Leyla Seka is the executive vice president of the Salesforce Mobile platform experience. Over Leyla’s incredible 11 year journey with Salesforce she has seen the team scale from 1,800 to over 40,000 and revenue scale from $500m to over $16Bn. In Leyla’s role today, she leads the charge on extending the power of Salesforce with a full portfolio of mobile apps, and is responsible for driving product, go-to-market and other key programs around Salesforce’s mobile offerings. Prior to her current role, Leyla was executive vice president of the Salesforce AppExchange, where she launched a refreshed AppExchange storefront, a new partner program, and built an entire AppExchange-focused team, resulting in more than 4,000 solutions, installed nearly 6 million times. Beyond her day-to-day role, Leyla is also the executive sponsor of BOLDforce, Salesforce’s organization for expanding and empowering the black community at Salesforce.

In Today’s Episode We Discuss:

* How Leyla made her way into the world of SaaS with Salesforce when it had 1,800 people and $500m in revenue.

* What were Leyla’s biggest learnings on people and business model through seeing the first hand hyper-scaling of Salesforce from $500m to $16Bn? How did Leyla evolve and scale as a leader herself in those 11 years? What advice does Leyla give to young people considering whether to found a startup, join a startup or join a hyper-growth company?

* Where do things start to break in the scaling of SaaS companies? What needs to be put in place to prepare for hyper-scale? What are the commonalities of where many founders go wrong in the scaling process?

* What does Leyla mean when she says, “Growing up in product, you have to lead through influence?” How does Leyla think this influence can be created and maintained? How does Leyla think about the balance between effective influence and excessive influence?

* Why does Leyla believe that, “You can teach skills but you cannot teach empathy?” What have been her learnings from scaling teams when it comes to hiring and detecting candidates with true empathy? What can one do to nurture that empathy in the culture of the company?

60 Second SaaStr:


* What does Leyla know now that she wishes she had known at the beginning?

* What is the hardest element of Leyla’s role at Salesforce today?

* What does Leyla believe in SaaS that most around her disbelieve?

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Jason Lemkin
Harry Stebbings
Leyla Seka


Harry Stebbings: Welcome back to the official SaaStr podcast with me, Harry Stebbings. I always love to see you on Instagram where you can suggest both guests and questions for future episodes, and that’s on @HStebbings1996 with two Bs.

Harry Stebbings: But to our episode today, and my word, what an incredible individual and journey we have in store for you, because I’m so thrilled to welcome Leyla Seka. Leyla is the Executive Vice President of Salesforce Mobile Platform Experience. Over Leyla’s incredible 11 year journey with Salesforce, she’s seen the team scale from 1800 to over 40,000 and revenues scale from 500 million to 16 billion dollars. In Leyla’s role today though, she leads the charge on extending the power of Salesforce with a full portfolio of mobile apps, and is responsible for driving product, go to market, and other key programs around Salesforce’s mobile offerings. And prior to her current role, Leyla was the Executive Vice President of the Salesforce AppExchange, where she launched a refreshed AppExchange storefront, a new partner program, and built an entire AppExchange focused team, resulting in more than 4,000 solutions and installed nearly six million times.

Harry Stebbings: Beyond her day to day though, Leyla’s also the executive sponsor of BOLDforce, Salesforce’s organization for expanding and empowering the black community at Salesforce. And I do also want to say a huge thank you to Erica at New Relic for the fantastic intro today. I really do so appreciate that, Erica.

Harry Stebbings: But without further ado, I’m now thrilled to hand the mic over to Leyla Seka at Salesforce.

Harry Stebbings: Leyla, it is absolutely fantastic to have you on the show today. Having heard so many great things from Erica at New Relic, so thank you so much for joining me today, Leyla.

Leyla Seka: Thank you, Harry, I’m really excited to be here. I’ve been looking forward to this all week.

Harry Stebbings: Well you are far too kind, and flattery will get you everywhere, but let’s kick off today with a little bit about you. So tell me how did you make your way into the world of SaaS and come to be one of the leading execs as EVP of Mobile at Salesforce as you are today?

Leyla Seka: Well, it’s a funny story, actually. So after college I went into the Peace Corps and volunteered, and I lived in a teeny village in Mali, West Africa. And while I was living there, the internet happened. So when I came back, all my friends from college were driving BMWs, and I couldn’t rent a studio apartment without my parents cosigning. And so the internet had sort of boomed while I was living in a hut in the middle of West Africa.

