How Salesforce’s Robert Wickham went from rocket science to management consulting
Robert Wickham spoke to Theo Chapman. – AFR Contributor | published May 29, 2017
Robert Wickham is vice-president of innovation and digital transformation Asia-Pacific for Salesforce. He was born and raised in Trinidad and Tobago in the West Indies. He played in the national junior cricket team while he was still at school.
Growing up, I had two goals: one was to play cricket for Trinidad and the other was to be the first Trinidadian astronaut. I played for Trinidad, but I never made it into space.
One fun fact is my high school classmate and cricket captain was [international all-time great batsman] Brian Lara. He’s an avid golfer and comes to Australia every year for the golfing season, so we relive our glory days on the course.
When I was in high school my physics teacher said, “If you’re really into space and engineering and rocket science, there’s nowhere else for you than the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.”
I was fortunate enough to get into MIT and I packed into two cases all my worldly possessions and went to Boston. That was a seminal moment.
I spent four years at MIT doing rocket science. Then I did a masters in airline transformation.
Once I graduated, I started to apply for aerospace-related roles within America. It was difficult without being a permanent resident or a US citizen. My university adviser suggested that I consider management consulting because management consultants were recruiting analytically minded people from places like MIT.
That’s how I got from rocket science to management consulting.
One year after I started at Boston Consulting Group, I got a call from our Australian office saying, “Would you come down and help us with a project in Qantas?” That guy was Ahmed Fahour [former chief executive of Australia Post], who was a partner at BCG.
I spent two years in Australia working on that project and then got reassigned to London to work on a project with British Airways. At the end of that engagement, I got asked to join the founding team of a start-up airline called Go for BA that was going to take on the likes of Easyjet and Ryanair, Debonaire.
When I started at BCG, the plan was to apply to Harvard. I was less concerned about going to business school per se, but more interested in the Harvard Business School experience. I had a few colleagues that had gone and they spoke about how transformational it was.
So I left BCG and went to Harvard. In 2000, I joined a technology start-up in Boston that we sold to Oracle in 2008. At that point my Australian wife said she’d had enough of the Boston winters and wanted to move back to Australia, and here we are.
My job now is to identify companies that Salesforce wants to invest in. We have a pretty successful corporate venture fund and we are looking for companies that fit our thesis.
I help identify those opportunities and lead our efforts in helping start-ups build their businesses in Salesforce.