David Dempsey: From sorting office to setting up Salesforce Ireland

9 Jun 2022

David Dempsey. Image: Salesforce

As David Dempsey prepares to hand over the reins at Salesforce Ireland, he looks back on how he got started and what he has learned along the way.

David Dempsey is country leader and general manager at Salesforce in Ireland. He is also senior vice-president for EMEA corporate relations and sits on the Salesforce UK and Ireland leadership team.

Dempsey helped to set up Salesforce in Ireland in 2000 as the SaaS company’s European headquarters. Under his leadership, it has grown from a three-person operation to a pan-European business with a workforce of more than 2,000 in Ireland.

Before Salesforce, Dempsey held executive positions at Oracle, in both the UK and at home, including nine years spent as head of Ireland consulting services. He has also written a book based on his experience, Industry Trends in Cloud Computing.

Earlier this year, it was revealed that former Eir boss Carolan Lennon is taking over from Dempsey as country leader for Salesforce Ireland this summer. He will remain at the company as a senior adviser.

‘In the year 2000, Ireland looked very different – as did the technology industry’

What are the biggest challenges facing your sector and how are you tackling them?

We remain in a crucial period of pandemic disruption and adjustment, defined by the accelerated demand for digital technology. Companies are increasing their investment in digital to evolve more quickly and to ensure they can operate from anywhere. The digital trend was already happening, but now it’s imperative to the very survival of a business and to reach customers.

We are the trusted digital adviser to companies of all sizes in Ireland, from start-ups like The Skin Nerd to some of Ireland’s biggest enterprises like Kerry Group. We work with some of Ireland’s most recognisable brands to forge stronger relationships with their customers and support them at every stage of their digital transformation journeys.

What are the key sector opportunities you’re capitalising on?

Companies were forced to digitise overnight when the pandemic started two years ago. There is now an urgent need to maintain that momentum and commitment. Leaders now recognise the level of risk that their companies will be exposed to if they don’t have a digital strategy in place.

It is now not enough to deliver profit alone. All leaders and companies have to perform with purpose and deliver meaningful value in the areas of sustainability, diversity, inclusion and skilling.

What set you on the road to where you are now?

I left school at the age of 16 and moved from Wexford to Dublin for my first job, working in the Central Sorting Office on Sheriff Street for the Department of Posts and Telegraphs (now An Post).

As Posts and Telegraphs morphed into two separate companies, I was given the opportunity to train as a systems analyst with the information systems division of the newly formed Telecom Éireann. Sometime later I made the decision to move to the UK, and joined Oracle where I worked for many years.

It was during my time there that I learned about Salesforce. It had the vision that buying software should be as easy as buying a book on Amazon. Inspired by this, myself and two colleagues contacted Salesforce founder and CEO Marc Benioff and pitched the idea of setting up Salesforce in Ireland, and we opened the office in 2000.

What’s the biggest risk you’ve ever taken?

I wouldn’t consider it a risk, but a challenge. In the year 2000, Ireland looked very different – as did the technology industry.

When Salesforce launched its ‘End of Software’ campaign, it drove the agenda for the democratisation of technology and the rise of cloud computing. We were largely unknown at the time, but have since grown into the world’s number-one CRM and one of Ireland’s best places to work.

What one work skill do you wish you had?

I returned later in life to further education, so I believe it’s never too late to reskill or upskill. For me, it opened up a whole new world. I went on to complete my doctorate at the Waterford Institute of Technology – there’s no substitute for the value of lifelong learning and access to training.

Globally, and in Ireland, we’re faced with a digital skills crisis and widening gap. Rapid and widespread digitisation has changed the nature of work – our transition to an all-digital world makes having digital skills essential for today’s jobs.

In a recent Salesforce report, we learned that over two-thirds (69pc) of Irish respondents reported that they don’t feel equipped to learn the digital skills needed by businesses now, and over three-quarters (76pc) don’t feel equipped for the future.

I believe that technology companies, like Salesforce, have a responsibility to upskill the current and future workforce so everyone has the opportunity to be part of the digital economy.

How do you get the best out of your team?

Great workplaces start with great people, and at Salesforce, our leaders and managers are focused on creating the right environment for engagement. We’ve been able to inspire and drive success with the help of a management process called the V2MOM, which stands for: vision, values, methods, obstacles and measures.

V2MOM enables us to clarify what we’re doing, and then communicate it clearly to the entire company. It boils down to these five questions, which create a framework for alignment and leadership:

  1. Vision – what do you want to achieve?
  2. Values – what’s important to you?
  3. Methods – how do you get it?
  4. Obstacles – what is preventing you from being successful?
  5. Measures – how do you know you have it?

Each year, every single department and every single employee develops their own V2MOM. As a result, this practical exercise raises our corporate consciousness through the entire organisation from top to bottom. To foster transparency, each and everyone’s V2MOM is viewable to all employees.

Have you noticed a diversity problem in your sector?

Equality is a longstanding value at Salesforce, but the past few years have added even more urgency to this work. We are trying to serve a diverse customer base, from different countries, cultures, backgrounds, languages and religions – and that needs to be reflected in the teams we build.

There is still a long way to go before technology companies become truly diverse and inclusive. Business leaders have a responsibility to work with public, private and civil society stakeholders to make our world a better, more equitable place to live and work in.

What’s the best piece of career advice you have ever received?

The late Jerry Kiernan, the Olympic marathon runner, had a very big influence on my life. When Jerry was preparing to run the Olympic marathon in Los Angeles in 1984, I spent every morning running with him in the year leading up to it.

His belief in his own ability, and that a schoolteacher from Foxrock could go and compete with the best in the world, was never shaken. If you put in the work, you will get the results.

What books have you read that you would recommend?

Lately, most of my reading has been around my passion of sustainability and climate action, especially around climate science and quantifying the role that business must play in keeping the world within our optimal carbon window.

For example, books like Howard Herzog’s Carbon Capture or Peter Stott’s Hot Air. Another great read is Mark Carney’s Values, which really forces us to think about how we apply our societal values.

What are the essential tools and resources that get you through the working week?

The future of work is digital-first and flexible – it has shifted from a place you go, to what you do.

Salesforce acquired Slack in 2021 and we’ve since become a Slack-first company, transforming how we communicate and collaborate with one another on a daily basis.

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