10 questions with Cornerstone CEO Himanshu Palsule

Palsule shares the lessons he's learned about driving immediate impact and leading through immense change

Cornerstone Editors

At the start of the year, Himanshu Palsule joined Cornerstone as CEO and member of our Board of Directors. With a strong leadership background, deep knowledge of product and innovation strategy, and a history of shaping new markets, Himanshu was well-prepared for the challenge of taking Cornerstone to the next level.

A CEO's first few months are typically about listening, learning and laying the groundwork for longer-term success. This step is instrumental to understanding a company's inner workings and making a strong first impression on employees.

But Himanshu's first few months were anything but typical and nothing short of inspiring.

On top of familiarizing himself with the company and its people, Himanshu hit the ground running. While still in the midst of COVID-19, Himanshu conducted a world tour, visiting many of the global Cornerstone offices and meeting with customers to learn firsthand about their people growth programs. In between flights and meetings, he led the acquisition of not one but two leaders in the HR technology space, EdCast (closed in May) and SumTotal (announced in June). In that same timeframe, global industry experts recognized Cornerstone for its continued leadership and innovation across learning, skills development, content and AI-powered people experiences.

These first few months of 2022 have been a whirlwind, and we couldn't have built this level of excitement and momentum without Himanshu's leadership. We thought it'd be interesting to hear his perspective on his first five months, so we asked him to share his thoughts and outlook on Cornerstone's future.

Q&A with Himanshu Palsule, Cornerstone CEO

Cornerstone Editors: You've been quite busy since joining Cornerstone at the start of the year. Can you tell us where you've been focusing your time?

Himanshu Palsule: While there has been a lot of progress in my short time at Cornerstone so far, I'd have to say a major focus for me has been observing, learning and listening. I had the opportunity to do a lot of traveling and immersed myself in the Cornerstone culture. Across three continents, six countries, and nine campuses, I've interacted with over 60 customers and hundreds of colleagues. I've discovered opportunities, challenges, innovations and so much more — both internally across our teams and through our phenomenal customers.

One of the things I've enjoyed the most in my customer meetings is their inspiring stories and how we help create purpose in what they do. They look at us as a partner — as teammates who can help them understand what it takes to bring their organization to the next level, whether that be through skilling, AI, learning content or any number of solutions we provide them. I look forward to spending more time with our customers, continuing to give them our best and remaining an essential component of their success and growth.

CE: What is your single biggest takeaway about Cornerstone so far?

HP: My greatest takeaway is this: Cornerstone is not just a company; it's a movement. A movement in the talent space like we have never seen before. I firmly believe that statement, and I've witnessed it firsthand in the interactions I've had and the feedback I've received — from customers to analysts and everyone in-between. Our people genuinely want to make a difference. They care. And that in and of itself is a huge asset that we shouldn't overlook.

I will put it this way. I would choose an engaged, eager and committed workforce that requires direction from someone like me over a workforce of seasoned experts that have lost the will to succeed. There is an undeniable amount of change happening across our industry, and there's much to be done in order to stay agile. But we have an incredible team with the knowledge, skills and abilities needed to take our company and solutions to an even greater level.

CE: Is your new role what you expected when you accepted it? If not, how has it differed?

HP: Now, I know I am biased, but to say Cornerstone has exceeded my expectations would be an understatement. From the teams to the customers to the products we provide, we're the clear market leader in my eyes, and this space is ours to transform.

I've had the opportunity to see the inner workings and level of sophistication that goes into our success. We are on a clear path to changing the game in learning, skills development, content, people experiences and so much more. However, there is much work to be done. We need to modernize and innovate our products continually. We need to integrate and co-exist in a broad ecosystem. We need to refine our go-to-market motions to meet customers in their time of need and scale our back-office systems to meet the challenges that come with growth.

CE: Acquiring a company within your first year is quite an accomplishment, and you completed one acquisition and announced your intent for another in just five months! First, can you tell us more about why Cornerstone acquired EdCast and what this means for our customers?

HP: The acquisition of EdCast was a very strategic move for us, as it is fundamentally game-changing for Cornerstone. EdCast offers a unique employee learning opportunity with its learning experience platform. By integrating our respective cultures, priorities and processes, we are in the strongest position to transform the learning market and accelerate innovation.

Together with EdCast, we'll be working to solve the most critical and relevant talent and business demands we see in modern work. For our customers, this means creating a more open, extensible talent platform that will dramatically improve productivity, agility and growth across their organizations. We're excited about this new opportunity to take our people experience and learning and talent initiatives to the next level.

CE: You also just announced your intent to acquire SumTotal, another major player in the talent space. Can you share more about that and what Cornerstone's acquisition strategy is moving forward?

