In 1996, Marc Benioff was feeling burned out. Although he was the youngest person to be promoted to vice president at Oracle, he was unhappy and unfulfilled. Benioff’s multimillion-dollar salary, stock and perks didn’t fill the void.
Benioff’s boss, Oracle founder, Larry Ellison, suggested a sabbatical. Benioff and a friend traveled together to India on a trip that changed his life and planted the seeds for the company he would start a few years later. Benioff was determined to build a company for profit and purpose. The idea of giving back was weaved into the fabric of Salesforce from day one.
Benioff tells the Salesforce origin story in his new book, Trailblazer: The Power of Business as the Greatest Platform for Change. The book, published this week, serves as a reminder to business leaders that rhetoric alone isn’t enough—anyone can talk a good game when it comes to giving back, but authentic leaders express their values through their words and actions.
Yes, Salesforce had to prosper in traditional measures, but Benioff was equally determined to build a company to make a positive impact. “We decided that no matter how big the company grew, we should always set aside 1 percent of our equity, product, and employee time for charitable causes,” Benioff writes. The Salesforce 1-1-1 philanthropic program has become a model for thousands of other businesses. It has generated $300 million in grants and four million hours of employee volunteer time.
Benioff now attributes Salesforces’s meteoric market value (from $1 billion to $120 billion since going public in 2004) to “the most powerful engine of growth.” That powerful engine was the decision to build a company around values that attracted the best and the brightest employees. “In a competitive business such as tech, where luring top talent can be the difference between profit and loss, it’s often something intangible—like a diverse, inclusive, values-driven culture—that determines where the best and brightest decide to work,” writes Benioff.
In a 2018 Global Strategy Group study, 81% of Americans agreed that “corporations should take action to address important issues facing society.” Benioff says that leaders should incorporate the mantra of giving and purpose in everything they say and do. It can’t be limited to a few expressions in a town hall presentation. Benioff argues that when leaders provide their employees with purpose beyond a paycheck, profits will follow. “Our own data shows that giving back is second-highest reason why new hires join Salesforce, and it ranks in the top three reasons why employees stay.”
Yes, Salesforce employees enjoy gorgeous office buildings, meditation rooms, barista bars and fair and equitable salaries. “But the forty thousand people at Salesforce are motivated by more than all that,” according to Benioff. “They care about doing something for others. They want to help local communities. They want to help our children get the best education possible. They want to help bridge the technology divide and prepare the workforce for the shock waves of the future.”
Salesforce has performed well on every financial metric, but Benioff says the greatest engine of growth has been to build a company that performs well on the most important metric of all—the good that it does in the community.