Leyla Seka: So when I got back, I started looking for a job, and I sort of had two offers. I had one offer to go with this great Italian guy who was spinning off a technology from an Italian software company in an incubator in San Francisco. And the other job was to be an investment banker at Merrill Lynch. And I was talking to my dad, and he said, “I don’t think you’re an investment banker, Leyla,” which was good advice. So I went with the Italian guy, and then I learned how to do product management, and I went from company to company really focusing in on product management as a core skill, and then extending that into product marketing, and operations, and then eventually a full blown … the whole kit and caboodle.

Leyla Seka: So I ultimately ended up in Salesforce 11 years ago, and a lot of that was luck. I mean, definitely a lot of skill, but I was lucky I went to that great company early. And so when I started at Salesforce we were just around 1800 people or so, and around 500 million in revenue, and now we’re nearing 40,000 people and we’re … we just stepped about 16 billion. So it’s been quite a ride.

Harry Stebbings: My word, Leyla, listening to those stats, that is one incredible journey. But I do have to ask, and I couldn’t not start with this, in terms of some learnings from that, especially really applied to two verticals, people and business model. So what have been the biggest learnings for you? Let’s start on the people element. From seeing that firsthand scaling from 1800 to 40,000.

Leyla Seka: I mean, I think this is where Salesforce got it right, and in many ways. Because the reality is, when you’re running through scale like that, things are moving at a breakneck pace. I mean, I remember we’ve always done employee surveys at Salesforce, we’re always really trying to understand what’s going on with people. And for years we did the employee survey, and would get the results back, and the thing that everyone liked the most about Salesforce was how innovative we were, and how we changed on a dime, and how we made all these great things happen, and then the thing that everyone was most upset about was everything changed all the time. And I was like, they’re the same thing.

Leyla Seka: I mean, I think that what we did a good job of early was paying attention to the human condition when scale like that is going on, when your job is changing, when new people get brought in, when the culture of the company shifts, when things start changing. Being a steward of that culture and really listening to the employees, the new ones, the old ones, the ones that live in other places, the remote ones, and trying to understand how to make each employee experience as rich and validating as possible during that scale. I mean, that’s really the magic that Salesforce got right really well.

Harry Stebbings: I mean, just fascinating to hear, and I love actually the employee surveys that you mention. Now, I’m super interested, if we kind of dig in a little bit more on that people element, and the insane scaling, often I hear on the show that things break at certain points in the company’s scaling. Often it’s 25, 75, 150. From your experience, with the scale and perspective in mind, where did you see things maybe start to break or kind of faults start to emerge in the scaling process, and why do you think that was?

Leyla Seka: Yeah, I mean, it happens in lots of different ways. I think for me one of the biggest realizations for me, we were a mid market company, right, we grew up in SMB. When I started at Salesforce, we were SMB mid market, right, that’s really where we lived. And for me, I think for a scaling moment, the moment we sold our first enterprise deal, like really multi million dollar enterprise deal, I saw a huge shift happen. And it was a light bulb over all of our heads. I remember sitting in the room when the person got the big commission check, sort of the Price is Right big check, and thinking, “Holy smokes, this is crazy. We can really help the whole organization, not departments or smaller companies.” And that was a huge shift in our company. At that point Keith Block came in, and we started really orienting around industry, and vertical, and thinking about … and at the same time Mark sort of pivoted to talking about our values, which is also something that had been a big part of Salesforce. We have a management philosophy called the V2MOM, which we say your vision for your year, your values, and then how you’re going to get it done.

Leyla Seka: And so when our values had always been a big part of our company, but when we started talking about equality, and trust, and customer success as our main values out in the marketplace and really extending sort of our internal culture out, that’s where things went absolutely amazingly bananas. And we’ve built this huge community of people around Salesforce who use our products, and who advocate for our products, they’re our trailblazers, they’re in our MVP communities, but they really … oftentimes, they are the ones leading us, which is a pretty amazing place to be.

Harry Stebbings: Absolutely, I totally agree with you in terms of having that level of advocacy, so to speak. Can I ask, in terms of your personal scaling, and it’s a bit of a personal one, but I am interested, 11 years, such incredible company growth alongside it. How have you seen yourself maybe evolve and change as a leader over the 11 year period?