HP: That's right. We just announced that we have entered into a definitive agreement with Skillsoft to acquire SumTotal, a long-time learning and HCM software provider in highly regulated industries. When this acquisition closes, Cornerstone will expand our reach and enhance our ability to help a larger, more diverse group of customers. We'll help them improve the way they identify and develop the skills of the future, engage and grow their people, and adapt with organizational agility.

Since the acquisition hasn't closed yet, we are somewhat limited in what we can share for now. Still, we believe this acquisition, as well as our acquisition of EdCast, will enable us to provide even more value and choice to our customers. We are aligned with a shared vision to help our customers unify and scale a next-generation learning platform to deliver next-level experiences for people.

As for our longer-term acquisition strategy, Cornerstone is committed to growing and innovating in ways that will benefit our customers — through organic and inorganic growth. We will continue to invest in our broader portfolio and enhanced capabilities to ensure our customers continually experience increased value from their investment with us.

CE: What has excited or motivated you the most when reflecting on Cornerstone and the learning and talent industry?

HP: Talent has completely transformed since the days Cornerstone first started. The market is growing and fundamentally shifting — this is both a daunting and exhilarating fact. We are in the right market at the right time, and the purpose of Cornerstone to our customers is so significant.

There is a great deal of opportunity that lies within the space, and Cornerstone has the right tailwinds based on what we do and how we do it — not too many companies can confidently claim that. This is an extremely exciting time. As the market leader, we are fortunate to have scale, and this will continue to give us leverage and allow us to take risks, invest, pivot and remain flexible.

CE: Knowing what you know now, what goals would you like to accomplish by the end of the year? Next year?

HP: I have planet-sized ambition and goals for Cornerstone. We have the best of the best in our people and our products. And I know we're capable of being the clear leader in all that we do with the humility to integrate with our customers' needs. I see us:

  • Continuing to showcase our strong LMS
  • Making sound, strategic investments
  • Enhancing the systems that define our processes
  • Modernizing our abilities to integrate openly with other technologies
  • Speeding up innovation
  • Focusing on our user experience

There will always be change in a growing company. That's how we expand and successfully grow, but I've committed to that since day one. I will always prioritize our people and customers and communicate transparently and consistently. In the fall of this year, you will see some exciting product announcements coming from us. We have observed what our customers need and plan to delight them.

CE: What's at the top of your priority list now?

HP: My first few months at Cornerstone have been significant. I truly feel like an integral part of this company now, and I'm anxious to keep building our momentum.

During my first month as CEO, I shared four key priorities I wanted to tackle right away: stabilize, optimize, grow and communicate. I believe we have made major strides in laying the groundwork for these four key areas and can now lean further into three strategic areas of focus:

1) Our products: When you're on top of your game, you go back and inspect your work — that's what we're doing. We're constantly seeking areas for enhanced functionality, user experience, innovation and creativity.

2) Our cross-functionality: Focusing on our integration across all areas of our business, we will become masters of collaboration.

3) Our customer engagement: Our customers turn to Cornerstone, not just for products and solutions, but for our promise to innovate and anticipate the future — this is what we need to focus on. We are here to help our customers win at the end of the day.

My goal is to do all this while maintaining a growth mindset and clear communication — to keep us connected and on track throughout the remainder of the year.

CE: You've held many senior leadership and advisory roles at different tech companies in your career. How would you describe the culture at Cornerstone?

HP: Cornerstone encompasses some of the most engaged employees I've ever seen — it's truly remarkable. Every person here wants to make an impact and a noticeable difference, both in their roles and throughout our growing industry.

I've watched members across teams around the globe stand tall in our company's purpose — to empower people to be the most extraordinary in what they do at work and in the world. And that purpose is clearly reflected in the excitement and innovation each team member brings to work with them every day. And we like having fun in what we do. It's truly a "work hard, play hard" culture and one obsessed with customer success.

CE: What is one experience that stands out during your tenure at Cornerstone so far?

HP: The experiences I've had with the incredible people of Cornerstone have stuck with me the most — particularly their resilience and ability to adapt in the face of so much change and uncertainty. A lot has happened across Cornerstone and the world, even in the five short months since joining. There's been a lot of intensity at a level that we will have to continue to navigate and manage. But even amid so much transformation, there's been an outpouring of love and support from our people to help each other and those in need. These past few months — and the past two years, really — have highlighted the need for agility across our business. We've introduced so much change and a slew of learning curves through this transition to a new modern workforce, and I'm proud to say our team does it all with such grace and confidence. It's an exciting time to be at Cornerstone.

Connect with Himanshu on Twitter and LinkedIn.

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