“Davos Man”, Marc Benioff and the Covid pandemic

He frequently tells the story of his supposed inspiration to found Salesforce. Despite success at Oracle, where he worked early in his career, Mr. Benioff was plagued by existential doubt, prompting him to take a sabbatical in South India. There he visited a woman known as “the saint who embraces,” who urged him to share in his prosperity.

Since incorporation of Salesforce in 1999, Mr. Benioff has made a commitment to devote 1% of his capital and revenues to philanthropic businesses, while encouraging employees to devote 1% of their work time to volunteer efforts. . Salesforce employees regularly volunteer at schools, food banks, and hospitals.

“There are very few examples of companies doing this on a large scale,” Benioff told me in an interview. He noted that people always told him about another company known for its goal of doing good, Ben & Jerry’s. He said this with a chuckle, clearly amused that his business – now worth over $ 200 billion – could be compared to the aging Vermont hippies who brought Cherry Garcia ice cream to the world.

Mr. Benioff is, in many ways, a true believer, and doesn’t just lazily repeat the Davos man’s talking points. In 2015, when Indiana passed legislation that would have allowed companies to discriminate against gay, lesbian and transgender employees, it threatened to withdraw investments, forcing a change in the law. He shamed Facebook and Google for abusing public trust and called for regulations on search and social media giants. At the start of the pandemic, Salesforce embraced remote working to protect employees.

“I try to influence others to do the right thing,” he told me. “I feel this responsibility.”

I found myself wowed by his childlike enthusiasm and willingness to speak at length in the absence of PR officials – a rarity for Silicon Valley.

His philanthropic efforts have aimed to reduce homelessness in San Francisco, while expanding health care for children. He and Salesforce collectively contributed $ 7 million to a successful 2018 campaign for a local voting measure that levied new taxes on San Francisco businesses to fund expanded programs. The new taxes would likely cost Salesforce $ 10 million a year.

It sounded like a lot of money, ostensible evidence of a socially conscious CEO sacrificing the bottom line for the sake of meeting the needs of the company. But it was less than a trifle compared to the money Salesforce withheld from the government through a legal tax subterfuge.

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