Leyla Seka: Yeah. I mean, I think I’m always changing as a leader, and I’m always growing. There’s always blind spots, there’s always things that I can be doing better. I have a really big personality, so as you go up, the things that I think are just my normal way of acting can be sort of misinterpreted by other people at times, so it’s about sort of understanding that scale, and your relative position inside of the company as it scales.

Leyla Seka: You know, to me, Salesforce is still a startup. I know that sounds bananas, but I work with the same people I’ve been working with for the last 11 years, I still talk to the same people I’ve been talking to for the last 11 years. And certainly there are tons of new people that bring new blood and new energy into everything, but I often forget how big we are. I mean, it’s funny, I was in Atlanta for a meeting, and I took the train to go somewhere. And I was like, where is the office? Instead of like having to get my phone out and look up where is the Salesforce office, I just followed all of the backpacks from the train that said Salesforce and got to the office. And I was like … it was a crazy moment just thinking of the scale of the company now.

Leyla Seka: So I think for me it’s been a lot of that, and I continue to do that. I continue to work on understanding how my leadership style might need to change, and certainly over time as we’ve grown, and as more people have come to work for me, and thinking about how I impart … how what I say matters. I mean, there used to be a time when I would say something in a meeting and people would be like, “That’s a good idea.” Now when I say something in a meeting, a whole group of people will start working on it. And I might just be talking, right? Like, “What if we did this, what if we did that?” So being really careful about what I say and how I say it, and redirecting peoples’ work versus just brainstorming and sort of talking through that.

Harry Stebbings: I mean, I absolutely, I love the personal GPS that is following the rucksacks. I do have to ask though, you mentioned the element of speaking to the same people and working with the same people that you have done for many, many years now. Often on the show I hear SaaS leaders say, “Actually, management churn is an inevitable part.” Aaron Levy, before we’ve spoken about I think the five kind of exec level churns he’s had. How do you think about kind of the exec level churn being inevitable, and do you think maybe that slightly conventional wisdom now is not true?

Leyla Seka: I mean, I think it does happen. I think people want different things in their life at different times, right? And people have different needs, and people get tired, and people have personal lives. Like people’s parents die, and their kids have things, and maybe they don’t want to make work the focus of their life so they sort of move out, and then the churn moves in.

Leyla Seka: I don’t think of it as churns so much at Salesforce, more as addition, right, there is still … as I said, there’s still this core group of folks, and we all grew up together. I mean, they’ve known me, they knew me when I was a kid, basically. I’ve changed a lot as a human in the last 11 years. So but I think for us it was the addition of new people, right, so bringing new people onto the team, gaining that new perspective, thinking about how to take our products to market in different ways that other people had done in other organizations in a proven fashion. I think that’s it.

Leyla Seka: And I think it’s good. It’s not always easy, but I think it’s good to have new people come in. I think it’s good to have people sort of question assumptions. I mean, it’s wonderful I’ve been at Salesforce for a long time, but I’m sure there’s some things that because I know them so well, I always assume oh, no, no, no, don’t touch that. That’s the wrong attitude a lot of the time. A lot of the time you have to go touch the things that have been sitting in a sacred mode for a while.

Leyla Seka: So I welcome new perspective onto the team. I think that’s what Mark has done incredibly well at Salesforce, and Cindy, our head of HR, and everyone, is this notion that we bring the best people to us to help make us better. I mean, it goes down to the old adage of As hire As and Bs hire Cs. But we’re always trying to get people that are better than us into the company to help us build a better company.

Harry Stebbings: Yeah, absolutely, and I couldn’t agree more in terms of kind of welcoming that new feedback and kind of improving with it. I do have to ask, we mentioned the incredible scales there, I mean, it’s quite easy to get intoxicated by it and kind of hearing the stories. But a lot needs to be put in place pre-scale in terms of kind of the infrastructure to really scale successfully. What did that look like at Salesforce when you kind of look back? And what do you think needs to be in place to really prepare for hyper growth?

