Dar­ing, hunger to im­prove drive sales­force.com CeO

‘I still have not ac­cepted that Sales­force.com has made it.’ Marc Be­nioff, chief ex­ec­u­tive, Sales­force.com

Austin American-Statesman - - TECHMONDAY - By Michael Liedtke

SAN FRAN­CISCO — Whether he’s swim­ming with dol­phins in the Pa­cific Ocean or draw­ing in­spi­ra­tion from rap­pers, Marc Be­nioff has bro­ken the CEO mold while run­ning Sales­force.com Inc. for the past decade.

Some of his an­tics seem cal­cu­lated to make a point about the im­por­tance of dar­ing to be un­con­ven­tional, a method that has worked well for him.

Be­nioff, 45, wouldn’t be a bil­lion­aire — and Sales­force.com wouldn’t have emerged as an even bet­ter in­vest­ment than Google — if he hadn’t been able to per­suade so many cor­po­rate de­ci­sion­mak­ers to change their ways.

Sales­force.com rents soft­ware for man­ag­ing cus­tomer re­la­tion­ships and delivers its prod­uct ex­clu­sively over the In­ter­net. The con­cept, of­ten called cloud com­put­ing, is hot now, but it was con­sid­ered a pie-in-the-sky no­tion when Be­nioff started Sales­force at the height of the dot­com boom in 1999.

Back then, com­pa­nies pre­ferred to in­stall all their soft­ware on com­put­ers sit­ting on their own premises. They bought prepack­aged soft­ware so they could own the ap­pli­ca­tions, even if it meant pay­ing huge fees for in­stal­la­tion and main­te­nance.

That mind­set was so deeply in­grained in cor­po­rate Amer­ica that Be­nioff was wor­ried Sales­force.com might fail two years af­ter he started the com­pany.

There’s no such worry now. Sales­force. com has more than 77,000 cus­tomers, nearly 5,000 em­ploy­ees and steadily ris­ing rev­enue that’s ex­pected to hit $1.5 bil­lion


in the com­pany’s cur­rent fis­cal year.

His most im­pres­sive ac­com­plish­ment: A $10,000 in­vest­ment in Sales­force’s June 2004 ini­tial pub­lic of­fer­ing would now be worth nearly $90,000, based on the com­pany’s clos­ing stock price of $99.77 on Fri­day. By com­par­i­son, a $10,000 in­vest­ment in Google’s IPO in Au­gust 2004 would now be worth about $56,000.

Be­nioff, who learned the art of pro­mo­tion as a pro­tege of Or­a­cle Corp. CEO Larry El­li­son, is now study­ing the ideas of a 26-year-old whiz, Face­book Inc. founder Mark Zucker­berg. The goal: build­ing busi­ness tools sim­i­lar to Face­book’s so­cial-net­work­ing sys­tem. (Sales­force’s first at­tempt at this is called “Chat­ter.”)

When he’s not trav­el­ing around the world to meet cus­tomers, Be­nioff gets much of his work done at the Hawaii get­away he built with his es­ti­mated for­tune of $1.3 bil­lion. It’s where he spends about a quar­ter of his time, re­ly­ing on a high-def­i­ni­tion video feed that keeps him wired with Sales­force’s San Fran­cisco head­quar­ters and other of­fices.

“Noth­ing will help you let go faster than swim­ming along­side a pod of dol­phins,” Be­nioff said. “It’s an amaz­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. It con­nects you back to what’s re­ally im­por­tant.”

Do you get good ideas when you’re swim­ming with the dol­phins?

I have got­ten some of my best in­sights when I have been able to sur­ren­der my­self to na­ture like that. I at­tribute Sales­force’s great per­for­mance to my abil­ity to work in Hawaii.

I try to adopt a Zen per­spec­tive of a be­gin­ner’s mind. And I think the best way to get a be­gin­ner’s mind is to get to an en­vi­ron­ment like this where you can kind of let go.

When did you know that Sales­force.com was go­ing to be a suc­cess?

