3 lessons on standing out like Marc Benioff, CEO of Salesforce

Marc Benioff

Marc Benioff may not be a household name like Mark Zuckerberg or Steve Jobs. However, he is the cofounder and CEO of Salesforce, one of the fastest growing enterprise software companies in the world. More importantly, Benioff is one of the few outspoken leaders in Silicon Valley who believes in stakeholder capitalism. This is something that has come to resonate more and more with the next generation of consumers and workers.

Between Benioff and his wife, Lynne Benioff, they share a philanthropic wrap sheet spanning vast initiatives, from education to homelessness. Together, they’ve gifted over $250 million to University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) to build Benioff Children’s Hospital. They also own TIME magazine together.

When he’s not leading his sprawling CRM company, Benioff serves on the World Economic Forum as a board of trustee member. He has won numerous awards, including CNN Business CEO of 2020, and is a published author. His fourth book, Trailblazer, documents his journey leading Salesforce to becoming the software behemoth it is today.

Marc Benioff’s early years

Benioff is no stranger when it comes to starting and building a business. An entrepreneur at heart, he created and sold his first software, “How to Juggle”, before his sixteenth birthday. At 15 years old, he created video games for the Atari 800 for his software company, Liberty Software. The royalties from these games would eventually fund his four years at University of Southern California, where he studied computing science. It is at USC where he would take on a different route in technology.[1]

His ascension to becoming one of Silicon Valley’s tech billionaire reads differently from his other tech peers. While in college at USC, his professors encouraged him to round out his sales skills by learning from the best; to do so, he joined Oracle, where he had a stellar career with many accolades, including rookie of the year and being Oracle’s youngest VP in history. Here are a few lessons we can take out Benioff’s playbook.

Purpose is more important than perks

Right from the beginning, Benioff and his cofounders integrated philanthropy into their values. They have numerous initiatives and processes that build philanthropy into work. For example, with their 1-1-1 model, Salesforce gives back to the community with 1% of their revenue, products, and employees’ time. When new employees join the company, they spend half of their day volunteering at local homeless shelters or hospitals.[2] In the face of Covid, Benioff had his team launch Work.com to help with managing contact tracing among other pandemic efforts.[3]

Fostering an environment that allows employees to find purpose and meaning beyond their day-to-day work requires intention. Benioff is incredibly intentional about how he delivers this to his employees and it is well received. Even without fancy cafeterias shelling out free meals, the company is ranked among one of the best companies to work for. This demonstrates that you can deliver a meaningful work experience to your employees without shelling for superficial perks.

Stand up for your beliefs

In the past few years, Big Tech has had a tough time convincing politicians and the general public that their actions truly resonate with their values. Benioff, on the other hand, has been outspoken about his values. He has also taken action to match his words. Additionally, he openly criticizes his peers on a number of issues. From calling out Jack Dorsey on his approach for homelessness in San Francisco, to openly providing support to those who wanted to move out of Texas after the controversial ban on abortions, Benioff is not afraid to publicize his opinions. He even believes in paying taxes, a belief that divides him from his corporate colleagues (many if not all of whom want to pay less to no tax).

Publicly standing by your values is critical in building and maintaining trust in your relationships. For Benioff and his prescription to stakeholder capitalism, being outspoken sends a clear sign to his clients and partners on what Salesforce stands for. This allows the public to understand his intentions and, if necessary, hold him accountable to his values. In a modern

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Take a break when you need it

After 10 years at Oracle, Benioff was burning out. He confided in his then mentor and Oracle CEO, Larry Ellison, who encouraged Benioff to take a sabbatical. Benioff took off to Hawaii and India, where he immersed himself in a different culture. From his time off, he discovered he could have a career while giving back to the community. It is from here where he decided to start Salesforce with an intention of creating a very different kind of company.

Being intentional about taking time off and reflecting is necessary for growth and discovery. Logging long hours, project after project, promotion after promotion, can leave you in a rut. This is because such a work life doesn’t afford individuals the time to sit and reflect on their experiences. In cases like Benioff, this can lead to burnout. In other cases, you can have years of missed opportunities pass by, simply because you’re too focused on making it through the day. By taking the necessary break, you can reflect and re-establish what is most important to you. You may even launch your next big project!

[1] The rise of Marc Benioff, the bombastic owner of Time Magazine who just became Saleforce’s sole CEO, has an $8 billion fortune, and owns a 5-acre compound in Hawaii (5 February 2020) https://www.businessinsider.com/the-rise-of-salesforce-ceo-marc-benioff-2016-3#benioff-thinks-he-should-pay-more-taxes-on-that-money-however-well-get-an-economy-that-works-for-everyone-when-1-create-educational-system-that-works-for-everyone-and-2-affordable-higher-education-and-3-strengthen-our-local-k-12-public-schools-4-we-must-focus-online-reskilling-that-brings-everyone-along-and-5-higher-ind-and-crp-taxes-to-pay-for-it-benioff-tweeted-in-june-2019-51 Retrieved December 29, 2021

[2] 4 Leadership Strategies Marc Benioff Swears By, (18 June 2018) https://www.inc.com/graham-winfrey/marc-benioff-salesforce-ceo-leadership-lessons-facebook.html Retrieved December 29, 2021

[3] Marc Benioff of Salesforce is the CNN Business CEO of 2020 (23 December 2020) https://www.cnn.com/2020/12/23/investing/marc-benioff-salesforce-ceo-of-year/index.html Retrieved December 29, 2021

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