Alumni Leading the Way

Meredith Schmidt helped Salesforce grow from just a few employees to thousands. Now, she’s using their resources to give back. As executive vice president of Salesforce Essentials and SMP, she makes the best of their resources available to small businesses, students and other community members. She’s helping direct Salesforce “back to its roots,” making user-friendly, accessible products and uplifting communities in the process.

Can you tell me a little about your current role at Salesforce?

I just switched to a new role, which is really new and exciting, and I’m working on using Salesforce products and resources to elevate small businesses. After growing so quickly for a number of years, we realized that we’d started to get away from our roots. When we stepped back and looked at it, we’d gotten away from being easy to use. We wanted to get back to developing products that small businesses can use. There’s a tendency to lean resources toward large clients, and that makes sense, but we’re working to make small businesses feel just as valued, and I direct those initiatives while building relationships with these business owners. It’s like running our own startup within Salesforce, which is a cool experience.


What do you love most about your job?

Definitely witnessing the stories and the passion of these small business owners. It’s so inspiring. I work downtown, but I live outside the city, and I really value the small businesses near my home. I walk my dog at night and pass by them. I get meat from a local butcher, eat at family owned restaurants, those kinds of places, and I love them. And there’s a great story behind every one.


How does rapidly changing technology affect the way you lead?

One of the things we’ve always believed at Salesforce is that the purpose of technol­ogy is to allow increased focus on the customer. Technology should do the dirty work, so that we can be in the business of relationships. Technology has allowed me to get out and focus more on cultivating those kinds of intimate relationships with small businesses in the community.


What do you look for in people when you’re building a team?

Diversity is really important. And that means diversity of everything from race to background to skills and opinions. You can’t have a team of people who all think the same way; it doesn’t work. I always consider how I can bring in differing perspectives that still compliment the group. Perspectives drive innovation. I want people who have the strength to express a different opinion or ask a tough question. That kind of mix is what makes a team magic.


How can companies be act as leaders to affect positive change in their communities?

It needs to happen both at the corporate level and on the personal level. Salesforce’s “1-1-1 model”, for example, means donating one percent of your time, one percent of your equity and one percent of your product to the commu­nity. It’s important that a company builds philanthropy into its foundation, instead of trying to fit it in after they’ve already grown a lot. This way it’s part of the culture from day one. Here, each em­ployee gets seven paid days off per year to volunteer in the community, however they’d like, so it’s on a personal level too. When employees have the permission and encouragement to serve causes that they’re passionate about, they love it, and it drives that culture of giving.


What projects are you excited about right now?

We started working with this amazing program called Year Up. It’s for students who don’t have a college degree, and it gives them a six-month internship at various company, where they get practical training in technology, communications, presentation skills, etc. Too many companies have the hard and fast rule that you need to have a four-year degree, and we’ve been trying to challenge our ideas about that. Of course, I encourage students to complete their degrees, but I don’t think every position requires one. We’ve hired for a lot of positions from Year Up, and they’ve been fantastic employees. Another project is Genesis Works, which gives internships to high school seniors from underserved communities. It really opens their eyes to all the options they have and allows them to see working for a company like Salesforce as a reality for them.


What’s the hardest lesson you’ve had to learn?

That I’m not always right. It seems pretty basic, but it’s a tough one for a lot of people. I’ve seen the value of having an open mind and asking questions, listening to things I might disagree with at first. So many people don’t listen, they just think of what they want to say next. Listening is a skill; it includes an awareness of physical and verbal cues. And it goes hand in hand with having an open mind. Listening means making sure everyone has a voice.


Where do you find inspiration?

I’ve always been inspired by my family. My mom was a single mom raising three kids and I really admire her dedication. My brother is starting his own small business and I admire his drive. Other than that, I’ve picked up little bits of inspiration from everyone around me. I try to always surround myself with good people, and I think that’s a good policy to have. Each of my former supervisors, like our CFO Mark Hawkins, who is the nicest person I think I’ve ever known. Little pieces of people inspire me all the time. For example, the company brought in Buddhist monks for one of our offsites to lead us in mediation. I’d never meditated in my life, but the way that these monks devoted themselves to it was incredible.


How do you go about making tough decisions?

Whenever a difficult situation comes up, I try to bring it back to my three personal core values: compassion, authenticity and loyalty. I think about how these values play out in that decision, and I take the course that best follows them. You have to stay true to your own values.


How do you continue to Learn by Doing?

I’ve never stopped. I quote that all the time because it’s so important. My goal is to be able to jump in an do any job on my team because watched and tried things out with each member. That way, I understand their motivations and their challenges and I can help them better. Whenever we have a new product, every person on the team will do a trial run, like they’re each a new customer using it for the first time. That way, we’re learning a new user’s experience and obstacles by doing it ourselves.


What do you do for fun?

I love spending time around my friends and family. And I love cooking. During football season, I don’t watch, but I take five hours during the games to try making a new dish. It’s always fulfilling to travel and experience new places too; I’m always looking for somewhere new to go. But I also take my down time seriously. I’m a big reader, so sometimes nothings beats sitting down with a book and relaxing.


What advice would you give to current Orfalea College of Business Students?

This is going to sound so cliché, but it’s so true: follow what makes you passionate. Not “follow your passions,” but “follow what makes you passionate,” because there’s a difference. You’ve got to enjoy what you do. You’ve got to feel excited about your work. Surround yourself with good people who inspire you, and if you can smile every day because of what you’re doing, that’s a good life.

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