I still have not ac­cepted that Sales­force.com has made it. (For­mer In­tel Corp. CEO) Andy Grove said it pretty well, “Only the para­noid sur­vive.” Michael Dell says it re­ally well also. He says, “Pleased, but never sat­is­fied.” That’s kind of how I feel, which is you have to kind of keep go­ing and work harder.

Who are some of the CEOs who have been the biggest in­flu­ence on you?

I would say Larry El­li­son, Steve Jobs, Michael Dell and John Cham­bers (of Cisco Sys­tems).

They are mul­ti­decade CEOs. Each of them have at least one cy­cle of suc­cess and a cy­cle of fail­ure be­hind them. They keep go­ing no mat­ter what. And they in­no­vate. They have a cus­tomer-cen­tric view.

How would you de­scribe your man­age­ment phi­los­o­phy?

Well, I think the No. 1 thing I do is the “V2MOM” process. It stands for the vi­sion, the val­ues, the meth­ods, the ob­sta­cles and the


Each of one of those five things also con­nects to five ques­tions. Vi­sion: What do I want? Val­ues: What’s most im­por­tant about it? Meth­ods: How do I get it? Ob­sta­cles: What will pre­vent us from hav­ing it? And mea­sures: How will we know we have it?

CEOs aren’t the only peo­ple who have in­flu­enced you. Peo­ple like MC Ham­mer have been an in­flu­ence, right?

I think it’s im­por­tant to look for lead­er­ship and in­spi­ra­tion not just from the in­dus­try, but look­ing out­side the in­dus­try, too.

Peo­ple who have re­ally in­spired me are peo­ple like Neil Young. He doesn’t sing for Coke, and he doesn’t sing for Pepsi or Bud. The spirit of mu­sic is in him, and he can’t com­mer­cial­ize it.

But at the same level, I have learned from a mu­si­cian who does com­mer­cial­ize mu­sic in­cred­i­bly well, Will.i.am. He is a mu­si­cian who is a for­ward thinker, very in­no­va­tive, very into technology and is very into com­mer­cial­iza­tion. I think there is some­thing to learn from those two very dif­fer­ent fig­ures.

And MC Ham­mer is one of the smartest guys I have ever met, a vi­sion­ary in technology and mu­sic.

I also have had the op­por­tu­nity to spend a lot of time with Robert Thur­man, (ac­tress) Uma Thur­man’s fa­ther. He comes at lead­er­ship from a dif­fer­ent per­spec­tive, from the spir­i­tual side. He now chairs the depart­ment of re­li­gion at

Columbia Uni­ver­sity.

That’s also some­thing that has drawn me to hear­ing and learn­ing the teach­ings of the Dalai Lama. Lead­er­ship can come in many dif­fer­ent ways: spir­i­tu­al­ity, mu­sic, technology and, of course, govern­ment.

What kinds of things make you mad?

The No. 1 thing that gets me up­set is if we lose a great em­ployee to ei­ther a com­peti­tor or to do some­thing else. It up­sets me when I don’t feel like it serves that em­ployee or the com­pany. That hap­pens more of­ten now be­cause I am not able to main­tain the tight re­la­tion­ship that I used to have with ev­ery­one.

So what are the next big things for Sales­force. com?

When I started Sales­force, I asked a ques­tion: Why isn’t all en­ter­prise soft­ware like Ama­zon. com? The ques­tion now re­ally is: Why isn’t all en­ter­prise soft­ware like Face­book?

Where we used to have desk­tops and note­books, now it’s more likely we are go­ing to a tablet or a smart phone.

This is re­ally where I am spend­ing a lot of my time. It’s a fun­da­men­tal trans­for­ma­tion. It’s about the cloud, so­cial, mo­bile. It’s re­ally in­spired a new gen­er­a­tion of wildly in­no­va­tive ap­pli­ca­tions that are chang­ing en­tire in­dus­tries. I call this the Face­book Im­per­a­tive. It’s all about look­ing at these changes and how are they go­ing to ap­ply to us.

Chris Ste­wart

Sales­force.com chief ex­ec­u­tive Marc Be­nioff was wor­ried his suc­cess­ful com­pany, started in 1999, would fail af­ter two years.

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