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Workday co-CEO Bhusri sets stage for successor and sole CEO

Workday has tapped Carl Eschenbach, Sequoia Capital and VMware veteran, to work with co-CEO Aneel Bhusri for a year before taking on the chief executive role alone.

Since co-founding Workday 17 years ago, Aneel Bhusri, its co-CEO and chair, has taken it from an HR startup to a $5 billion-plus company. But in January 2024, he will exit his role as co-CEO and hand off full CEO responsibilities to Carl Eschenbach, a partner at Sequoia Capital and a former top executive at VMware.

The Workday CEO leadership change has the makings of a gradual transition. For the next year, Bhusri and Eschenbach will function as co-CEOs. Afterward, Bhusri will still play a major role at the company as a full-time executive chair and chair of the board of directors.

Analysts see the management change for Workday as a significant but not necessarily radical shift in direction. In recent years, Workday has acquired more companies to expand beyond HR and into general purpose ERP capabilities, including finance and supply chain, that would better position them to compete with Oracle and SAP.

"Workday is entering a new phase, a new era in its history," said Liz Herbert, an analyst at Forrester Research. She said that Workday has already been shifting from homogenous development to expanding its platform with acquisitions, opening the platform up to developers, and participating in more co-development with certain partners.

"We see some significant shifts to what they are doing," Herbert said.

Eschenbach's experience in the venture capital world may help Workday with its acquisition strategy and accelerate Workday's development of a broader portfolio of capabilities. His experience as CFO, COO and president of VMware -- another firm that had a meteoric rise -- can't hurt and may help with product expansion, analysts said.

Eschenbach replaces Chano Fernandez, appointed co-CEO of Workday in 2020. He had held leadership roles within its sales organization.

Fernandez "did a good job helping Workday in the middle of the pandemic sales environment," said Ray Wang, founder and principal analyst at Constellation Research. But the company's post-COVID-19 pandemic needs are different, he said.

Future platform expansion

Wang sees Workday adding more back-office capabilities as it looks toward a future platform expansion.

"Deal-making skills and investments in portfolio approaches will be useful as customers tighten their belts and concentrate their spending with fewer vendors," Wang said, referring to a broader approach in sales. "Eschenbach can bring that point of view to the table."

Workday is entering a new phase, a new era in its history.
Liz HerbertAnalyst, Forrester Research

Workday's willingness to work with partners is critical, Herbert said. Salesforce, Oracle and SAP have embraced partners much more aggressively than Workday. Partners are essential because they can build "that last layer of real industry specialization," she said.

Workday's board wanted to bring someone in "who they believe can run the company on their own, as a sole CEO," said Trevor White, an analyst at Nucleus Research. Eschenbach's experience at Sequoia and VMware "makes him an ideal candidate for the position."

While it's unclear what direction Eschenbach will take as the sole Workday CEO, "that they brought someone in from the outside would suggest that one can expect at least some change in the company," White said.

Patrick Thibodeau covers HCM and ERP technologies for TechTarget Editorial. He's worked for more than two decades as an enterprise IT reporter.

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