Michael Basch: How to Balance Qualitative and Quantitative Leadership

We interviewed Michael Basch, Chief Revenue Officer, North America Sales and Service Cloud at Oracle.


Today, we pedal through Michael's past to learn more about the mountains he's climbed in his ascent to the Oracle C-Suite and we get a handle on how he wheels his way between the qualitative and quantitative aspects of family style leadership.

 

TRANSCRIPT


Adam Conner (01:02):

Michael, thanks for joining me. Can't wait to dive in. How are you?


Michael Basch (01:05):

I'm great, Adam. Thanks for having me.


Adam Conner (01:08):

You are at the pinnacle of this tech titan today. I want to talk obviously about all of the intricacies that come with leading such a massive organization and one that has such breadth across the globe but I'd like to start with your personal experience in sales. Everybody starts somewhere. My first sales experience came from a leader who had grown up a business from five employees to a hundred million dollars and I'm sure that you have experienced and seen journeys like that along the way.


Adam Conner (01:38):

And I also know that you've built a stellar history of wowing customers and winning contracts, especially in SaaS. And this was a funny part all the way back when SaaS, nobody even knew what that was. In fact, I looked at a poll from, I think the mid two thousands where it said, "Software as a Service, was a term that only 40% of businesses knew." 60% of businesses hadn't even heard of it. And yet you were running the show doing success on demand tours for Salesforce, I believe. So I'm curious to where the passion for that started in a world where the majority of people didn't even know what SaaS was.


Michael Basch (02:17):

Yeah. Well, thanks for the kind words Adam. It definitely has been amazing journey. It really, I think started from my dad. I grew up in a small town in Canada and just my observation of the way he interacted with people as a kid. He ran a clothing store that he took over from his parents in a small town in Canada and it wasn't really something that he enjoyed and he always had bigger ambitions and he used to talk about it and one thing I noticed about my dad is he was always curious. I remember if I went with him to a convenience store or to pick up laundry or dry cleaning or get something from a restaurant, people always knew my dad because he would always talk to them and ask them questions about their business and be curious.


Michael Basch (03:05):

He used to smoke back then as probably a lot more people did and I think a lot of times it was just sharing a cigarette and passing time with him but that curiosity really led him to realize there was a void in the market in hospitality and he decided to start ... He went from a clothing store to ... He started a budget motel in our hometown and then opened another and opened a third until it became a large company at hundreds of properties and they went public. But what I learned from him is that whether it was talking to someone at that restaurant or convenience store or talking to customers coming to the first motel or starting to engage with his employees as the company grew, that my dad really knew it was about people and being curious and asking questions and showing people that you care.


Michael Basch (03:59):

And I learned that that was important to building a business, whether you're an entrepreneur or whether you're in sales or run a sales organization. And that's why I've always enjoyed sales and I think that's why I've had the career that I've had because I enjoy talking to customers, I enjoy working with people on my teams because ... And the bigger businesses you build, the more people you get to talk with and the more people you get to learn with. So that's really where it all began for me a long time ago.


Adam Conner (04:29):

Well, Hey, I'm a fan of asking questions, so it's good to know that that's where you started as well. Was software your motel group. I mean, were you doing something before software and you said, "now I need to get in this." Or was it just right place, right time?


Michael Basch (04:43):

Yeah. I always very early on had an interest in technology. I'm old enough that personal computers really weren't available and in every home when I was a kid and I had a math teacher who grabbed me and a friend and literally pulled us into a computer lab and introduced us to computers. So where you [inaudible 00:05:09], myself but you used to have to program by filling out punch cards and he really opened my eyes to technology and really instilled in my friend and myself that the world was going to change with technology and that really became my early interest in technology and software.


Adam Conner (05:29):

I was born and grew up in the age of computers, not being super prevalent but being there and my in-laws have a humble brag that they had some of the first email addresses. They went [inaudible 00:05:42], email and they were real tech for up there. So I'm aware of the punch cards. I know all about that, although I wasn't there, I didn't learn in that era but you have, once software became prevalent, managed to ascend across many different now, crazy successful organizations. It may be coincidental that the cover on your LinkedIn page is of a biker. Now, I think it's sort of like a sideways picture but I think they're pedaling uphill. For the purpose of this question, they're pedaling uphill. And it reminded me of any bike race.


