Tech Leadership and Innovation

Anaplan CEO plots next steps

Serial CFO Frank Calderoni stepped up to become CEO at business planning pioneer Anaplan and is reaping rewards

Anaplan barn

Tech Leadership and Innovation

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Leave a door open in a draughty British home and you’re likely to hear the rhetorical yelled enquiry “Were you born in a barn?!” Oddly enough, Anaplan actually was born in a barn, having first been developed in a barn conversion near York in northern England. But today it’s anything but a rural dream, having built a market cap of over $9bn and changed the face of business planning along the way.

Frank Calderoni is CEO of the company with British founder Michael Gould no longer intimately involved in operations. Calderoni took the reins almost five years ago, having previously served as CFO of Red Hat, Cisco and other industry luminaries. Three years after its IPO, Anaplan is riding high, growing by about a third year on year and seeing many plaudits for Calderoni. His success is particularly notable, given that this was his first time in the CEO seat but Calderoni joins the dots between what Anaplan does and his own career.

“I was in CFO roles at companies and I saw the challenges they and others had in planning,” he says over a video call from Anaplan’s San Francisco offices. “Connected planning was still in the early stages but it’s been [critical] as companies have tried to be more flexible and make quick decisions.”

That need for speed was only accentuated by the pandemic and Calderoni cites Shell and its CIO Jay Crotts as an example of a company that was able to accelerate and become more advanced in terms of its visibility and ability to see around the curve. But all too often companies continue to labour under the weight of Microsoft Excel and stitched-together tools that aren’t fit for purpose, he argues.

“Many companies have continued to leverage spreadsheets and as a result they haven’t looked at their end-to-end processes … a lot is done in silos and is not effective. With the rate of change today, they can’t depend on that any longer. I talk to a lot of CIOs and CFOs are embarrassed and realise they have to change.”

As a former CFO, was he in the same camp? He was…

“The companies I worked with prior to Anaplan… I struggled. At Cisco, we had Hyperion [and other tools] and we spent a significant amount of money in a platform, people and support, and we realised it didn’t meet our needs, so we supplemented that with spreadsheets. Initially it was goodness, but it became kind of ancient quickly.”

Anaplan’s “land and expand” ploy appears to be succeeding nicely with cloud subscriptions many $1m-plus annual deals. “Companies can’t transform overnight,” Calderoni says, but they are re-engineering everything from supply chain management to sales and marketing and workforce planning using Anaplan’s tools. The portfolio was recently rounded out by the addition of PlanIQ, which lets non-specialist business users plan better.

Planning ahead

In calls with Anaplan customers I gained a small taste of this. “We now work all over the world together,” says Enrico Reghini of Ask Industries, a maker of automotive solutions such as speakers, amps and antennae in Italy. Ask took what had been a four-day financial period close to four hours and revamped operations.

“There’s no waiting for small edits so we don’t lose time on key activities. We’ve reduced errors and Anaplan gives us the ability to drill into figures and verify why the result is strange.”

At South Central Ambulance Service in the UK, Steve West, director of planning and performance, told me:

“Planning and performance standards are critical to saving lives, particularly in a cardiac arrest where you have minutes to make a difference to a patient outcome. We know that having the right level of resource and building that in a resilient and sustainable way are key.

“We had a planning approach that was well-proven, built in a number of Excel spreadsheets, but it required a lot of manual data manipulation, was restricted to the current year and planning was harder. We wanted a resilient system that could deal with large amounts of data and we were stretched to the limit. The spreadsheet just couldn’t cope with it. Anaplan gives us the ability to move away from shared Excel files and version control headaches.”

Public clouds incoming

A new dimension may also be incoming as Anaplan recently celebrated its first wins on Google Cloud Platform, including Ford Motor Credit. An AWS offering is coming soon.

But success is not all about dollars and cents. Calderoni recently wrote a book, Upstanding, about the importance of company culture and a shared sense of mission.

“Over the years I’ve been fortunate to have worked for some good companies and I’ve learned a lot about the importance of culture,” he says. “People need an atmosphere to be their best selves and successful organisations have a strong culture but also a character… they understand their values.”

He balks at my suggestion that these are “soft” issues, quoting Peter Drucker and noting the malaise caused by what some call the ‘Great Resignation’ as disenfranchised workers quit their roles en masse.

“I wouldn’t call them nicer, softer things,” he says. “‘Culture eats strategy for breakfast’ has been out there for a long time. Times have changed and what we see now with resignations is that people are going to work for organisations they feel connected to.”

In this most uncertain of times for the global economy, business performance planning is only going to become more important and the company that was born in a barn has plenty of room to grow even bigger. Software giants are obviously prowling around the market and will doubtless make moves to address opportunities but it’s OK, Anaplan has a plan for all eventualities.