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Accelerated transformation

Companies need to accelerate digital transformation in emerging from pandemic crisis, says Gavin Patterson of Salesforce, in an interview with Cambridge Judge Dean Christoph Loch.

Digital transformation.

Companies need to accelerate their digital transformation in emerging from the coronavirus crisis or they could quickly trail competitors, says Gavin Patterson, President and Chief Revenue Officer of cloud-based business software and customer management firm Salesforce.

Christoph Loch.
Professor Christoph Loch

In a video interview with Christoph Loch, Dean of Cambridge Judge Business School, the former CEO of telecoms company BT says that this unprecedented period has accelerated the digital transformation of all aspects of our society and is now the imperative to the survival of a business.

“Digital transformation is accelerating during this period, and companies that don’t have a digital transformation strategy that goes right through their business, throughout their supply chain and the way they serve their customers, when we come out of this they will find themselves at a disadvantage,” says Gavin Patterson, a graduate of the University of Cambridge and former member of the Advisory Board at Cambridge Judge.

Paraphrasing former General Electric CEO Jack Welch’s comments about how customers are key to business survival, he said: “If you don’t have a digital strategy and you’re not accelerating digital transformation in a period like this, you won’t have a business at the end of it.”

“Many companies, and some of the best companies I deal with, see the crisis as an opportunity, a chance to accelerate and increase the gap between them and their competitors while their competitors are flatfooted,” he said. “It’s opportunistic, of course, but when we get through this we’ll find that the competitive landscape will not be the same as it was on the way in – a new set of competitors, a new market structure will exist in many markets.

“Companies that are hoping to see their way out of this by just sitting tight and preserving cash, is not enough in my view. I think this is a moment where of course we need to save cash, but saving cash without investment is going to leave companies struggling on the other side of this. So even if they make it through they may find that they don’t last very long afterwards.”

Dean Loch replied: “I’m nodding, and I can see what you just said in the education business that I’m in. I can see some of the things that you’re mentioning even in higher education.

“We are in a digital revolution – I think it’s now really hitting and COVID-19 has accelerated it – and nobody will be untouched by this and everybody should keep this in mind.”

Gavin Patterson said of his experience in Cambridge, where he studied chemical engineering: “It opened my eyes to so many things. I met some brilliant people here, was taught by some extraordinary individuals and met a group of friends who even now 35 years later are still great friends. So that network carries through life, yes on a business front, but in terms of providing support and advice as you try to steer through life, and Cambridge provides that.”

Regarding leadership, Gavin Patterson said: “The COVID-19 crisis isn’t the only crisis we’re facing at the moment. There’s the sustainability crisis, climate change, that’s not going away, and we have a crisis of equality and social justice that’s been a wakeup call for everyone during this period.

“So whatever we do when we come out of this we must address not only the consequences of COVID-19 but how do we rebuild our communities, rebuild how we go about our business and educate in a way that’s more inclusive and has equality built into the foundation. Everyone needs to do more, look at their own behaviour and ask themselves whether they’re doing enough.”

Part of that, he said, is that companies need to be prepared to take positions and “lobby outside their domain”, citing for example a Salesforce taskforce that, in examining equality, is looking into appropriate ways to implement policing reforms. “We need to be leaders not just within our own market but actually in the world we live in.”


The interview is part of our CJBS Perspectives: Leadership in Unprecedented Times series of talks and presentations from exceptional leaders, faculty and alumni, born of the challenging times in which we all currently find ourselves.