To find success in IT business, focus on people

Salesforce’s Allyson Fryhoff, Loyola’s 2014 Lattanze Executive of the Year, reflects on her development as a leader, and what it takes to sustain a boundaryless culture of innovation

By Nick Alexopulos, '03

Allyson Fryhoff was going to be a teacher.

Full-time jobs in education were scarce when she left the East Coast for California after college, but the emerging tech boom opened a door to intriguing new opportunities. Fryhoff was a people person in what is regularly stereotyped as a socially awkward world: Silicon Valley. She landed a job in customer service and thrived thanks in part to her degrees in psychology and early childhood education. Her insatiable curiosity led to constant learning, and she quickly rose through the ranks.

She never looked back.

Twenty-five years later, Fryhoff is the senior vice president of global enterprise platform for San Francisco-based Salesforce, an international cloud computing company that serves customers ranging from emerging businesses to Fortune 500 companies.

Loyola’s Sellinger School of Business and Management honored her as the 2014 Lattanze Executive of the Year on Nov. 13, and while she was in town, Fryhoff sat down with Loyola magazine to discuss how she and Salesforce have remained ahead of the curveand where the industry is headed next.

What’s the most important key to your success?

I always think that, frankly, it’s about connecting with people. When working with and managing people, it’s essential to play nicely in the sandbox together. And that’s helped me a lotknowing how to understand and empathize with what’s going to help make customers and employees successful.

When I got my very first job in high tech, I was in customer service. I made an extraordinary effort to learn everything about the business as I went. I asked a lot of questions, I had technical people explain to me what all of this meant, and I went from customer service into sales and into business development, to where I am today.

What are your responsibilities at Salesforce?

I oversee our enterprise platform business. Salesforce has six major clouds: Sales, Service, Marketing, Community, Analytics, and Apps.

Apps, or ‘Platform,’ underlies everything that we do. Our platform is used by our customers to develop applications that go beyond any applications we deliver out of the box. The platform is the cloud service we offer that allows customers to extend our out of the box applications and develop custom applications that differentiate their business.

Customers use the capabilities of the platform to build applications to get work done more efficiently through automating business processes. Everything from capital acquisition request forms to order processing to employee communities or intranets. Many companies can buy that out of the box, but some of the software is so hard to use they need to build an agility layeran actual people engagement layerabove that. And that’s usually what customers are doing with our platform. So, I have a team of people around the world that helps our customers understand and adopt our platform for their custom application development. We focus on helping our customers create success with their employees, customers, and partners.

Salesforce is considered one of the most innovative companies on the planet. How does the company’s culture contribute to its commitment to new ideas?

I discussed this same question with some Loyola students earlier today! I think what makes Salesforce such an innovative company is that we don’t have a chief innovation officer. Everyone at the company is expected to innovate. We are a culture of innovation, change, collaboration. Everyone is expected to bring new ideas to the forefront, and we listen to those new ideas from our customers first and foremost.

What’s critical is to be ready to change all the time and know that change isn’t just inevitable. It’s the reality. You have to be constantly questioning what you did yesterday, and asking, “Is that still going to work tomorrow?” Just because we did it yesterday doesn’t mean it’s going to be the right thing going forward and right for the future. This constant questioning is the core of our innovative culture. “Beginner’s mind,” as our CEO, Marc Benioff, would say.

The other element that makes our company culture so unique is giving back. We have a one-one-one model. One percent of our equity, one percent of our employees’ time, one percent of our product is what we give back to our communities at home and around the world.

Give us a glimpse of the next big thing in your industry.

We’re focusing on mobile and, specifically, the Internet of things. The Internet of things is all of the sensors that are going into all of the products that you buy as a consumer and all of the products that businesses use in business-to-business interactions.

What that means for Salesforce is how do we help our customers really create value in their business with the data they are collecting. And then how do they make that data available in a usable format from anywhere, like mobile devices. There is so much data coming from all of these sensors. How do you analyze that data for business value and value creation?

What advice would you give current students and recent grads who are trying to break into the IT field?

I would say that it’s not just about the technology. You have to be a business person first and foremost, and you have to think about the success of the business that you’re joining, and how technology helps with that success. In short, how does it help to create value? Just knowing the bits and bytes isn’t good enough; you have to think about how does that technology create value for your business.

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Allyson Fryhoff, senior vice president of global enterprise platform for Salesforce, is Loyola’s 2014 Lattanze Executive of the Year. The annual award recognizes an executive that strives to lead through technology within a company that has used information technology to foster innovation and competitive advantage in business.

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