A bet on people

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This morning, Workday (WDAY) announced plans to acquire Adaptive Insights for more than $1.5 billion. This is Workday’s largest-ever acquisition. At first glance, this would seem like just another big SaaS deal. However, this acquisition is fundamentally different and transformational. Why? Because it unites two great companies that are defining the future of work in important  ways: they have developed cutting-edge technologies that help workforces collaborate and adapt more efficiently in a rapidly changing world, and they have both developed industry-leading best practices in company culture, people development, and partner/customer care. So, as much as some like to sensationalize the doomsday storylines of “computers vs. people,” we have here a great example of two great companies coming together to accelerate their bet on people and on the future of work.

Workday and Adaptive both share a common purpose and mission: to make workforces more thoughtful, effective, adaptable, and better at planning for the future. Using technology to plan and adjust quickly is one of the biggest challenges today’s companies are dealing with, especially given the increasing pacie of innovation. The emergence of Artificial Intelligence, machine learning, robotics, autonomous vehicles, and other innovative technologies will require business leaders to be more agile and strategic as they react to changes in the landscape.

I see “The Future of Work” as the partnership of cutting-edge technology with humans in order to deliver agility and efficiency. This is AI, and these two companies together have a great opportunity to deliver it. This is why I am so excited about the future of these two companies and why the combination will be transformational for the future of how we work.

Norwest became one of the largest investors in Adaptive in 2011 when I led that investment and joined the board of directors. Adaptive’s success, growth, and our successful sale to Workday can be tied back to bets we all made in people and in the relationships we fostered. I first heard of Adaptive from John Herr, a friend I had worked with at eBay/Paypal who had joined Norwest as an executive in residence. He became the Adaptive’s  growth CEO and a fantastic catalyst for development in its early days; he later became CEO of Avetta, another very successful Norwest portfolio company. Adaptive’s current CEO, Tom Bogan, is an executive who has incredible leadership skills especially around people development. Tom is a people-first kind of leader and that is a big reason why the board bet on him. As we prepared the company for further growth, Tom partnered closely with Rob Hull, Adaptive’s fantastic founder and the true soul of the company.

Tom’s board meetings always focus on people first and that leadership style is what made Tom an incredible recruiter and groomer of top talent. Tom and Rob, along with the whole executive team, have created a very positive culture at Adaptive. The culture was cited by employees, partners and customers as Adaptive’s biggest asset and crown jewel. Tom recruited nearly all members of its world-class executive team, created a company which received multiple awards as a “best place to work,” and a culture which energized people. He also brought in  a top-notch independent board including its Chairman, Mark Templeton, ex-CEO of Citrix.

Ultimately, Tom led the charge in joining forces with Workday, thanks to his incredible relationship with Workday co-founder and CEO, Aneel Bhusri. As a board member, I could feel the chemistry and mutual respect between Aneel and Tom—I knew they would form a dynamic duo. I could go on and on, but the point is that our success in this venture investment (and all great ones I have made), overwhelmingly depends on the bet you make on the people.

Since I joined the board of Adaptive seven years ago, I’ve been focused on “The Future of Work.” I am now spending all of my time investing and working with entrepreneurs in education technology, workforce development, Augmented Intelligence, human SaaS and other key areas that will transform our workforce through technology. As a partner at Norwest, in 2014 I also led our investment and became a board member at Udemy which is the largest and fastest-growing global life-long learning platform. Udemy and Adaptive are two examples of “unicorn” companies which have been able to make a difference in the future of work while having a relentless focus on people, both in their mission as well as in their own culture. Adaptive and Workday are proving to us that betting on people is a smart business.

Please reach out to me with questions or comments any time.

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