Adam Conner (06:17):

Like the Tour de France, for example. And how you're always remembering the finish, you always remember the people raising their hands up at the end of the stage. But I think the most overlooked award or honor is for the person that's able to climb the mountain the best. It's a polka dot jersey. So it's not like the yellow one. It's a different one. I think it's like white and red. So as you look upon your various climbs across these software organizations, even through to today, what are some of the moments, if you'll indulge me amidst your ascent, where you've truly needed to earn your polka dots and how did you do it?


Michael Basch (06:50):

Good question. Well, first of all, that biker in the picture on my LinkedIn is me and I have it there for a reason because it really reminds me as you're alluding to it, so the journey can be hard and really there's only one path to success I believe or for most of us a few of us can get lucky along the way but most of us, it's all about hard work and that's really to keep going when it's hard and I've come across that many times in my career. When you're climbing up a hill, as you do on a bike and I like to bike here in the Santa Cruz mountains near where I live is there's always a hill that you don't expect when you come around the corner and you're always, always fighting the urge, just stop. Because if you stop, you can instantly make the pain go away and just turn back. But you learn that you have to persevere and there's a reward for getting the top.


Michael Basch (07:45):

And I think a number of times that's happened to me in my career. At Salesforce I used to run a vertical business healthcare and I can think of like any vertical or any industry, it goes through peaks and valleys and headwinds, financial sector, you can have 2008 and the collapse of subprime mortgages and everything that that started. But in healthcare at times, the win was behind you and then certain legislation or concerns about privacy and new regulation that came in would be a hill, so to speak and being able to focus on that long term goal of knowing that what you're doing in that industry has value and it's going to be recognized over a period of time and not just turning back when the hill gets steep.


Michael Basch (08:39):

And I interview a lot of people because I've run some larger organizations and I can see it in people's resumes. I can pick out who are the people that turn away when it gets tough. You can see it in their resume. They've been with company one year and two years and six months and one year and those typically aren't the people that look for.


Adam Conner (09:03):

That's interesting. I've talked to some folks who have that same ... I've had the pleasure of talking to some folks who have built great teams and they have noted the same that the longevity is indicative of a number of things likely success individually but also the fact that they are able to slog through those times when they round the corner and oof another hill but they do it very well. Now you have at Oracle overseeing a wide wake of commercial offerings and perhaps that includes new product areas where it's another hill and you're excited to climb it but regardless, a wide wake and I'll stick with the bike theme but I'll do it later. I'll put it in my back pocket for now because I'm most interested to know with as wide as the offering is across everything Oracle does, how do you stay on top of it all or set up a system to stay on top of it all to ensure that each grows in its own right over the long term?


Michael Basch (10:03):

Yeah. First of all, I have to say, I don't have to stay on top of it all for a number of reasons. One, I'm responsible for a portion of the vast offerings at Oracle. So I have other peers who have their responsibility and I hire a lot of people who have domain expertise and product expertise to do it but I think I can relate it back into, I think the world of technology sales is change and I think it's kind of making it easier to stay on top of it when you're in my position. We used to be very product oriented companies, which means that you had to be a product expert in technology.


Michael Basch (10:45):

And I think it's easy to be a product expert when you work for a company that sells a niche solution or one narrow best of breed product but as you say, some of the large technology companies like Oracle that have many, many products that would be very difficult to do. And that's always the age old question in sales. Do you want one specialist who owns a very narrow product set and goes really, really deep? Or do you want a generalist who has a large bag that they carry and they go an inch deep? And that was tough to figure out. And I think we oftentimes we've vacillated between one or the other but today you hear a lot of talk about really moving to a solution sale and really, I think that what organizations are looking for technology companies to help them with it's really to try and solve complex business issues that they're doing that, that don't require one point solution but may require a platform or a number of tailored solutions made to work together.


Michael Basch (11:51):

And so I think now today, for my role and a lot of the people that work with me, we're more I think moved, you can think of us more as consultants and then we have technical experts that can help us with staying on top of this, as you mentioned at the beginning of the question of such a broad portfolio.


