Salesforce CEO Pip Marlow On Ambition, Aspiration And Imposter Syndrome
A CEO at the top of the tech game in Australia, Pip Marlow shares some advice with Susan Armstrong on how be a great leader, why believing in yourself is key and what Salesforce is doing to adapt to the work environment of the future.
Pip Marlow, CEO of Salesforce ANZ ASEAN
Pip Marlow has the innate ability to make you feel important – like you’re the only person in the room she’s interested in talking to. Granted, when we chat, it’s on Zoom and we are, in fact, the only two people in our respective home offices. But even over the airwaves, it’s crystal clear she’s fully present – and it’s authentic.

This, quite frankly, can be something of a rarity when you’re interviewing the CEO of a global organisation. But Marlow doesn’t take her eyes off the screen and her attention never waivers. What’s more, when this woman finds her groove, it’s like a wind catching her sails – and it’s a wonderful thing to behold.


A Work In Progress

“With me, what you see is what you get – good and bad,” Marlow says matter-of-factly. “I’m a work in progress – in my life, my career, my learnings, my roles and my contribution. It’s all about lifelong learning and evolution. If I don’t have a learner’s mindset, I will stay trying to solve the problems of tomorrow with the solutions of yesterday.”

It’s these beautifully crafted nuggets of wisdom that make an interview with the CEO of the ANZ and ASEAN divisions of Salesforce feel like a private masterclass in how to be a great leader.

“I think my leadership style is one of ambition and aspiration,” Marlow says. “I love a team that has bold goals, takes on challenges, and doesn’t shy away from the red zone, so to speak. I want to work with people who make me sit up a little straighter because they’re so good at what they do. In fact, my dream is to hire someone that I will work for one day. Wouldn’t that be cool? That you could identify and develop talent that you end up working for? That would be such an incredible story of success,” she effuses.

If you’re looking for a success story, then Marlow’s resume will do nicely. She’s enjoyed a stellar career working for Microsoft and Suncorp, and is now leading the ANZ and ASEAN divisions of the world’s top cloud-based software company, Salesforce. As one of the few female CEOs in Australia at the top of the tech game, you might think it all comes easily to her. Not so, it would seem.


Overcoming Imposter Syndrome

“As extroverted as I am, and as confident as I appear, I still have the little imposter in my ear,” she admits. “The little voice that says, ‘When are they going to figure out I’m not worthy?’.”

Wait. Pip Marlow hears that little voice too?

“Of course. I might be feeling afraid, unworthy or insecure, sometimes all at once,” she admits. “Like the time I left Suncorp. The media blew up when it was announced and I felt terrible. I actually thought my friends would think I was a loser for leaving. Of course, the reality was the exact opposite, and I had this tsunami of women I knew (and barely knew) reach out to support me and make sure I was okay. It was incredible. Incredible. But those initial feelings, and that little voice, were working overtime.


“As EXTROVERTED as I am, and as confident as I APPEAR, I still have the little imposter in my ear,” she admits. “The little VOICE that says, ‘When are they going to figure out I’m not WORTHY?’.”


“And while it’s important to listen to that voice, you must remember your fears or insecurities are feelings, not facts,” she continues. “When you allow those feelings to become facts, they create negative beliefs that take you on a downward spiral. So acknowledge the feeling – I’m nervous about this, but also excited about taking this opportunity and learning from it – and then keep going. That’s the belief I want to follow.”

It’s not surprising then, when Marlow cites ‘believe in yourself’ as one of the most invaluable pieces of advice she’s ever received.

“Say you want to climb Everest, but you don’t believe you can do it. You can bet that when you get to base camp, you sure as hell won’t climb that mountain. It’s the same in your career. It’s about having that sense of self-belief and declaring my aspirations, while still being authentic and humble.”


Adapting To An Evolving Workplace Environment

Growing up in her hometown of Wellington, New Zealand, Marlow declared her aspirations early. “I wanted to be a weathergirl – I was fascinated by that job,” she recalls. “I thought it would be really interesting to make predictions and study patterns. I spent a few of my formative years standing in front of the TV pretending I was presenting the weather,” she laughs.

Interestingly enough, Marlow studies patterns and make predictions today. Except instead of forecasting the weather, it’s the everchanging environment of the workplace – which is going through a major evolution at the moment.