Leyla Seka: I mean, we were very lucky, my team’s [inaudible 00:13:23] but we had the AppExchange. So the AppExchange is where I spent the lion’s share of my career at Salesforce. It’s our enterprise application marketplace. But when we were getting our own systems in place, when we were working with the finance team, and the sales opps teams, and the sales teams, I mean, it was obvious what sales team was using, but lots of other systems that we were going to need to run Salesforce. You know, we are very much of the drink your own champagne ilk, so we went to the AppExchange, and we bought a lot of AppExchange applications to help us grow Salesforce, right?

Leyla Seka: And because of that, their scale was something that they were in line with us, they were excited to scale with us. So we were lucky in that regard, whereby we had this already existing marketplace that was clearly integrated with our core system, which was of course Salesforce, that allowed us to create our entire sort of organization relatively quickly, and with applications that were thinking about SaaS in the way that we were thinking about SaaS from a scale perspective. So we all grew together.

Leyla Seka: I think that was a really awesome move, and a really amazing thing for us, and it let us do a lot of interesting things and figure out how to grow our business, and change our business sort of in motion. But as far as what other companies need to think about, I mean, I think you need to think about what your customers are going to need. I think if you can empathize with your customers and try to understand hey, they really … like for example, customer support, like that’s a really important area where you need to make sure that you have the right systems in place to meet the needs of your customer. So as you’re thinking about the future of your product line, and the future of your company, you have to consider the ways that your customers are going to interact with you and optimize for that experience, while making sure that you have everything tightened up and ready on the backend to receive that data.

Leyla Seka: And I think, you know, we’ve always followed that path. Like what’s best for the customer, what’s best for the customer. And in that mantra, we’ve been able to make the right decisions. And sometimes you make the wrong decisions too. Sometimes you pick a system that doesn’t scale, sometimes you build a process that doesn’t necessarily make sense in the end. My thing on that is you get over it, and move on as fast as possible. As I said earlier when we were talking, things change 100 times a day in our industry, so sometimes … a lot of times things go right. When they don’t go right, the most important thing is to recognize it and change it as fast as possible.

Harry Stebbings: No, I agree with you in terms of the speed required to change it. You mentioned the future of the product, the future of the company, one question that I often get asked by young and talented people is, “Harry, should I start my own startup? Should I join this small startup where I’ll have maybe a lot of responsibility, or should I join the incredible scaled up organization like Salesforce and see what scale really looks like?” I’m super interested here, Leyla, what’s your advice in these situations, and how should they think on that dilemma?

Leyla Seka: I mean, look, you actually want to experience all three. I feel very lucky, because in my career I have actually gotten to experience all three. And a lot of it is your personality. Some people aren’t cut out for big companies, some people do better in smaller environments, some people flourish in big companies and are not necessarily great in small companies. A little bit of this is know thyself. What is going to motivate you as an individual to get your best out of it, and then what are you going to learn the most from?

Leyla Seka: I mean, look, I’ll be honest with you, when I first came to Salesforce, part of the reason I came to Salesforce was because everyone told me I didn’t have a big company on my resume. Like I had worked at startups, and I was definitely a startup–sort of the biggest company I’d ever worked at before Salesforce was 500 people. So everyone’s like, “Oh, you need big company experience,” so I sort of thought, well, I’ll go to Salesforce for a year, I’ll get this big company experience that everyone says I have to have, and then I’ll go back to a startup, because I sort of saw myself as a smaller company person. And then, you know, it’s been 11 years. Lo and behold, clearly something worked here.

Leyla Seka: But oftentimes we think, “Oh, I’m a start … ” I really thought I was a small company person only, and here I am working at one of the biggest software companies in the country. So I just think that perceptions change, your desires change, and sort of what you’re looking to learn changes. There’s no way I could’ve gone to school to learn what I learned at Salesforce. No way, I mean, there’s no way I can even explain everything I’ve learned by just being here for all this time.

Leyla Seka: The same is true of all the small companies I worked in. And some of them failed, a lot of them failed, the smaller companies. So living through that experience, learning how to pick yourself up, and not take it so personally, and all of these things are really rich. It’s sort of, your career becomes like a quilt, and you get to sort of decide how the squares unfold, but I think it’s important to consider all of the experience when you’re going for what you’re doing next. And education, people shouldn’t … an MBA is a good degree, getting advanced education is another good option, and I did it while I worked, which I thought was really helpful because school became the lab for my job, to some degree.

