Arundhati Bhattacharya, She Glorifying Businesses, Nari Shakti

Arundhati Bhattacharya: Behind the Leadership Lens

Magazine Women

“I prioritise empowerment by giving my team the autonomy and space to operate.”

Arundhati Bhattacharya
(Chairperson & CEO, Salesforce India)

Arundhati Bhattacharya was 64 years old when she accepted the offer to join Salesforce as Chairperson and CEO of its India Operations. While many at this age might choose retirement, she emerges as a well-known name in the business world. From serving in the State Bank of India as the first female chairman for 40 years to serving Piramal Group, Wipro, Reliance Industries, SWIFT India and now Salesforce, Arundhati’s contribution to the business industry can’t go unnoticed.  

While working at SBI, she held several positions, such as working in foreign exchange, treasury, retail, operations, human resources, and investment banking. She has even served at SBI’s New York office and helped launch new businesses such as SBI General Insurance, SBI Custodial Services, SBI Pension Funds Pvt. Ltd., and the SBI Macquarie Infrastructure Fund. Women have been breaking stereotypes for so long, and Arundhati Bhattacharya is one of them. She was the first woman ever to lead a Fortune 500 company in India. When people see women in leadership roles, they always doubt their worth. Yet, during her four-year tenure at SBI, she identified problems in the bank and transformed the stable state-run lender into a customer-friendly and competitive bank. She even introduced the work-from-home scheme for women. She navigated the bank through its toughest times and completed the merger of 5 associate banks and Bharatiya Mahila Bank. This merger created a banking giant with over Rs 37 lakh crore in assets. Serving at SBI was just one facet of Arundhati’s career. She has served as a Non-Executive and Independent Director on the board of Piramal Group; she successfully navigated the company beyond her role and guided the company’s strategy and decision-making.

Arundhati served as an Independent Director on the board of Wipro Limited from December 2018 to April 2020. Her expertise helped Wipro in finance, risk management, and corporate governance. She is currently serving as Salesforce Chairperson and CEO of its India operations. Her role involves overseeing the company’s expansion strategy. She plays a crucial role in shaping Salesforce’s connections with the diverse network of customers, partners, and the community throughout India.

Over her extensive four-decade career in the financial sector, Arundhati has garnered a series of prestigious recognitions, including being featured in Forbes’ “The World’s 100 Most Powerful Women,” Fortune’s list of the “Top 50 globally most powerful women in business,” and the “World’s 50 Greatest Leaders.”

It’s quite interesting to note that a woman who served in the banking industry for four decades, entered into an industry so different, which shows her courage to embrace new challenges. In the span of just 3.5 years, Salesforce India has seen an extraordinary surge in its workforce, growing from 2,500 employees in 2020 to an impressive 10,000 today. 

Arundhati Bhattacharya shared her perspectives in response to a set of questions, asked about leadership, business decisions, strategies and more.

What principles guide your leadership style? What factors do you keep in mind while making business decisions?

Arundhati Bhattacharya Salesforce India

I believe a good leader should be a visionary. A good leader should empower teams to operate and lead in times of crisis. My approach towards my duties is guided by three fundamental principles: vision, communication, and empowerment. It allows me to steer the company towards a future-proof and future-ready state, ensuring sustained growth and innovation. 

Secondly, effective communication of this vision to the team is also important. By articulating a compelling narrative, I ensure alignment and buy-in from my colleagues, to foster a shared sense of purpose and direction. 

Lastly, I prioritise empowerment by giving my team the autonomy and space to operate. It harnesses collective brainpower and cultivates a culture of trust and collaboration which I believe is quite essential for driving success.

When making important business decisions, I keep multiple factors in mind. Firstly, I assess the long-term strategic implications to ensure alignment with our overarching goals and vision. Secondly, I prioritise data-driven decision-making by drawing insights from thorough assessments to inform my choices. This fosters objectivity and reduces risks. I also emphasise inclusivity by seeking input from diverse perspectives within the organisation which enables well-rounded decisions. Understanding the importance of agility in today’s dynamic business environment, I allow flexibility to adapt as needed.

How do you stay proactive in recognising and exploring new avenues for growth and development in your industry?

I  believe, remaining proactive in seeking new opportunities for growth and development is a key factor in Salesforce’s success in India. We constantly study market trends and understand customer needs to bring innovation and deliver excellent value. Our focus is on building customer-centred companies using tools like Customer360, industry-specific strategies, and AI innovations, which keep us ahead of the competition. Additionally, our dedication to building a robust network of partners and developers ensures we stay flexible and responsive to emerging opportunities in the market.

With pride, I mention that the expansion of our Centre of Excellence in Hyderabad reflects our dedication to scaling operations in India and meeting the growing market demand. We align our growth strategy with successful customer transformations across industries to capitalise on India’s position as a key driver of digital transformation.

Last year, we recorded a tremendous surge in Salesforce India’s headcount, expanding nearly fourfold in just 3.5 years. From 2,500 employees in 2020 to over 10,000 employees today, Salesforce is growing from all angles. Our ecosystem in India is flourishing, boasting a robust network of strategic partners, startups, and an extensive community of over 2 million Salesforce developers, with Trailhead adoption surpassing any market outside the US. 

India will soon become the world’s third-largest economy. Therefore, we recognise the immense potential for growth and remain committed to driving India’s digital transformation journey as its trusted digital partner.

How do you see Salesforce India contributing to the broader ecosystem of customers, partners, and communities across the country?

Arundhati Bhattacharya

Salesforce India brings companies and customers together and plays a pivotal role in nurturing and expanding the broader ecosystem of customers, partners, and communities pan-India. As the largest workforce outside of the United States, our team of dedicated professionals moves mountains to drive digital transformation and redefine experiences for businesses in India.

To drive growth in India, we recently announced the expansion of our Centre of Excellence (CoE) in Hyderabad. This move will help us reinforce our presence and extend our capabilities to serve customers not only locally but also at the global level. The customer success team at the CoE serves as trusted advisors, partners, and experts, guiding customers to unleash the full potential of Salesforce and implement tailored solutions to drive growth. 

We help businesses in India by giving them full support and technical know-how to make the most of the growing trend of using cloud services. Our successful collaborations with big companies like TVS Motor, Asian Paints, and Mahindra & Mahindra show that our way of doing things works well and encourages us to keep moving forward.

Our free online learning platform, Trailhead, has empowered approximately 3.5 million individuals with in-demand skills for the future workforce. Locally, partnerships with organisations like NASSCOM, AICTE, NSDC, and others are driving innovation all across India. To give an example, our virtual internship program with the All India Council For Technical Education (AICTE) has introduced nearly 60,000 students to Salesforce. And it’s a big number.

The provision of self-paced learning on Trailhead at no cost enables learners to acquire skills and enhance their profiles. Trailhead has gained widespread acceptance among our partners and customers, allowing learners to showcase their capabilities through achievements on our learning platform. 

What’s Her Source of Inspiration?

Education is the most beautiful weapon in the world – Swami Vivekananda. Lifelong learning determines success in the future. She believes strongly in the power of education to bring positive change. She actively supports programs that promote learning and skill development to empower people and communities. For her, education is like a powerful tool that can make a lasting impact on individuals and society.

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