“The organisations that are thriving right now are purpose driven,” she says. “People want to be working for organisations where they’re aligned to their purpose and their values.

“But something still doesn’t feel right in the world – because it’s not. And when things don’t feel right, people look for something. As a result, we’re going to continue to see an increase in attrition for employees who look at the company they work for and think, ‘This is not for me, this is not the place I need to be, because this is not going to help the world feel better.’”


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Salesforce As A Great Place To Work

It’s why Marlow thinks a lot about how Salesforce can continue to evolve and be a great place to work. “We’ve always been a very values-driven organisation and we’ve recruited the people who are aligned to those values of trust, innovation, customer success and equality. There’s a really high sense of alignment to our values and belonging at the organisation.”

There’s also a sense of fun and joy at Salesforce. “We work hard so we like to have fun doing what we do, and that means we can laugh at ourselves. Joy fuels people at the end of the day. I think joy comes from that alignment of purpose to what you’re doing and that sense of feeling respected for it. When you’re in an environment where those things come together, there’s congruence in that you do your best work.”

Above all, Marlow wants Salesforce to be a place of inflection for people. “When someone joins our company, I want the inflection point to be up. So whether they take a new job internally, or with another company, I want it to be as if we’ve increased the trajectory of their contribution and career because they worked at our organisation.

“They don’t have to have worked here [at Salesforce] for 20 years either. If you go back to my granddad, he had a couple of jobs, and my dad had about six. I’ll have eight or nine, and my kids will probably have 20 – we have to think about our careers very differently these days. However, as long as we [at Salesforce] help the inflection point to give people an even better career, we should feel really proud of that.”


The Leadership Sweet Spot

There’s no question Marlow’s commitment to creating a better environment for the people she works with is to be admired. It was a lesson she learned early in her career. “I remember not long after becoming a people manager, I was talking to one of my mentors. Sometimes I can be a bit process-like and I was trying to build the process to be a ‘great people manager’; working out all the boxes I was going to tick.

“My mentor said, ‘Pip, there’s only one thing you need to do. If you want people to think you care, all you have to do is care. It doesn’t matter how many processes you create or how many boxes you tick, if you don’t genuinely care, then those processes won’t make a difference. So, worry less about the process, worry more about the people.’ I realised that you can always create leadership programs, but that’s not the magic – the magic is in the depth of care.”


Marlow’s Greatest Sources Of Inspiration

With that kind of magic, it’s no wonder Marlow continues to be an inspirational leader – not only to women rising through the ranks of tech, but across all industries. So which women inspire her?

Rosa Parks’ story is incredibly inspiring,” she reveals. “It’s easy to make changes and do things when you’re in a position of power, but here was a seamstress, just making a stand and creating a movement.

“I also love Michelle Obama – ‘when they go low, you go high’. From a values perspective and the impact she’s made, she’s just exceptional.

“I really admire Julia Gillard. Forget your political persuasion, the role she’s taken to continue advocating for women and equality is amazing. And what she had to face compared to her male counterparts is insane to me.

“And last but certainly not least, I get a lot of inspiration from my two daughters – two great, strong, young women growing up in changing times with a different set of circumstances. They continue to fuel me to do better on their behalf.”


Take Five With The CEO Of Salesforce

Who do you turn to for advice?
Tracey Fellows, who I used to work for. She’s now a friend and mentor. It used to be my dad, but he died some time ago – he was probably my first real go-to. And my little sister in Melbourne, we’re super-close and she’s probably my first call.

Where do you go for inspiration?
I am a big podcaster. I love podcasts like Guy Raz’s How I Built This. I really enjoy listening to the founders’ stories because almost all of them created something from a pain point and none of them had it easy. They all had to get super creative to solve problems when things invariably went awry. It’s all about resilience and how there’s always another step you can take, which I find fascinating.

Describe yourself in three words?
Energetic, authentic and fun.

One thing about you that would surprise people?
I don’t cook – I assemble and can make a great cheese platter. I love to take photos and if there was any other job I’d like to do it would be a photographer. Another thing I’d love to be able to do, that I don’t think I’ll ever do very well, is sing. I’d love to be a great singer. My youngest has a great voice – I don’t.

Your greatest strength?
I think now it’s resilience. That and perspective. In my 30 years of working, there have been good years and bad years, and when I go into a tough situation now, I feel like I know I can get through it.


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