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A CFO’s Past Shapes His Present

Mark Peek tells how his prior jobs shaped what he does today as finance chief at enterprise software maker Workday.

At the same time, VMware’s CEO had announced he was leaving. I figured I’d be going through a big transition anyway, so it was a good time to move to something I was a little bit closer to from a product perspective. The thing I missed when I went to VMware was that it had been really easy to talk about Amazon and its products. Everyone knows what Amazon does. VMware is enterprise software that does virtualization and operates beneath operating systems and software-defined data centers. It’s is not exactly cocktail talk. People’s eyes glaze over pretty quickly. Coming to Workday, we have products that I frankly understand better.

You’re the CFO of a company that sells stuff to CFOs. Does that influence the role you play? For example, do you make sales calls?
I do make sales calls. Initially, before and shortly after we went public, a number of our customers wanted me to explain our business model. They wanted to know if we were financially viable. Now it’s more about our financial products. I can share the experience of taking Workday public on that system, and we use it to report our earnings and do Sarbanes-Oxley compliance — and everything else a public company has to do.

What else about the nature of Workday shapes what you do as the CFO?
We’re building a company that is designed for the long term. It’s not about getting by for a few years and then having some kind of event happen. The intention is to be one of the largest ERP vendors in the world. That means taking care of our employees, because we believe that’s how we will take care of our customers in the long term.

Our HCM product is mature and can — and does — serve some of the biggest companies in the world. On the financial side we’re not there yet. For example, Hewlett-Packard is an HCM customer, but we’re not ready for HP to be a financial-software customer.

There’s a continued perception, not held by everyone but certainly by many, that putting proprietary financial information in the cloud is risky from a data-security standpoint. What do you say when that issue comes up?
It’s a question of market maturity and educating customers and potential ones about our security practices. There are many companies large and small that trust their customer and sales-pipeline information in a cloud system like salesforce.com. Many have become comfortable with their employees’ data being stored in the cloud too. Some may argue that your financial information is less valuable [to hackers] than either of those.

Workday is obviously not a retailer, but do you think that all companies are going to be scrutinized more closely on data security because of the breaches at Target?
That was unfortunate, because e-commerce and credit-card transactions are really driving the global economy. Certainly people want to understand what happened and how to prevent it. It’ll be interesting to see what the causes of that were and what lessons we can learn.

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