Leyla Seka: So I just think that young folks when they’re coming out into the workplace, don’t pigeonhole yourself by saying, “I’m this kind of person, or I’m a that kind of person,” try everything, and then you’ll quickly figure out what you are.

Harry Stebbings: Yeah, and I love the analogy there of the quilt, I have to say. When we speak about kind of scaling there with regards to people there, and I do want to kind of focus on the collective of the team, we chatted a bit before about this, and when we chatted you said a couple of elements that were super, super interesting and I couldn’t help but dive deeper on them.

Harry Stebbings: The first being, growing up in product, you often have to lead through influence. Can I ask, Leyla, what did you mean by this and how does that affect your mindset, maybe?

Leyla Seka: Sure. So I don’t have a computer science degree. I can’t code, which I’m upset with myself about, but I’m getting over it as I … it just is what it is, but when you’re a product manager, you have to figure out what you need, what the customer needs, what the market needs, what the customer … like, you almost have to try to be one step ahead of what the customer needs, and if you’re good, you’re five steps ahead of what the customer needs. But then, engineering doesn’t work for you, QA doesn’t work for you, and oftentimes UX doesn’t work for you, marketing doesn’t work for you, sales doesn’t work for you. So you have to figure out how to get all of those organizations fired up about the vision you’re putting forth, and excited to execute it. And that is an exercise in influence, right? I can’t go tell an engineer, “You must code this,” right? I have to talk to that engineer and say, “Listen, this is what the customer’s up against, this is what keeps happening, this is what they’re trying to accomplish, if we can alleviate these three steps they’ll save X amount of money.” And get an engineer fired up.

Leyla Seka: And then QA, we need to test it this way, and we need to test it that way. And then UX, the design has to be this, they’re going to be on their phones, they’re never going to go on the desktop or whatever the thing might be. And then, once you do all that, and you figure out what the product’s going to look like, then you have to go over your marketing, what’s the story we’re going to tell? And then you get sales ready to sell it.

Leyla Seka: And so that’s all influence, and figuring out how to do that and make people like you, and I don’t mean like like you, braid your hair, be best friends, but for people to trust you, for people to believe that what you’re saying is true, for you to have a proven track record, that all requires a good amount of influence, and a good amount of work for the product manager to stabilize all of those relationships and really get it done.

Leyla Seka: I mean, when I was younger in that Italian company the first thing I asked the people I was working with was what job should I have? Right, because I was sort of like Jane of all trades in the office. But they said, “You should become the product manager, because if you’re the product manager, you’re like the CEO of the product.” And I think that’s very true. I mean, when I look at great CEOs and great entrepreneurs, they do an amazing amount of leading through influence. And I think that’s really a skill that sets you apart as you move up the chain, whatever that chain may be.

Harry Stebbings: Can I ask, if you’re coming into a new organization with existing structures and teams, how do you build and kind of really create that level of influence within a team that you’ve just joined?

Leyla Seka: A lot of listening is required when you walk into a pre-established team. I’ve done it a number of times now in my career, and back to what we were chatting about earlier, Harry, there’s a lot of human in the work. You don’t just do this work and then compartmentalize it away and move away, so moving onto a team, lots of people have different perspectives, and fears. My main way of doing this is to be very honest with everyone and pretty truthful about who I am and where my strengths are, and where my known weaknesses are, because I know where a lot of them are. And then trying to talk to the team about gelling together, and once that occurs, then begins the discussion of the influence.

Leyla Seka: Okay, we need to get these people on board with it, we need to talk to those people about it, who wants to do that? Come back, a lot of talking about how to get the organization excited about things, talking to different people, understanding the requirements against them and what this might mean. But I think that the unification through like brutal honesty is a pretty easy way to build this trust with people.

Leyla Seka: And also to deliver, right, you have to do your job and you have to do your job well, those are table states. But I do think that influence, a lot of it comes from relationship building. I mean, the people I see with the highest EQ are the ones that are the best, often, at doing this influence leadership.

Harry Stebbings: It makes me very happy to hear about the EQ element there. But I do want to touch on another super interesting thing you said, and it was in relation to another kind of core skill being empathy. You said you can teach skills, but you can’t teach empathy. Can you unpack this for me, Leyla, why is that and what does that mean for how you should maybe build your team?

