As part of my series about the “How Business Leaders Plan To Rebuild In The Post COVID Economy,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Christal Bemont.
Christal joins Talend as a seasoned executive with a demonstrated track record in defining and leading sales and go-to-market strategies to significantly scale cloud businesses. Previously, she spent 15 years at SAP Concur, most recently leading its $2B business organization as Chief Revenue Officer. Prior to her CRO appointment, Christal was Senior Vice President and General Manager of SAP Concur’s Small, Midsized and Nationals (SMN) business unit. Early in her career, Christal served in a number of capacities focused on operational and technical roles at Motorola, Extensity, and Clarify.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I’ve spent the last 25 years in technology, primarily in sales. Early in my career, I held positions at Motorola focused on customer success and improving business operations. I then went on to work in sales or distribution for other technology companies. Most recently, prior to joining Talend, I was Chief Revenue Officer for SAP Concur, where I oversaw the company’s $2B global business. In all, I spent 15 years at SAP Concur in senior sales and leadership roles. During that time, I helped shape the company’s go-to-market strategy, and led multiple sales teams.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
When I was first starting in my career, I was taking my new boss and some other team members out on sales calls. I flew into the local airport and grabbed a rental car to drive the four of us to our appointments. Since I worked for an expense reporting company, I thought I should get an inexpensive rental car, because I assumed they closely tracked expenses. I don’t remember what kind of car it was, but it was really, really tiny.
When I went to pick everyone up, I remember feeling proud of myself because my boss would think it was great that I was saving the company money. I had yet to meet the team in person, and it turned out that my boss and the other team members were very tall people. Needless to say, they weren’t comfortable in the car! Then to complicate things more, when we met for breakfast the next morning, there was two feet of fresh snow on the ground. So, we started out my first sales call with my manager and team with a car that was so small and lightweight that I couldn’t get it through the snow and out of the parking lot!
What were takeaways?
The lesson I learned was that I was focused on the wrong thing. Sure, it’s always good to be prudent about expenses, but not if it prevents you from getting to your appointments!
Is there a particular book that you read, or podcast you listened to, that really helped you in your career? Can you explain?
My absolute favorite business book is “The Innovator’s Dilemma: When New Technologies Cause Great Firms to Fail,” by Clayton Christensen. I believe it to be one of the most — if not the most — important books chronicling how innovation takes place, and why it’s common that market leaders and incumbents fail to seize the next wave of innovation in their respective industries.
The book is so good, that even after having read it multiple times, I still pick up something new from the text. It helped me look at the world in a different way and not be afraid to be disruptive. It’s about not getting too comfortable in the zone that you’re in, and thinking that everything is just going to stay the same around you. I see myself as a disruptor, and will lead Talend to be a billion-dollar company, so that really resonates with me. A successful, innovative business should not be judged solely on building great products to fit a moment in time. A successful business also creates a strong corporate culture by empowering and elevating employees to help the company build for and challenge the future.
Do you have a “number one principle” that guides you through the ups and downs of running a business?
Yes. I believe it’s essential to create an organization and culture that allows employees to show up as their unique, authentic selves. When employees can be themselves, it helps break down the barriers that often are created in a work environment, and it enhances collaboration and camaraderie which can lead to great results. Companies are built “on” and for people and should represent the people they serve.
Thank you for all that. The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. For the benefit of empowering our readers, can you share with our readers a few of the personal and family related challenges you faced during this crisis? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
Covid-19 was particularly challenging for me because I relocated to the San Francisco bay area from Chicago just a few weeks before the pandemic. I was barely able to get my bearings when we began sheltering in place. Everything in the world was different at a time when I longed for familiarity, routines and touchstones. I had also just begun my new job as CEO of Talend, and I felt an enormous sense of personal responsibility for the well-being of Talend’s 1300 employees worldwide.
I viewed the situation as a great opportunity to redirect my emotions into helping our employees through the pandemic. For me, it was important to acknowledge their challenges from an emotional standpoint and to connect with them–even though we weren’t able to meet in person. I asked myself, “What does it mean to take care of people? How can I position the company to not only survive but to thrive?” During that time, I put a lot of my energy into making sure that employees felt supported, and that they felt emotionally healthy. That, in turn, gave me a sense of purpose, community and satisfaction.
Can you share a few of the biggest work-related challenges you are facing during this pandemic? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
As I mentioned, shortly after joining Talend as its CEO I found myself leading the company remotely. As the pandemic grew, I realized many employees were feeling unmoored and were uncertain about how they could help during the pandemic. I got together with my executive team and we agreed on a plan to help employees through these challenges. It included these steps:
- We launched a series of mental health seminars for employees, and we re-calibrated productivity expectations.
