BENGALURU: Many couldn’t believe it when they first heard that Arundhati Bhattacharya, who retired as chairperson of State Bank of India (SBI) in 2017 after 40 years with the lender, would be leading the India operations of the $17-billion Salesforce, one of the world’s leaders in cloud-based customer relationship management (CRM) software. She probably is the first chairperson of a public sector bank to take on a major executive role after retirement.

So, when TOI was offered an interview with the 64-year old, our first question was: What made her take on such a huge responsibility, and in a very different space? Bhattacharya had a ready answer.

She said during her one year of gardening leave from SBI, she interacted with many school and college kids, and one of the things they used to ask is, how come you had one career spanning 40 years? “I used to tell them that in your time, you will have many careers. And one of the things you should be passionate about is learning, unlearning and relearning, and that’s what the new world is going to be like. When this position was offered to me, I thought of walking the talk.” Bhattacharya said she also saw an uncanny similarity in the values held by SBI and Salesforce — the values of family, the notion of giving back to society. “They have the philanthropic model of 1-1-1, which is giving away 1% of your time, 1% of your products and 1% of your profit or equity to philanthropic initiatives. SBI also gives away 1% of the profits, and they started doing it even before the Companies Act mandated it,” she said.

A third reason, she said was that Salesforce is at the cutting edge of digital and the future is going to be digital. Does Salesforce hope to benefit from her access to government, and the boardrooms and leadership of major Indian firms? Bhattacharya said it is much more than that. “I have done a few things with Fortune 500 firms, and those have gone well. I have led the digital initiatives in SBI and I realise the value of digital. By bringing me in, they want to display the fact that they are serious about India.

It indicates a commitment from the Salesforce management that we are here for good and we want to scale this,” she said. Salesforce in India, she said, is a little fragmented. The company has a varied operations here — sales, technology & product development, and support & services. One of Salesforce’s mandates to Bhattacharya is to build an India story where all of the parts come together. “Every function earlier used to report to Marc (Marc Benioff, founder & CEO of Salesforce). There was no India head. Going forward, the functional reporting will remain, but there will also be an India-reporting structure,” she said.

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