Five Questions for Bobby Yazdani

By Staff Report

Mar. 23, 2006

Bobby Yazdani is a living example of the global forces he sees sweeping workforce management in America. Born in Iran under the shah, his family fled during the country’s revolution. Yazdani earned a math degree from the University of California at Berkeley, worked at Oracle for nearly a decade and launched his own software firm in 1997. Saba, based in Redwood Shores, California, sells software for tasks such as learning management, performance management and succession planning. Larger companies are buying these so-called talent management applications: Saba’s sales jumped 57 percent for the quarter ended November 30, to $16.2 million. Thanks to its recent acquisition of online learning and collaboration firm Centra in a deal worth about $60 million, Saba now has more than 500 employees and expects to reach annual revenue of $100 million. Yazdani recently spoke with Workforce Management staff writer Ed Frauenheim.

Workforce Management: What is fueling sales of talent management software?

Bobby Yazdani: If you talk about big organizations, like Caterpillar, the challenge they’re dealing with is, how can we better manage our people as we globalize? How do we have consistent approaches to people management? And the talent pool is not just American. At a lot of our clients, the HR executives are no longer American—they’re coming from foreign subsidiaries.

WM: Why the push for greater productivity and workforce “alignment” now?

Yazdani: Global competition plays a big role. At companies outside the United States, there is much more structure to training programs and investments in productivity. Also, I don’t see the size of the workforce increasing. The trend is not to throw more people at problems. It’s how do you grow and stretch with fewer people?

WM: Do you worry about the big guns, Oracle and SAP, as they ramp up their talent management products? Oracle argues “best-in-breed” vendors like you will be in trouble once its Fusion project comes to fruition and customers can buy an integrated package of HR applications.

Yazdani: We can coexist easily with other software. Seventy-five percent of our customers in North America run Oracle applications. The biggest customer of ours in Germany is the biggest SAP customer.

WM: What’s the significance of the Centra deal?

Yazdani: It’s a validation. They trusted us to take over. One-third of the purchase price was in cash; two-thirds was in our stock.

WM: Can there be an employee backlash against performance management products such as yours, which help companies keep much closer tabs on workers?

Yazdani: I think it does the exact opposite. It lets employees see opportunities. It gives employees visibility to see how they fit in. Say I’ve been asked to do a specific task. Why? How does it fit into the company’s overall strategy? The software also helps employees challenge the company or managers through feedback options. We see ourselves to be pushing on both sides of the equation. It’s a core belief that transparency and candor in an organization are powerful forces. I grew up in a country that didn’t tolerate candor. It was a dictatorship. I have seen the value firsthand.

Workforce Management, March 13, 2006, p. 9Subscribe Now!

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