Over the past 20 years, the company that he co-founded, Salesforce, has generated billions in profits and made me him a very wealthy person. He had beyond the wildest imaginations of his great-grandfather, who immigrated to San Francisco from Kiev in the late 1800s. Capitalism has been good to him and yet he wrote: “as a capitalist, I believe it’s time to say out loud what we all know to be true: Capitalism, as we know it, is dead.
Marc Benioff believes that business is the greatest platform for change. That’s his core belief. “Yes, free markets have pioneered new industries, discovered cures that have saved millions from disease and unleashed prosperity that has lifted billions of people out of poverty”.
But capitalism “as it has been practiced in recent decades — with its obsession on maximising profits for shareholders — has also led to horrifying inequality”.
So what might a new capitalism look like?
“First, business leaders need to embrace a broader vision of their responsibilities by looking beyond shareholder return and also measuring their stakeholder return. This requires that they focus not only on their shareholders, but also on all of their stakeholders — their employees, customers, communities and the planet”. At Salesforce, he imposed the so-called “One-One-One” model, which has been copied by Google and others in Silicon Valley: 1% of capital, 1% of profits and 1% of working time must be redistributed to charitable organisations. “By integrating philanthropy into our company culture from the beginning — giving 1 percent of our equity, time and technology” — Salesforce has donated nearly $300 million to worthy causes, including local public schools and addressing homelessness. “To me , the boys and girls in local schools and homeless families on the streets of our city are our stakeholders, too.”
While swimming with dolphins in Hawaii, Benioff came up with the idea for software on the “cloud”. Customers could access the service on a subscription basis rather than having to purchase and download each version to their computer. Twenty years later, Marc is one of the richest entrepreneurs in the Valley ($ 6 billion). But he has become very critical of his tech peers.
Even before the Cambridge Analytica scandal, he closed his Facebook account, which he accuses of cultivating addiction to the platform. “The new cigarette, it’s addictive and it’s not good for you”, he said.
In September 2018, he bought Time magazine (190 million dollars), to support the “quality press”. In November, he funded a referendum imposing a tax on large San Francisco businesses to address city’s urgent homelessness crisis. Not everyone agrees, including Jack Dorsey, CEO of Twitter. The referendum was adopted with 62% of the votes but the tax is blocked by a lawsuit…
Marc was a child prodigy. At 12, his parents let him settle in the basement near his first computer, a TRS-80, quickly traded for an Atari 800. At 15, he founded his first company, Liberty Software. Then he interned with Steve Jobs at Apple, before being employed at Oracle for thirteen years. At 26, he was already vice president and multimillionaire. In the late 1990s, the golden boy had an existential crisis. He took a sabbatical and went to India. He came back with a mission: “Do something for others”.
Benioff warns business leaders to “better go into the 4th industrial revolution with the right values or we are going to end up with a society we won’t be happy with”. Indeed, despite his 6.4ft tall, Marc might not be able to save the world on his own.