Please tell us about yourself. How did you end up in such an offbeat, unconventional and cool amazing career?
Shweta Rajpal Kohli, Salesforce Director of Government Affairs, grew up in New Delhi. After high school, she attempted to be a doctor but failed her pre-medical entrance exams, for which she is forever grateful! Looking for a challenge, she enrolled in a university journalism program and landed an internship with a leading national newspaper. Thus began a remarkable career in print and broadcast journalism. How did she end up at Salesforce? Read on; it’s quite a story.
I was lucky to get a placement right out of college at The Indian Express. For the next seven years, I worked in print with some of the most respected publications in India before shifting to television.
During the eleven years I worked in TV, it felt like my calling. I loved everything about it. Being in front of the camera; the excitement of breaking news; analyzing news; tight deadlines.
The opportunities I got as a media person are rare. For instance, I covered G20 meetings, World Bank-IMF meetings and the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting in Davos for many years. This gave me the chance to interview some of the best minds in the world — Sheryl Sandberg, Richard Branson, Michael Dell, Jeffrey Immelt, Indra Nooyi, Archbishop Desmond Tutu — just to name a few. I also got an opportunity to travel as part of the Prime Minister’s media delegation to cover various global events.
No one handed me these interviews. I had to go out and chase them. Getting an interview was like closing a deal for a salesperson.
That part was great, but, more than that, journalism gave me such a ringside view of the way the Indian economy and politics work. But after 18 years of journalism, I was ready for a change.
I’m often asked this. People still say to me, “You were at the peak of your career; you had a primetime slot on television; you had India’s top politicians, ministers and industry leaders as guests on your show!”
All that is true. But I’d been in journalism for nearly two decades. I knew I couldn’t do it for another 20 years. I loved it, but I knew it had to stop at some point. So, you think, “What’s next?”
I was itching to learn new skills. I wanted to experience corporate life. I also didn’t want to be someone who couldn’t live without the fame. I’ve seen a lot of TV anchors lose their humility and their touch with reality.
Public policy was an area that excited me. I understand governments and how they work and what it takes to make good regulations.
I started with Uber. At Uber, they were always in the midst of regulatory firefighting across geographies. I enjoyed understanding regulatory nuances and working with governments to bring in progressive regulations. It was a very steep learning curve.
One thing I learned in journalism was to always stand up for what’s right, and that’s something I have done throughout my career. I was being offered a lot of opportunities in corporate communications, but I wanted to do public policy. I loved my time at Uber and learned a lot, but started to look for a new challenge. That’s when a recruiter called with an open position as the head of India policy for Salesforce.
My first response was, “No.” What is Salesforce? Everyone knows Uber, but Salesforce, “What’s that?”
The recruiter and I agreed to connect again in a few weeks. I didn’t think Salesforce was right for me, but I did set up a Google alert for Salesforce news. And that changed my life.
It wasn’t only the business model that excited me; it was the culture. This was about the time that Marc Benioff announced he was going to pay $2.7 million to close the gender pay gap. Every day there was news about what the values the company stood for, and how they were being put into action.
Suddenly I felt, “Wow, this is a dream place to work.” In one month, I went from a big “no” to, “I really want this job.” At this point, I was chasing the recruiter, not the other way around! I’ve now been at Salesforce for a little over a year.
You’re partnering with the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce & Industry (FICCI) for its report Future of Jobs in India – A 2022 Perspective. What this is this project and what does it mean for Salesforce in terms of hiring?
A large part of my role is to work on policy with industry lobbies that represent business to governments. My specialty is regulation. If governments don’t support progressive cloud regulations, it hurts our business. My job is to educate policymakers and ensure governments understand the need for progressive policies.
What we’re doing around Trailhead is groundbreaking because it allows us to talk to the world about the Salesforce Economy and its ability to create jobs. The numbers for India are fascinating. We’re set to create 1.1 million jobs through the Salesforce economy by 2022.(IDC has coined the term “Salesforce Economy” to refer to the Salesforce ecosystem that IDC predicts will create 3.3M jobs and $859B in new business revenue between 2016 and 2022.)That’s the story I want to tell. That’s why we’re looking to partner with the future of jobs report because the Indian government is very worried what technology, particularly AI, is going to do to jobs in India. We’re seeing good economic growth, but we’re seeing jobless growth. Not enough jobs are being created for our youth.
To understand the impact on the ground, I’ve been engaging with the Salesforce communities, particularly developers. I go to their events; I speak with them; I interact with them on social media. And it’s heartening to see how we are changing lives through Trailhead. But I don’t think we’re getting that story out there enough. That’s why i want to tie in with industry bodies and think-tanks to talk about Trailhead and how it creates jobs. The partnership has just begun, but I’m excited to see where it goes.
Most of all, Prannoy Roy, the father of Indian broadcast journalism. He set up private television in India and is hugely admired. I had many many opportunities to work closely with him at NDTV (New Delhi Television), the TV network that he founded, and where I worked for eleven years. We co-anchored shows together. I was able to observe his style, his ability to ask questions simply and break down the most complex subjects for television viewers. He connected beautifully with the audience. Every moment I was with him, I learned something new. But what I admired the most was his humility and his strong value-system. I’m also very inspired by Rachel Whetstone, my boss at Uber, who taught me the ropes of public policy and leadership, and above all, the importance of being a fearless leader.
Being a working woman in India can be a challenge. For example, if you’re covering a story late at night in a dark government corridor, you worry about your safety. You constantly live with the stark reality of India being unsafe for women.
My hope is that working for Salesforce, where equality is such a big part of our culture, I can work to change that for professional women in India. It’s heartening to see companies taking steps to make workplaces equal and safer. As a working mother, balancing work and life is also a constant challenge.
Working at Salesforce is the first time I’ve ever done it! It’s one of the reasons I love Salesforce. Here everyone is encouraged to take care of themselves and their families. It’s something which is accepted and supported.
I’ve had a very demanding career where I LOVED my job but always questioned if it was at the cost of family life. There were moments when I thought about quitting because my family was suffering. But at Salesforce, I can have both — career and family — in equal measure.
For example, the ability to work from home is fantastic because I save four hours of horrible, non-productive time in traffic. That’s a huge plus for me. Wellness is critically important here and that encourages you to prioritize your health and wellbeing at all times.
I feel happy and stable here. To me, Salesforce is not a company, it’s a way of life. For example, because of the culture of Salesforce where we promote inclusion for all, I’m part of Outforce (the employee resource group supporting the LGBTQ+ community) as an ally, something I would never have done at a previous company or understood the importance of doing. Today, I can talk with my children on issues like cleaning up oceans or helping the homeless with a sense of confidence and conviction I did not have earlier.
Just a few weeks ago, we organised a group VTO (Voluntary Time Off) activity where we spent the day volunteering at a home for the destitute and disabled, and then planting saplings and cleaning up a park. Where do you get the opportunity to do things like that on office time? You can follow your beliefs and your passions, while getting a paycheck for a job you love to do. It’s the ideal situation for me.