SILICON VALLEY CEO: People are ‘lashing out’ because technology is destroying more and more jobs

Tien Tzuo Zuora
Tien Tzuo, the cofounder and CEO of Zuora. Zuora/Marc Rettig

The CEO of a $1 billion (£810 million) Silicon Valley software company believes the world is approaching a tech-driven employment crisis, which contributed to Donald Trump’s surprise election victory

Tien Tzuo, the cofounder and CEO of Zuora, told Business Insider during a recent interview in London: “Technology is changing the workforce, it’s changing the employment market.”

The World Economic Forum (WEF) believes the world is currently undergoing a “Fourth Industrial Revolution,” driven by the rise of robotics and artificial intelligence that automate more and more jobs. WEF estimates these trends will destroy 5 million jobs by 2020.

Tzuo says: “There are less manufacturing jobs. You talk about the fourth industrial revolution — that’s not letting up. It’s going to obsolete more and more jobs at a faster and faster pace. The workforce is not able to keep up with it in terms of the locations, the skills and all these other issues.”

Some 57% of all jobs across the OECD are at risk of automation, according to research by Citi and Oxford University. The research also found that, unlike previous major advances in technology, computing advances are actually destroying more jobs than they create.

If we don’t solve [the jobs issue] there’s going to be a class of population that’s going to hold us back from moving towards the future

Tzuo says: “If we don’t solve [the jobs issue] there’s going to be a class of population that’s going to hold us back from moving towards the future — rightfully so, because society needs to deal with their issues.”

Tzuo isn’t the only one raising alarm about what technology is doing to employment. Lord Adair Turner, the former vice chairman of Merrill Lynch Europe and ex-head of the Britain’s financial watchdog, told Business Insider earlier this month: “We may be at a turning point in the nature of capitalism” due to “the fundamental nature of technology.”

BT CEO Gavin Patterson has also warned of challenging changes in the global jobs market, telling a conference recently: “It’s quite possible that 80% of the jobs that people do today won’t exist in the future.”

Tzuo, who was an early employee of Salesforce before setting up Zuora, linked Donald Trump’s shock election victory in the US to the tech-driven labour market trends.

“You’re moving from a $50 an hour manufacturing job because you’re in a union to a $12 an hour job at Walmart or Starbucks that’s non-union,” Tzuo said. “It doesn’t work! People are blaming trade and immigration as a result but it’s not that. Immigration is not taking away jobs. Trade in the US has actually shrunk over the last 4 or 5 years. When everything is a service, what is there to trade?

On Trump voters, he said: “It’s not that these guys are all racists and sexists, sure there’s some fringe factor of that, but that’s not the core issue. The core issue is they need a future. Without a future, they lash out in different ways.”

But Tzuo added: “The trend towards globalisation is inevitable. There might be some ups and downs, one step forward, two steps back, but it’s not like the pendulum is swinging permanently the other way. We’ve just got to work through some social issues.”

“I think as a society we’ve got to figure out how do we create jobs for people and if there literally are going to be fewer jobs then how can we establish a minimum wage or basic income for folks. How exactly you do that depends on the society, the rules.”

Zuora Subscribed conference Tien Tzuo
Tien Tzuo speaking at Zuora’s recent ‘Subscribed’ conference in London. Zuora

California-based Zuora provides software to businesses that lets them easily accept subscriptions. Founded in 2007, the company has grown in-line with the rise of the so-called “on demand” economy — services like Uber and Deliveroo — subscription services such as Netflix, and the cloud computing industry, which typically sees businesses and people rent software hosted in the cloud rather than buy it.

Zuora processes around $35 billion (£28.2 billion) worth of transactions for over 800 customers around the world and employs 600 people globally. The company has raised over $240 million (£193.7 million) in funding to date and was valued at over $1 billion (£810 million) in its most recent funding round.

Tzuo told BI he did not think Trump’s election would damage Silicon Valley’s tech economy, despite the President-elect’s promise to stand up for many of the people damaged by technology trends and his anti-immigrant rhetoric.

“I’m not going to go work for Google, chase my high-tech dreams, because of Trump? That’s not computing.”

He was speaking to BI at Zuora’s “Subscribed” conference in London last week. Britain is a major international market for the company and it works with the likes of British Gas, the Financial Times, Brandwatch, and the Telegraph.

Tzuo said Brexit “does create more headaches” for Zuora in the UK “but in the short term it doesn’t change our strategy.”

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