Adam Conner (12:10):

You talk about hiring people, making sure or you have the right folks in for the job and it makes me wonder about some of the highlights there, amidst the people that you have seen ascend to greatness in their careers of their own right. Which I'm sure is something that you also kind of get to add to your mental resume, if nothing else. Because that's part of Growth Culture, isn't it? Finding people who are ideally better at your job than you are. I mean, that's what I would do. And so I'm curious if there is an example or two that stands out of people who come to mind when I think about or when you think about bringing in the right people. And then I want to talk about how you instill the best practices in somebody regardless but is there an example of that that comes to mind?


Michael Basch (12:53):

Yeah. There's so many. I mean, that's what I've been really fortunate to do in that if you look at my career, I've worked for some larger companies that I've been able to start a team and grow that team. I think early on for Salesforce, I opened up their first office outside of San Francisco in Toronto and I hired a lot of young people. And typically in sales, when you hire somebody out of college or university, as we call it more in Canada, they don't know a lot about the business. They want to get into sales or to enterprise technology sales and you start them as, we call them business development reps but really they come on, you provide them with as much training as you can and then they hit the phones and they start cold calling.


Michael Basch (13:47):

And I hired a bunch of people. I remember a group that came from Wilfrid Laurier University, which is a small university in Eastern Ontario. Oh, actually it's Western Ontario but they came and they started working for us just right out of school. And there's one gentleman, his name's Ryan Barreto, who is one of this group. He started as a business development rep and then moved into sales and really just watched him be curious and learn and really develop into a leader. He started managing people, being a first line manager and a second line manager ran the part acquisition for Salesforce for a while. And now he's the president at Sprout Social and extremely successful. And he's one of many that I could picked and to me, that's just probably the most satisfying thing about doing what I get to do.


Adam Conner (14:44):

I do love that story just because you saw somebody grow from a seedling of sales, now they run a company called Sprout. So that's a nice plan. Just for somebody who's in that world. It's very, very nice.


Michael Basch (14:54):

True.


Adam Conner (14:55):

But let me go back to the biking theme. Actually, I want to return there. So in a big race or something like that, if there's a lot of people biking together. Of course a pack creates a draft and you are the leader of the pack, leader of the draft in this case, in terms of Oracle or any organization. And because of the weight that you create that draft, your teammates or people that you bring on can perform efficiently and quickly, even more so than yourself, which as I said before, is a great key to leadership in my eyes. How are you ensuring that your vast team stays in the draft and captures best practices to eventually slingshot wherever they may go?


Michael Basch (15:33):

Yeah. It's interesting. Actually in a bike race, if you watch the Tour de France, it's usually the leader who is following some people who they call domestiques, who clear the air for them but I understand exactly what you're saying. And I do think that's my job is often to clear the headwinds so to speak for my team because today at sales, I think it used to be a lot simpler, today it's extremely complex. There's a lot coming at them and really when you wake up in the morning, what do you do? Are you creating pipeline? Are you hopping on a plane? Are you doing forecast reviews? Are you taking some enablements, some certification? If you're a manager, do you have to balance selling with hiring? You probably want to work on your career, you want to network, people are coming at you on Slack, email, text.


Michael Basch (16:27):

So it's really, what I feel my job is really being clear on what's a priority as my ex CEO used to say, "If everything is a priority, nothing's a priority." So I think as a leader, part of smoothing the air so to speak is really prioritizing for your team, letting them know what's important to you. With my team, we take the time to plan and really lay out our priorities and make that clear. We figure out how we're going to market, what industries we're going to focus on. And then we make sure that we match and build enablement, which is very specific so that they understand how to best accomplish that. And then we build KPIs around the activities that we're asking to do so that they know clearly what's expected and what success looks like. And to me, that's clearing the air for them. And it's extremely important.


Adam Conner (17:21):

I got another question about that world and I'll return to the biking metaphor one more time and then I'll leave it because I don't want to hit on it too much but-


Michael Basch (17:27):

I love biking. So it's good.


