YAHOO FINANCE PRESENTS: Salesforce's Benioff on business as 'the greatest platform for change'

Julia La Roche

Billionaire tech titan Marc Benioff, the founder of enterprise software giant Salesforce (CRM), believes that business is "the greatest platform for change" and that CEOs no longer have the option of not taking a stand on society’s toughest issues.

"I try to model for other CEOs how to actually use their business as a platform for change, how to improve the state of the world with their companies," Benioff told Yahoo Finance in a recent interview, which touched on a broad range of topics. He spoke this week on the sidelines of Dreamforce, the annual tech conference hosted by Salesforce, in San Francisco.

This fall, Benioff published his fourth book called "Trailblazer," which he says gives "tools and guidance and know-how to move forward."

In the interview, he lamented the lack “role modeling” for CEOs to show leadership beyond just the bottom line. “And we have to give them the permission, the psychological permission, that it's OK to act this way. They don't have to just be about shareholder returns. They can do more," he added.

Benioff has declared that capitalism as we know it "is dead," and he's making a case for a new type of capitalism that's fairer, more equitable, and takes all stakeholders into account.

Salesforce integrated philanthropy from inception, which made Benioff argue that it's "never too late" for companies to adopt a new paradigm of stakeholder capitalism.

"[I] think that this is about keeping everything we had, have a shareholder return. Salesforce has had a great shareholder return — 3,500% since we went public in 2004. But we've also had a great stakeholder return," he said.

With that said, Benioff insisted that “you can have a great shareholder return and a great stakeholder return. And if you manage that way, you're going to have a better company, stronger values."

How Salesforce gives back

MANHATTAN, NEW YORK, UNITED STATES - 2019/10/11: Salesforce Headquarters in New York City, also known as Salesforce Tower. (Photo by Erik McGregor/LightRocket via Getty Images)

When he started Salesforce in 1999, he knew he wanted to build "a different kind of company." Integrating philanthropy became a critical part of the company's mission — primarily with its 1-1-1 model, where the company donates 1% of its equity, product, and employee time to charity.

Since that time, Salesforce has grown from a small startup run next to Benioff's old San Francisco apartment, to a global technology leader. It’s also one of the fastest-growing enterprise software companies in the world with a market cap greater than $140 billion.

Under 1-1-1, Salesforce has given $300 million in grants, more than 4 million hours in volunteer time. It has given more than 40,000 nonprofits and nongovernmental entities access to its products for free or at steep discounts.

Salesforce committed itself to renewable energy, and is today a net-zero greenhouse emission company. The tech giant has also spent $10.3 million since 2015 to close the gender pay gap — something Benioff has called on other CEOs to do as well.

As San Francisco’s largest private employer, Benioff fought for the passage of Proposition C last year, which levied a 0.5% tax on the city’s richest companies to combat the homelessness crisis. He did so even facing opposition from his peers. He’s also publicly called out other tech companies, most notably Facebook (FB), comparing the social network to cigarettes.

Since 1999, Salesforce was a disruptor, pioneering the software-as-a-service (SaaS) model for customer relationship management software (CRM). Benioff told Yahoo Finance that the next disruption will be companies that “improve the state of the world.”

These sorts of companies will be active in “...creating a world where all companies are stakeholder-based companies, where we focus on not only building great products and having great customer relationships but also about sustainability,” the CEO said.

“That will help us bridge from the Fourth Industrial Revolution and A.I, [artificial intelligence] and all these amazing technologies, to the Fifth Industrial Revolution,” Benioff added. “And people who are the vibrant, exciting, intelligent, young people the world who are coming up will be the leaders and show u how to lead to create the world that we all really want."

Julia La Roche is a Correspondent at Yahoo FinanceFollow her on Twitter.

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