Leyla Seka: Sure. So this really came to me, at one point at Salesforce I ran our low end customer support application, it was called Desk. And I spent a lot of time paying attention to customer support, and this is where this really came to me. We were hiring people to be on our support team, and there were a lot of people that were really good technically, and just absolutely understood the product and were wizards, and fabulous, fabulous. But when we got them on the phone, because we sort of had that as part of the interview, they lacked a certain amount of empathy for the customer. The customer’s reaction to the phone call was not terribly positive, even though they may have gotten the answer they wanted.

Leyla Seka: Then in another breath we had some other folks that were not super technical, they did not really understand how the product worked exactly, but when they got on the phone, even if the customer did not get the answer they wanted, they had a better time with the experience so they scored it higher.

Leyla Seka: So what came to me in that moment, and let me be clear, I think a lot of people have empathy and technical skills, I don’t think those are … I think those two things exist together a lot, and those are the real like jewel unicorn people you’re looking for. But if I’m placed in a situation where someone says to me, “My objective is to always make the customer feel as good as possible, like that’s my job. My job is to make my customers happy, to make them understand that I’m listening to them, that I’m here for them, that I care for them.” So the person that’s interacting with my customer makes my customer feel anything less than that, that becomes a huge problem for me. But if the person interacting with my customer says, “Hey, I don’t know the answer to that but I’m going to get right back to you,” and makes my customer feel good and happy, and like we care, and we’re all in it together, then I much prefer that interaction.

Leyla Seka: So you can’t teach someone how to understand how someone else feels. I can teach someone the product. I’m a product manager, I can teach someone how to use … I can teach anyone how to use Salesforce, my mom can use Salesforce. She closed an opportunity, it was ridiculous. My mother is from Turkey, and she … is not much of a computer person so it was really funny to have this whole thing happen.

Leyla Seka: But my point being that you can’t teach someone to care about other people. And that, I think, is increasingly becoming a critical part of being a successful businessperson today.

Harry Stebbings: No, I do totally agree, and I saw on Twitter about your mother being on the front page of that magazine and I thought it was wonderful, which was fun. But I do want to ask, Leyla, you mentioned that interaction. I spoke to some people before the show, mutual friends, and they said that I should speak to you about the time you spoke to Mark about equal pay. So tell me about that story, how did it come about, what did you say, what did he say? I’m intrigued by this one.

Leyla Seka: Okay, so this was probably about four years ago. Mark had noticed in his executive meetings that most of the people in the meetings were white men. And so we started a program inside of Salesforce called the Women Surge, where he was looking for high profile, high performing women inside of the organization, at the like VP level that needed to be raised up, was sort of the idea.

Leyla Seka: So I was one of the lucky people that got put into that first cohort, and along with me was my friend Cindy Robbins, who I’ve known for 20 years, we’ve been friends a long, long time, well before Salesforce. So she and I went up together, and we both got promoted. I became the senior vice president and general manager of Desk, and eventually Cindy became the senior vice president of HR, and then … and now she runs all of HR, so as we were coming up, we were excited and there was a lot of momentum around it, and we had begun a dialogue around equal pay. And it came home to me in a number of reasons, and I can go into that if you want, but basically I had a feeling for a very long time, well before Salesforce, that the men were getting paid more than me. Like we were all product owners, we were all at around the same level, we’d be sitting in the kitchen and they’d be talking about the Teslas they were buying, and in my mind I’d be like, “I mean I could buy a Tesla, but that would be so stupid,” because that would be so much money to spend on a car based on where I was right then.

Leyla Seka: So I sort of had a feeling that that was going on. And Cindy and I talked about it and we came up with a deck, and we did a whole sort of idea, and we went to Mark’s house, Cindy had a one on one with Mark, and I tagged along, and we went to Mark’s house, and we went in there and we said, “Hey, we think that women are being paid less than the men at Salesforce.” And he was like, “No, that’s not possible, that’s not my company, I would never have a company like that, that would never happen.” And I was like, “Eh, I think it might be happening.” And Cindy said to him, “Look, we want to look, we want to do an audit. But if we look, and we do this audit, and we find something we have to fix it, we can’t like shut the hood and run away.”

Leyla Seka: And so he was like, “Okay, go for it, do the audit.” And at the same time, I asked, I said we wanted to do a mentoring program for women in engineering, that got set up with one of our great women leaders, Andrea Leizack, and then we also wanted to do a women summit at Dreamforce that we worked on with another great female leader at Salesforce, Molly Ford.

