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Businesses ‘reprioritized’ health care during pandemic, Salesforce CMO says

Thought Leader: Geeta Nayyar
September 22, 2022

Salesforce Chief Medical Officer Geeta Nayyar joins Yahoo Finance’s Brian Sozzi at the Dreamforce conference in San Francisco to discuss business health care benefits and how the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the outlook on health care.

Video Transcript

AKIKO FUJITA: Well, managing life and work during a pandemic has certainly been a hard one for even the most efficient of organizations. But when you’re in charge of healthcare for a 70,000-person tech group, it’s a much bigger undertaking.

Brian Sozzi has been at Salesforce’s Dreamforce conference in San Francisco. He spoke with the group’s chief medical officer, Geeta Nayyar. She ascended to the role midway through the pandemic in September 2021. Brian asked her about that experience and what the company learned and what’s moving– what they’re likely to see moving forward.

GEETA NAYYAR: Look, the bottom line is we went through a lot during COVID. And the first thing you have to do is have a chief medical officer working with your executive team, making sure that healthcare is at the C-suite table, and staying on top of it.

A big part of the pandemic was staying on top of the latest public health information, the latest pulse of what your employees were feeling, your customers were feeling, what was happening in that moment because as you know, it changed about every five minutes, if I remember.

So when we had a plan, we’d have to back it up or change it. We had to be agile with the moment. And we used our technology to make sure we could pull off a safe event. Safety Cloud, Health Cloud, we used it, every technology we had. But we started and ended with health and safety first.

BRIAN SOZZI: When you talk to employees, do they feel like the pandemic is over?

GEETA NAYYAR: It really depends where you are in the world. It also depends where you are with your personal health and your family’s health, to be very honest. And I think that’s the case, whether we’re in a pandemic or not. If you have someone in your household that’s immunocompromised, I hear from those employees. The pandemic has an end, and the same fear exists.

But for the most part, you see all the people walking around here. We are exiting the pandemic. Folks are really happy to be together. And they know that we’ve got their back, right? We believe in health and safety. You’ve heard it from Marc and Bret. We’ve expanded our benefits. We talk about mental health, telemedicine, not just ping pong tables. We’re in it to win it. And we believe that health is well.

BRIAN SOZZI: Don’t take away [INAUDIBLE] ping pong tables.

GEETA NAYYAR: Listen, I’m pretty good.


GEETA NAYYAR: We can play.

BRIAN SOZZI: OK, all right.

GEETA NAYYAR: We can play and see where it goes.

BRIAN SOZZI: I will take you up on that, Dr. G. So how do you think about the long-term effects of the pandemic? What do you hear about in terms of the biggest concerns within from employees?

GEETA NAYYAR: Well, look, healthcare has been reprioritized. So number one, we are seeing customers saying, how do we, front and center, own employee health? We’re in an economic downturn. Health is expensive. So how do you make sure that your employees are healthy, happy, productive? How do you scale your benefits to meet the moment, whether that’s in mental health, whether that’s in virtual care?

And look, if you’re looking to grow and innovate through the pandemic– we sure are– we’re looking to disrupt the healthcare business. We’re looking to scale the doctor-patient relationship. We think CRM is the way to do that. And so meeting consumers where they’re at is the name of the game, but also meeting your employees where they’re at.

BRIAN SOZZI: Are you getting lots of reports about employee burnout?

GEETA NAYYAR: So we hear a lot about this quiet quitting. So I don’t really know how you survey that. But what I would say is that we, again, we continue to invest in our employees. We’ve onboarded and actually grown through the pandemic. I was onboarded virtually, so I’m meeting some people for the first time as well.

We are seeing growth, and we are meeting our employees where they’re at. And we’re giving them tools like Slack and other benefits and programs to help them really check in with their health, check in with each other, and take the time if they need it, and really making sure that they are happy at work, not just present at work.

BRIAN SOZZI: What type of perks or sweeteners do you put in from a healthcare perspective to keep people happy?

GEETA NAYYAR: Well, look, first of all, I have to tell you, I was hired during the pandemic. So having a chief medical officer is going to go a long way as far as trust is concerned. We launched a program called the Be Well Together program during the pandemic. We bring in luminaries to talk about health and wellness. We brought in Megan Ranney, Dr. Ashish Jha.

We brought in, really, the top most experts in the country and the world to talk directly to our employees, as well as made myself personally available in our What’s Up, Doc series, where we would just have this kind of conversation. And people would say, well, this is my situation at home. Or I don’t have a doctor. What should I do? How do I get one? Should I go to the ER? Should I go to the urgent care?

So just real talk, real talk about healthcare, doc talk, as we call it, and really let our employees know that we were very serious from the top down and being transparent. We did all hands calls every week of the pandemic. And we would share from a leadership standpoint some of our own stories, some of our own challenges, and really just made it part of our culture to be at work and to be healthy and present.

BRIAN SOZZI: What’s your biggest challenge as you look forward to 2023?

GEETA NAYYAR: Well, look, first of all, it’s been meeting the moment. This is my first pandemic. I don’t know about you.

BRIAN SOZZI: Definitely my first.

GEETA NAYYAR: I’m hoping it’s the last.

BRIAN SOZZI: I did not live back when those horses and carriages in, you know, 1885 or something, whenever that was.

GEETA NAYYAR: So it’s been all about meeting the moment. And it has been such a privilege to be at a company like Salesforce that I think really met the moment when it was needed and led through it, whether it was innovating products like Health Cloud, Safety Cloud, Vaccine Cloud.

We met every innovation that happened in science, whether it was a vaccination, a test. We scaled it with our technology. We drank our own Kool-Aid. We used it ourselves as a company. And so meeting those demands in the moment has been amazing and awesome, but very dynamic and has kept me on my toes for sure.

BRIAN SOZZI: Two questions in one– one, how did you get this job? What was your career path? And then what is it like for you dealing with the pandemic– so you have a family, but you’re also dealing with the pandemic and all the concerns of these thousands of workers around the globe. What has this been like for you?

GEETA NAYYAR: Well, it’s been a challenge. First of all, everything comes back to trust. I’ve known Salesforce for a long time. I was a Salesforce customer, so I was recruited through that network as a trailblazer. And again, continue to be privileged–

BRIAN SOZZI: They Slacked you with a job offer, right?

GEETA NAYYAR: Something like that. I think I got a hoodie somewhere in the journey. And look, I’m a mom. There was a moment where my 10-year-old was not eligible for a vaccine. And the pandemic, to your question earlier, didn’t end for us until our whole family was vaccinated, till we were sure it was safe to be out and about. I have a mom who’s immunocompromised.

So there’s a lot of challenges that we faced as a family. And we just did our best to stay smart, to make measured risks. And we continue to do so even now and will continue to do so in the new year.

BRIAN SOZZI: And how did you get this job? Just, was it an offer? You always wanted to do this, or?

GEETA NAYYAR: Look, Salesforce is the company everybody wants to work at. And I felt that way as a customer. I saw that what they did for us as a provider. And I said, I want to be a part of that. And because of the pandemic, I saw Salesforce relevance in healthcare as a CRM accelerating. I mean, here we are post-pandemic. We’re exiting the pandemic.

Virtual care is now a tool, just like your stethoscope, just like your prescription pad. And so to be able to meet with our customers and advise them and truly enable that doctor-patient relationship at scale, at the customer’s demand, look, you could be walking your dog and give me a call and be like, I want to check in on my blood pressure. Salesforce made that happen.

BRIAN SOZZI: Don’t check my blood pressure.

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