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Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff desires firms to advertise social change – NPR

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https://www.npr.org/2021/10/16/1046472928/salesforce-ceo-marc-benioff-stakeholder-capitalism


Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff speaks onstage in the course of the TechCrunch Disrupt San Francisco occasion in San Francisco on Oct. 3, 2019. Benioff is a proponent of stakeholder capitalism, the assumption that firms should look out for the broader good.

Steve Jennings/Getty Photographs for TechCrunch


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Steve Jennings/Getty Photographs for TechCrunch


Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff speaks onstage in the course of the TechCrunch Disrupt San Francisco occasion in San Francisco on Oct. 3, 2019. Benioff is a proponent of stakeholder capitalism, the assumption that firms should look out for the broader good.

Steve Jennings/Getty Photographs for TechCrunch

When Texas enacted a controversial ban on most abortions in September, Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff despatched a message to his workers within the state, punctuated with a coronary heart emoji.

“Ohana if you wish to transfer we’ll enable you to exit TX. Your selection,” Benioff wrote in a tweet, utilizing the Hawaiian phrase for household.

It was a uncommon occasion wherein a CEO weighed in on a coverage that sparked a political and authorized firestorm. On Friday, the Justice Division announced it will ask the Supreme Court docket to placed on maintain Texas’ restrictive abortion regulation till authorized challenges are addressed.

The lack of corporate pushback in Texas has sparked handwringing within the company world: Ought to CEOs prioritize profit-making, as they historically have? Or ought to they forcefully wade in debates on social points and public coverage on behalf of their on prospects, staff and shareholders?

Few have been as outspoken as Benioff, who based Salesforce in 1999 after beforehand working at Oracle. Salesforce has grown to turn into a large in software program providers for firms, and not too long ago purchased the favored work messaging platform Slack.

Throughout a recent interview with tech journalist Kara Swisher on the Code 2021 convention, Benioff additional defined his pondering on Texas and different insurance policies that he believes would adversely impression Salesforce workers.

“All I wish to say to my staff is, ‘I’ve your again,'” he stated. “That’s, ‘I’ll maintain you.'”


The Slack app icon is displayed on a pc display on Dec. 2, 2020, in Tokyo. Salesforce accomplished a deal to purchase the favored work messaging platform earlier this yr.

Kiichiro Sato/AP


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Kiichiro Sato/AP


The Slack app icon is displayed on a pc display on Dec. 2, 2020, in Tokyo. Salesforce accomplished a deal to purchase the favored work messaging platform earlier this yr.

Kiichiro Sato/AP

Defining stakeholder capitalism

Benioff’s outspokenness is a part of his model. He often and forcefully weighs in on controversial points, together with gun coverage, human rights, local weather change, and politics extra broadly.

He’s an evangelist for altering the way in which firms do enterprise, a defender of what is known as “stakeholder capitalism,” or the assumption that firms ought to look past simply the pursuits of its staff or shareholders and prospects.

“We’d like a brand new capitalism that’s extra truthful, extra equitable, extra sustainable,” he told CNBC. “Capitalism that values not simply all shareholders, however all stakeholders.”

Benioff defines “stakeholder” extra broadly than most of his contemporaries.

In a current interview with NPR, Benioff stated the planet is a Salesforce stakeholder, and so is the homeless group in San Francisco, the place his firm has its headquarters, and the place his household has lived for 4 generations.

It is a type of advocacy few different CEOs have engaged in, in keeping with Benioff.

“Once I first began, I do not assume there have been a variety of CEOs who have been keen to talk out and actually take positions outdoors of, perhaps, their product,” he instructed NPR.


An worker enters the Salesforce workplace in San Francisco, on Oct. 5. Benioff usually acts when he feels insurance policies adversely impression his staff.

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An worker enters the Salesforce workplace in San Francisco, on Oct. 5. Benioff usually acts when he feels insurance policies adversely impression his staff.

Bloomberg/Bloomberg through Getty Photographs

Did George Floyd’s killing change company America?

However that is beginning to change — slowly.