- I gave every employee worldwide my cell phone number and asked that they call me anytime they wanted to talk –about anything. I also started holding “drop in” office hours at designated times for employees worldwide. Sometimes that meant starting my day at 3:00 a.m. to accommodate global time zones.
- We also helped employees to take on “passion projects” to give them a sense of purpose and an opportunity to help out during the pandemic. One of the project teams created software that prepares data from public health databases, like those used by Johns Hopkins, allowing Covid researchers to easily analyze the data and help develop solutions for the pandemic.
Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the corona virus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. What are a few ideas that you have used to offer support to your family and loved ones who were feeling anxious? Can you explain?
As I discussed earlier, it’s truly about acknowledging things from an emotional standpoint. It’s about being hyper-aware of people and what is going on with them personally. Taking care of people is more complex than just the surface level. I try to reach out personally and make sure to help- let the person know they are taken care of. That way, we minimize the areas of impact.
Obviously, we can’t know for certain what the Post-Covid economy will look like. But we can of course try our best to be prepared. We can reasonably assume that the Post-Covid economy will be a trying time for many people across the globe. Yet at the same time the Post-Covid growth can be a time of opportunity. Can you share a few of the opportunities that you anticipate in the Post-Covid economy?
I see a huge opportunity in harnessing the power of data in the Post-Covid economy. Our nation has much to learn about the novel corona virus, and will be dealing for years with the fallout from the economic changes brought about by the pandemic. Data can help bring greater clarity to all those issues.
For example, data is now part of every discussion our customers have. They are using data to learn what regions of the world are impacted by the virus and what effect that might have on the supply chain. If their supply chains are affected, they use data to determine how they can re-calibrate their business and what that re-calibration might mean for their customers.
Going forward, there will be huge demand for companies that help customers make sense of their data and use it to make more informed business decisions, more quickly.
Covid-19 has clearly had a material impact in more ways than we might realize today. Where possible, as a business we need to embrace the disruption that it brings and use that as an opportunity to challenge how we operate and how we transform. Some of the greatest opportunities come from adversity.
How do you think the Covid pandemic might permanently change the way we behave, act or live?
I think that the worldwide WFH experiment has broken down the barriers between home and work—we’re all a lot more aware and understanding of others personal lives. The blurring of those barriers is a good thing and will go a long way toward increasing empathy.
Companies that succeed in eliminating the wall for the long term are those organizations with leaders that will embrace and master empathy and authenticity and not let historical expectations define them.
Considering the potential challenges and opportunities in the Post-Covid economy, what do you personally plan to do to grow your business or organization in the Post-Covid Economy?
We plan to help our customers re-instrument their businesses by enabling them to determine the health of their data. Until now, organizations haven’t had a tool that rates data trustworthiness, and if an organization’s data isn’t trustworthy, it can’t make sound decisions with it. Talend is passionate about helping organizations know with certainty that they can trust their data. Of course, trustworthiness extends beyond just having rapid access to quality data –it includes other factors, such as assurances that data is compliant and complete.
Covid-19 really highlighted the importance of reliable, trustworthy data; people’s lives have depended on decisions that are made with certainty. Similarly, companies rely on their data to make decisions that impact their bottom line, their customer experience, their competitive advantage–virtually every aspect of their business health. In response, Talend has begun rolling out the industry’s first “trust score.” The Data Trust Score delivers an instant assessment of an organization’s data health with complete accuracy based on data quality, data popularity and client- and user-defined ratings. It allows companies to assess the relevance and trustworthiness of their data at first sight.
After all, if your business runs on data, shouldn’t you be able to measure your data’s health across your entire company? And if you are relying on data sets to make critical business decisions, shouldn’t you be able to know without a doubt that you can quantifiable trust it?
Similarly, what would you encourage others to do?
Be sensitive and aware of what’s happening in the world every single day. For my employees, it’s about making sure people are associating the value that we bring with our customer-first approach. It also includes being sensitive to how customer needs have changed and where the world is going. In my opinion, that comes from being open to challenging the norm and bringing the best out of our company through our employees who are encouraged and supported to be their true authentic selves.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I think it would have to be, “adversity causes some to break, and others to break records.” I grew up on a farm in a rural part of Missouri and the conditions were quite bleak. Survival was a daily struggle for basic essentials like food and water. Without the basic necessities like running water and electricity you quickly learn what it means to fight to survive. What I learned during those tough times is that your situation doesn’t define you, it’s what you decide to do and what you believe is possible that matters.
How can our readers further follow your work?
You can follow me on Twitter: @ChristalBemont or at LinkedIn.