Adam Conner (17:29):

Okay. Good. Well, I'm glad I'm not exhausting you with it. When it comes to best practices pushed forward, there are two perhaps concurrent timelines to consider when it comes to the results driven from those best practices. I'm referring of course, to the short term and the long term, we both know that in sales, sometimes you can be characterized by your last win or your most recent effort or whatever that is and especially today, I mean talk about the tech world and SaaS and even in the market for investors, I mean, they are looking for returns, they're looking for growth and they may not necessarily be as patient as a leader who knows that sometimes you need several quarters. Maybe you need a year or two to really get somewhere.


Adam Conner (18:10):

I'd like to know since you are the one who is smoothing the air, who is breaking through resistance and as somebody who needs to satisfy that investor hungry short term performance period and that longer term employee enrichment period, how do you balance between those two speeds for those two needs? And I guess the biking metaphor was like different gears or something. I don't know. I didn't really get there but hopefully, you know what I'm getting at.


Michael Basch (18:34):

Yeah. I do know what you're getting at. And I talk a lot about this. A long time ago for 20 plus years ago, I read a book Good to Great by Jim Collins. And it compared sets of cohorts of companies that were in similar businesses and in one have been extremely successful and lasted for decades and another had kind of faded out. And what they found were the companies that focused on long term initiatives, not just short term goals were the ones that ended up really thriving in the long term. And I think two-speed is really relevant. I talk about that with a lot of customers that we have in selling technology in that there are companies have been burned by lengthy long term technology products that they've done and they need quick wins along the way, but it's still important that they focus on those strategic initiatives.


Michael Basch (19:28):

So we talk about two-speed architecture when we go sell customers. And I think also as salespeople, it's really, really difficult. As you mentioned, investors, the market in sales, we're all really measured with quarterly results these days and from a quarterly lens. There's a old saying that, "As a salesperson, you're only as good as your previous quarter." But I think in order to be successful and to really have a successful career in technology and in sales and really in business, you really have to operate at two-speeds and that's figuring out those quick wins that you can get by having that North Star and prioritization and commitment, as you said to when the headwinds come so that you continue on that longer journey.


Adam Conner (20:21):

I'm wondering about this next, let me go here. So there are various balances that any leader has to undertake when considering short term long term enrichment versus performance. And I want to go to a quote that you wrote on LinkedIn a little while back. I think it was at the end of '21 that says, "As leaders, we spend too much time focusing on all hands meetings and kickoffs and QBRs, quarterly business review for anybody curious what that is. Yet often the most impactful conversations and learning happens when working together on a problem or opportunity." The balance that I want to ask about is that between the qualitative value of learning and the quantitative value, at least I think of review and process optimization. If we spend too much time focusing on that latter piece, how would you advise that we effectively balance the two?


Michael Basch (21:14):

That's a really good question. I do remember writing that and QBR ... So you mentioned QBR. It's a good example. I find in sales were told to do QBRs. We typically get our teams together, often pre pandemic, you would travel and take a couple days out and sit in a room together and people would present at you. And what I found is is that people really want to show up, impress and look good and so to speak in front of their leadership and so they spend a lot of time prepping. And really the whole goal, as I said, is to make themselves look good and kind of get out of that experience without too much damage. And I think when you have a series of mostly one way presentations, the conversations don't really happen. I think if you have a regular cadence, like I try and have in our organization where you lay out specifically what you expect and you measure it, you don't really need to accomplish all of that in QBR.


Michael Basch (22:14):

So what we do now, when we get together on a quarterly basis is we put some broad outlines on topics that we want to speak. We perhaps present a hypothesis and we sit down and we spend the two days debating and discussing and then prioritizing what we're going to do to accomplish so that we come out of there with some priorities. So for me, really the balance is really prioritizing the quantitative stuff and having a regular cadence with that but making sure that you're leaving more time for discussing and learning and doing some of the qualitative stuff.


Adam Conner (22:50):

That's a great point. That balance is always something that I'm sure varies but is critical to get right in a particular time and for a particular situation and that always varies as people come in and change, and situations change and I'm reminded that you have noted that great or organizations, perhaps those that have drawn that appropriate balance and that have shown that care for people that mix of quality and quantity have treated you like family. Now, I hear that word. I've heard that word sometimes and associate with a startup. And sometimes it means one thing that maybe is a little too overbearing. Families can sometimes that way but other times it can be genuinely a very enriching experience to feel like you are part of a family.