In 2015, when Indiana handed a regulation that might have made it simpler for enterprise homeowners to disclaim providers to same-sex {couples} due to spiritual beliefs, Benioff was joined by different CEOs, together with Apple’s Tim Cook dinner and organizations like NCAA in denouncing the regulation.

That pressured then-Governor Mike Pence to amend the regulation.

Final yr, in a second that appeared to signify a turning level for company America, executives widely condemned the killing of George Floyd, and plenty of pledged to deal with racial inequality each inside their firms and in society at giant.

Nevertheless, many firm executives proceed to steer clear of hot-button points.

“I feel it is arduous main an organization generally, to determine what the corporate place is,” stated Debra Lee, the previous chairman and CEO of Black Leisure Tv (BET). “There could also be a variety of disagreement amongst staff or executives, and even board members.”


Then-Indiana Gov. Mike Pence speaks throughout a press convention on March 31, 2015. Pence was talking concerning the state’s controversial religius freedom regulation, which sparked some company opposition.

Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Photographs


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Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Photographs


Then-Indiana Gov. Mike Pence speaks throughout a press convention on March 31, 2015. Pence was talking concerning the state’s controversial religius freedom regulation, which sparked some company opposition.

Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Photographs

The criticism in opposition to stakeholder capitalism

On high of that, there are dangers of alienating prospects and shareholders.

Critics argue stakeholder capitalism is a slippery slope. In the event you weigh in a single factor, they are saying, there would be the expectation you handle each different challenge.

And plenty of executives nonetheless imagine CEOs ought to stick primarily to points that impression their firms, like Harvey Golub, the previous head of American Categorical.

“I feel it’s mistaken for executives to take an organization place on public coverage questions that do not straight have an effect on their enterprise,” Golub wrote in an op-ed for The Wall Street Journal earlier this yr.

David Kenny, the CEO of market analysis agency Nielsen, is sympathetic to that argument.

“, we’ve hundreds of individuals within the firm, they usually have issues they every care about, and I am glad they’re passionate,” he says. “However I can not converse up on everyone’s causes. So, I are likely to focus something I say publicly on the issues which can be vital to Nielsen.”

Benioff himself shouldn’t be all the time so outspoken. Despite blowback from his own employees, Benioff saved a contract with Customs and Border Safety, and he continues to do enterprise with international locations which have controversial insurance policies, together with China.


Migrants are apprehended by U.S. Customs and Border Safety (CBP) brokers after crossing the Rio Grande in LaJoya, Texas on June 12. Benioff saved Salesforce’s contract with the CBP regardless of opposition from his personal staff.

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Migrants are apprehended by U.S. Customs and Border Safety (CBP) brokers after crossing the Rio Grande in LaJoya, Texas on June 12. Benioff saved Salesforce’s contract with the CBP regardless of opposition from his personal staff.

Bloomberg/Bloomberg through Getty Photographs

Redefining an organization’s position

However Lee at BET says enterprise leaders might discover it more and more tough to remain out of huge social points.

As we speak, she notes, staff themselves are pushing firms to talk out, particularly youthful workers.

“They wish to know what are the values of an organization, and never simply what their earnings are, and what the merchandise they make are,” she stated. “They wish to know what they care about.”

That always leads to tensions amongst executives themselves, as they wrestle with when to talk out, and when to carry again.

When Georgia handed legal guidelines that many noticed as imposing new voting restrictions, it took some time earlier than greater than 100 CEOs finally signed onto an open letter organized by Ken Chenault, one other former CEO of American Categorical, and Ken Frazier, then the CEO of Merck. The letter demanded “the proper to vote for all of us.”

Kenny at Nielsen additionally criticized Georgia’s voting regulation, as a result of to him, it was a problem of illustration, which is Nielsen’s bread and butter.

Benioff was much less hesitant. He insists he has no political ambitions as a result of he’s conscious of how a lot affect he already has because the founding father of a San Francisco-based Fortune 500 firm.

And as Benioff begins his third decade on the helm of Salesforce, he continues to inform different CEOs it’s their obligation to make use of that energy for good.

“I actually assume it’s important to ask your self the query, ‘Is enterprise the best platform for change?'” he instructed NPR. “And in our world, our nation, you recognize, CEOs wield large energy with these superb companies.”

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