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Jamie Lawrence


Insights Director

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Interview: Tom Berquist, CEO, Saba


Tom Berquist is the new CEO of HR technology company Saba Software and member of the Saba Board of Directors. He has been involved in enterprise software for many years, including nine in executive leadership roles at Corel (CEO) and Ingres (CFO). Before that, he spent a decade at investment banks Goldman Sachs, Citigroup and Piper Jaffrey, and six years with professional services firm Deloitte implementing software solutions for large organisations.

On his background and international experience…

I’ve been coming to London area for twenty five years, I spent ten years as an Equity Research Analyst covering the software space and I had to travel to most of the big financial cities around the globe to catch up with investors about software stocks so a lot of time in London in that era.

Then I was an Operating Executive running companies either as CFO or CEO for the last decade – all software companies – and for some strange reason we’ve all have offices within about ten miles of each other parts of London you know Maidenhead, Windsor, Slough or now Bracknell so I’m getting pretty familiar with this part of the country.

On the double-sided experience – equity and investment – that he brings to the CEO role…

That dual experience is the good news. The bad news is I have a strategy to self-analyse what’s going on with companies because I’ve analysed companies over the years.

But I’m also required to obviously execute so it’s funny – you can be either more research-orientated or more operationally-orientated but now of course I have to be both.

On where talent management is heading and how companies are hiring…

A big challenge is that larger companies are still trying to catch up with leaders in the technology industry in, say, San Francisco.

A lot of our companies are big technology companies and they are, in my opinion, more forward-thinking than say financial services companies. So it’s interesting to see how rapidly these other industries are playing catch up.

I think part of the reasons they are behind is that they have a hard time attracting and keeping good employees, particularly the millennial generation, because their systems are so clunky and so dated and this reflects badly on them.

Millennials come into organisations with their smartphones and then have to use computer applications that are 10, 15, and 20 years old.

On the transformation of traditional HR processes…

Here’s an interesting case study: Adobe. They are kind of frustrated with the complexity of traditional HR processes in particular performance so they’re also talking about how people are recruiting as well.

But of course in performance there’s a sort of raging debate about whether we even should be doing annual performance reviews which are effectively confrontation programmes or whether we should be doing daily, weekly, monthly performance completely independently of the communications cycle.

Adobe have made that change and others are making it.

I think I read in an article last week that 6% or 7% of US companies have already eliminated the performance review and I hope this strategy is going to continue. So that’s one thing that a lot of companies are talking to us about.

On millennials in the workplace…

What we’re seeing is that when these millennials come into the organisation they’re so used to their rapid exchange of information outside of work – Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat – that they then find it difficult to deal with workplace systems such as email.

So they’ll end up building a social network that’s outside of the corporate email system and get all their friends in the company on the same platform and they’re just talking to each other independently of the rest of the systems in the company.

It’s almost like having a company within a company. What CEOs are trying to do is harness the power of that network inside the company.

On the exciting trends in the HR technology industry in the next 5 years…

I think it comes down to some of the big data and network trends.

Too much of what happens in HR traditional technology is departmentalised so you’ll have someone who knows what’s happening in one department, someone who knows what’s happening in benefits, and four or five people around the globe focusing on payroll, and the story continues.

So the challenge in big organisations is that the functional areas don’t really know what’s going on in other areas.

Analytics and data can help break down these siloes. I spent a lot of my time at Deloitte looking at team performance. When you combine financial information with the traditional HR information, you can start making comments around whether the team is good at getting the job done.

So from all this data you could say, for example, that a particular type of project seems to perform better in New York than London so you could move similar projects across the pond.

This is really enabling to the organisation.

The second thing that I think is really interesting is the analytics and the soft machine intelligence or machine learning. For example, trying to figure out who’s at risk of leaving.

On the need for diverse skills and collaboration for success…

You just can’t run an organisation on the backs of sole contributors that are working in a cube by themselves without any human interaction at all.

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Jamie Lawrence

Insights Director

Read more from Jamie Lawrence

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