advance in my career I had to put in the time. But teaching requires passion to do it well. I wasn’t passionate about it anymore.
Yeah, quite a change. Making the leap into the telecommunications industry came with countless opportunities to get my head around different roles, learn new skills and take on different challenges. I got to spend six years in the UK working during a massive growth period in the telco world. It was exhilarating.
Those years also helped me realise that my teaching experience made me a good manager. Those years at the front of the classroom meant I was good at planning and training people – it gave me the skills to motivate them, to help them develop their own skills and the confidence to do a job well. It also showed me the value of having a very structured approach when passing on knowledge or helping someone develop skills. It set me up to move from operations to a business improvement role and signalled to me that skills, no matter where you have picked them up, are transferable.
When we returned to NZ from the UK I started working for Vodafone as their Head of Business Sales Operations. I was responsible for systems and processes there, and that’s where I was first exposed to Salesforce. I was blown away by how easy it was to drive process improvement when you have the right system!
Looking back, that was the start of my love for the Salesforce platform.
Then, I was approached by Salesforce and asked if I’d ever considered being an AE as they were looking for their first commercial AE in New Zealand. There was something about that challenger spirit and the Salesforce family, that I felt really aligned with my core values.
I love the company, and the fact that we still have that Ohana culture and values more than 20 years on is a testament to those who lead the company. Trust is a big thing for me and I like to operate on a culture of trust. My team knows I back them 100% – no other company I’ve been a part of has a culture quite like Salesforce. It truly is a privilege to work here and witness Kiwis doing incredible things – just think of the amazing Trailblazers at Auckland Basecamp.
Are there any passion programs you are involved in?
Salesforce NZ has recently started supporting TupuToa, an innovative internship program that helps support Maori and Pasifika students find pathways into roles in corporate organisations in New Zealand. It’s an initiative that I’m really excited to be involved with.
I’m also a big supporter of other programs that we’re involved with, like AUT’s Shadow a Leader; where AUT students and Year 13 high school students come in, shadow senior Salesforce leaders, gain corporate exposure and what working for a company like Salesforce can offer.
Don’t be afraid to try new things and trust that your core qualities and work ethic will be noticed. Lack of direct experience shouldn’t deter you from applying for a job. I’ve tried a number of different roles and in each role I’ve had to work hard to get my head around it.
And to hiring managers I would say don’t be afraid to give people opportunities. Be selective when you do, and really consider people’s qualities and not just what their CV says. The ones with the characteristics you are looking for are the ones who will step up – they’ll be able to adapt and adjust.
I would say always look at the long-term view of where you want to go. When I first joined Salesforce as an Account Executive, the position was a step down from the role I was in, but I knew I wanted to work for Salesforce and be part of the culture. If you want to make a successful career change find a company that aligns with your values, look at what the company offers in terms of career progression in the longer term, and don’t be so proud that you wouldn’t step back to get a foot in the door.
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