Dreamforce 2019 - the Dame who'll lead Salesforce UK into a post-Brexit Britain

Madeline Bennett Profile picture for user Madeline Bennett November 21, 2019
Making Salesforce a national asset post-Brexit and tackling remaining inequality are top of Dame Jayne-Anne Gadhia’s agenda.

Dame Jayne Anne

When Dame Jayne-Anne Gadhia joined Salesforce as the firms' first UK and Ireland CEO on 1 October,  three things were at the forefront of her mind:

I think the people are going to be great, I think the culture's going to be strong and I wonder whether they really want to have an autonomous UK operating unit?

On those first two points, Gadhia’s impressions were quickly reinforced from day one, on meeting a group of employees who were diverse, open and engaged, with a complete lack of hierarchy. Regarding the autonomous business, Gadhia is approaching the situation with a refreshing lack of ego.

Before I arrived, I think people were expecting me to say if you want me to be the CEO of a UK business, I want all the reporting lines to come into me. I'm at that stage in my life and my career now where I'm genuinely much more interested in leading from behind rather than leading from the front. With so many people at Salesforce that are really, really keen to excel, I don't actually have to be the person which I used to be in the past, standing on the rooftop shouting about me.

At Virgin Money, people would definitely have said I had an ego. So this is, in a funny sort of way, the perfect role for me because the business is led by two huge personalities [co-CEOs Marc Benioff and Keith Block]. I don't need to be another personality.

Instead, Gadhia is working to bring together people who work in the UK business, who have senior roles across the different lines to create a unit of people driving towards a common UK goal, without worrying about who reports into who in the US or shaking up current reporting lines.


After 12 years as CEO at Virgin Money, Salesforce’s culture around diversity and equality was a big draw for Gadhia, who was made a dame for her contribution to women in the finance industry. Just as banking is having to work to throw off its macho reputation, the tech sector is well known for having a large gender gap, and low representation of minority groups:

We have a much broader tapestry, if that's the right way of describing it, of people than I came from in banking. Marc, in particular, has made a stance around equality for all. And I'm very, very passionate about that. I have an Indian husband and a mixed-race daughter, and all of those things are really important to me.

Although Salesforce is miles better than financial services, it's still got a way to go to be truly diverse - not through any lack of intent, but that's the fact. It's got a small gender pay gap that we’re all actively aware of - we want to get it absolutely be balanced.

When it comes to redressing that balance, Gadhia has does bring three key lessons learned from financial services.

The first is that women in particular want to work flexibly. In banking that almost never happens, but based on her initial experience, she has already seen that Salesforce has a good track record in this respect. The other two areas – culture and measurement – are both ones that she plans to carry over her learnings to Salesforce and hopes to work on at her new company:

What we found in financial services, and this is a different cultural point than in tech, is that because financial services have so much bonus as part of your salary package, what women said to me was it’s not fair as men tend to, at the end of the year, go to their boss, bang on the table and say, I've had a brilliant year, pay me. And women tend not to bang on the table, and say to themselves, I've had a brilliant year, I hope I'm recognized.

The problem is, if you've got weak middle managers, Gadhia notes, you end up with people responding to the men banging on the table rather than the woman wanting to be recognized. Gadhia hasn’t had the opportunity in her first six weeks to observe which changes need to be made in the UKI Salesforce offices to improve the culture in terms of equality, but is keeping a close eye on this area:

There's nothing that absolutely stands out, although I think the one thing I would say is that there's a definite distinction between numbers and behaviors. It is possible to have a more even allocation of men and women, and still have quite a male culture in some places. Managing that culturally will be something that we'll look at. But also putting in place measurements will make a really big difference.

The B-word

Gadhia joins as Salesforce’s first UK CEO at a time when the region is seeing huge growth, something the firm is clearly keen to see continue. The UKI is the largest market outside the US - for now at any rate, see IDC for an alternative future -  and last June, Salesforce announced plans to invest $2.5 billion in its UK business over five years.

However, looming over all these ambitions is a general election and Brexit, which could see the UK exit in an orderly fashion/crash out  - delete as applicable after 12 December - of its current EU trading deals and in a poorer economic situation, based on forecasts from organizations like the CBI and even the government itself. However, Gadhia is upbeat about the firm’s prospects, and says it’s still very much full steam ahead with all those plans, whatever the Brexit outcome:

In a funny sort of way, it’s more so I think, because when Marc talked to me about joining the business, what he said to me, was let's make Salesforce a national asset for the UK post-Brexit. Regardless of what happens with politics or Brexit or anything else, we're here to make British businesses more and more successful, more and more efficient, more close to their customers. And that can only result in a better outcome for each of those businesses and or our economy. So it's a sort of virtual circle, that our investment in the UK, regardless of political uncertainty, is about making businesses more successful, and hopefully that will bring its own rewards to everybody.

As to the prospect of the UK losing its second-place crown to a different European region post-Brexit, Gadhia is determined to retain the UK’s current standing:

It’s my job to make sure it doesn’t, whatever happens. Obviously in the world of banking, there's been a huge amount of preparation done for Brexit, whatever sort of Brexit, and businesses or banks in particular have expressed concerns about how that might play out. In my six weeks at Salesforce, I've had two conversations about it. We are in a place where the focus is on our customers, supporting our customers. The continued growth of the UK market would say that Brexit isn't having a dampening effect.

diginomica's take

Dame Jayne-Anne has spent this week in San Francisco with the Dreamforce faithful for the first time. It would be a baptism of fire for anyone, not least when you're only weeks into the job. Mind you, as you can see, she has been making friends and influencing people...

Yes...it's him

Dame Jayne-Anne takes up  a big role at turbulent time in the UK, politically, societally and - depending on events - possibly economically. It's early days, but we're detecting a different approach to management on the horizon in the UK. How that pans out will become clear through 2020. 

For now, we'll just say, 'Best of British!'.

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