Adam Conner (23:37):

At Oracle, you're the head of the family for your group. And I'm wondering how you thoughtfully draw the line as the leader between nurturing the next generation of Michael Basch's, who's the next one going to be? Maybe the Ryan [inaudible 00:23:49], of the world and showing tough love as only a parent could do for their family?


Michael Basch (23:56):

Good question. I have a saying that I've always used and I live by is, is that, "Once on my team, always on my team." And what I mean by that, I think it comes from how I value my family and how I care about them. I want them to succeed. Many times we disagree but we're family and we're there for each other and you grow, you move away but we stay in touch and we care about each other. And so that's what I mean by, Once on my team, always on my team. If you go work for someone else or go somewhere else, I'm there for you as you were there for me. And you mentioned tough love and I think that that's something that I've had to learn on my journey.


Michael Basch (24:41):

I think of myself as the younger manager and I'm not sure I would've wanted to work for [inaudible 00:24:47], in a sales environment. I get frustrated with certain behavior or people and I keep it inside and not really be straight with them as to how I feel. And then at some point it would blow and I get angry at them and I've certainly seen it in sales cultures. And it didn't help them, they really became scared of failing, and I think when you put people to a point where they're scared of failing, then they're not going to try new things and they're worried they're going to get yelled at or look poorly.


Michael Basch (25:21):

And what I learned over time is that really the key is really transparent conversation and I know, there's been books recently about radical transparency. I don't really love the term radical transparency because I think it could imply that it's important to be transparent, whether that's harsh or mean and I think what I've learned is that what you owe people on how they can learn the best is if you are transparent but you can do that without the meanness. And sometimes people won't agree with your opinion but once I made the shift to that transparency but without the meanness, I think that people understand that it's coming from a good place, a place of caring, a place of you wanting to help them succeed. And that's kind of, I think the lesson that works in families and I don't think it's different in a work culture. And I think you can converge the two.


Adam Conner (26:14):

Yeah. That's thoughtful. Well, let me ask you this as we close. We've gone a great number of places today. We used some cycling metaphors, I appreciate that by the way that you played along but at the end of the day, you lead an organization whose very name implies wise or prophetic counsel. So I cannot stop this interview without asking about the future and to ask, what do you foresee as the hallmarks of a world class growth culture going forward, whether that be in 2022 or beyond?


Michael Basch (26:55):

Yeah. I think sometimes what's going to make a world class growth culture in the future isn't something new. I've always thought the number one hallmark for a growth culture is people. And that's really spending time on the front, attracting the right people into your organization. And then I think growth will follow. And I think if you solely focus on growth, then you're going to end up taking shortcuts in hiring people. I often see that. I, as a leader spend, I would say 50% of my time making sure that I have the right people in my organization because we all know the cost and lack of return of hiring the wrong people. So I really think if you're going to be a real world class growth culture, you need to focus on people at the front end and always focus on people because otherwise it'll be extremely difficult to grow.


Michael Basch (27:48):

I think also collaboration. I mean, it's changing in the way that we're able to collaborate with people. Enterprise software's extremely complex. You can't do it alone anymore. You can't grow an organization alone anymore. You can't just be charismatic and sell things. And if you look at some of the highest growth companies we've had lately, they've really achieved scale through a platform that allows people to collaborate, whether that's collaborate socially, collaborate at work, whether it's gaming, it's really harnessing the power of collaboration to achieve scale and growth. So I think as you look at the companies beyond, they're going to be able to take advantage of how we're able to collaborate now and really tap into the power of many.


Adam Conner (28:36):

Well, I look forward to seeing that and for being leader of many and telling me how you've grown in that journey, Michael, thank you so much for joining me on the show. It was a pleasure to learn from you.


Michael Basch (28:45):

It's been a pleasure to be here, Adam. Thank you for having me.


Adam Conner (28:51):

Thanks for tuning in today. To hear more conversations just like this one, head on over to where you get your podcast and search Growth Culture also Dedicated.ai/podcast. And wherever you are, leave us a rating and review to let us know how you liked this one. To learn more about Dedicated.ai and our other events, visit us at our website or send us an email at jl@dedicated.ai. We'd love to hear from you about what you'd love to hear from us. Until next time I'm your host, Adam Conner, signing off.