Leyla Seka: So it was sort of a three pronged ask, but the main one was definitely equal pay. And so we walked out of Mark’s, Mark said, “Yeah,” he said, “Go look at it, let’s look, let’s take a look.” So we walked out of Mark’s house, and it was really funny because both Cindy’s mom and my mom were like, “What did he say? What did he say?” And we were like … I mean, it was a pretty amazing moment. So then we got to it and really Cindy did a lot of the lion’s share of the work on how we did the audit, because she was in HR and I’m not. But we worked it out and when it was all said and done, in the first year we found a three million dollar discrepancy, and it’s worth noting that a lot of men’s salaries needed to be corrected as well. And then we continued to do this work, because the thing with equal pay is it’s not a one and done, you’ve got to do it every year.

Leyla Seka: And the next year we found another three million dollar issue, we had acquired a number of companies so there were a lot of things that had happened. But all in now, we’ve done it three times and I think we found … I mean, we’re north of eight million dollars in adjustments now, and continue to do them every year.

Leyla Seka: I think the really interesting thing about what we did, we changed our whole company, right, we changed our entire company, equality became a core value for our company, and then extending it even further, we really changed the industry. I mean, I remember saying to Mark at one point, “If you say this, no one can hide. If you are the one that stands up and says this, with your voice and your power,” and he did. And he deserves a ton of credit for doing that. And Cindy and I deserve a ton of credit for being courageous and going in there and asking. But it turned out to be a pretty amazing and awesome thing, and one of the things I’m most proud of in my life.

Harry Stebbings: A ton of credit indeed, and that must’ve been incredible for you to walk out of that house after the meeting, for sure. I do have to ask now though, I want to dive into my favorite element, being the quick fire round. So I say a short statement, and then you give me your immediate thoughts. How does that sound?

Leyla Seka: Awesome.

Harry Stebbings: Okay, 60 seconds per one. Is it complete BS that it gets easier with time and scale?

Leyla Seka: Yes.

Harry Stebbings: How do you unwind, Leyla, what’s the stress buster for you?

Leyla Seka: I like to garden, I meditate a lot, I like listening to music. I like to sing karaoke, and I hang out with my kids, that’s sort of how I unwind.

Harry Stebbings: Who doesn’t love a good karaoke session? Most behind the scenes but killer individual in the world of SaaS that you think deserves a shout out?

Leyla Seka: The customer support representative.

Harry Stebbings: What do you believe in SaaS that many around you disbelieve?

Leyla Seka: I think we’ve only just begun. I mean, I know it’s been 20 years, Salesforce just turned 20, and I know that it’s been around for a while, but I think we’re going to see even more innovation on how enterprise companies think about the cloud, and sort of adopt SaaS and technology in the next 10 years. I think we’ll be looking back at this 10 years–in 10 years going, “I can’t believe that’s where we were.” Just like we do now.

Harry Stebbings: What’s the biggest challenge in your role today as EVP at Mobile at Salesforce?

Leyla Seka: Large companies have trouble understanding what to do with mobile. Mobile changes all the time, how it’s used, how people do it, and large companies have trouble understanding how to have a really fluid mobile strategy. So I spend a lot of time on that.

Harry Stebbings: What do you know now, Leyla, that you wish you’d known at the beginning of your 11 year journey with Salesforce?

Leyla Seka: Probably that I should’ve trusted myself more, all the way through it. I’m a little hard on myself, I think it’s probably a personal evaluation. But all in, 11 years ago I definitely doubted myself a lot more than I needed to.

Harry Stebbings: Leyla, listen, it’s been so much fun chatting today, thank you so much for joining me, and I cannot thank you enough.

Leyla Seka: You’re amazing, Harry, thank you so much, I had a great time.

Harry Stebbings: I have to say Leyla was such a special guest to have on the show, and she’s done so much for me since the episode, it really has been such a pleasure getting to know her and you can find out more from Leyla on Twitter @LeylaSeka. Likewise it’d be fantastic to see you on Instagram. You can do that at HStebbings1996 with two Bs, really would be great to see you there.

Harry Stebbings: As always, I so appreciate all your support and I can’t wait to bring you next week’s episode with Ben Brotherman, CRO at Flexport.


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