“Trailblazer” … Salesforce’s CEO Marc Benioff’s new book on the power of business “as the greatest platform for change”

October 21, 2019

Marc Benioff is best known as founder and CEO of Salesforce. However his passion goes beyond technology, with an inspiring vision for the future of business — one in which everyone is empowered to change the world.

Marc Benioff, Salesforce CEO

Benioff, 55 years old and worth $6.5 billion, grew up in the tech metropolis of Silicon Valley. An early internship at Apple focused on programming led to a job at Oracle in customers service, before going on to lead the sales, marketing and product development functions. In 1999 he founded Salesforce and proclaimed “the end of software”.

Salesforce became a pioneer of cloud computing. A Fortune 500 company with more than 45,000 employees, it has been recognized as the most innovative company by Forbes and the #1 best place to work and 15th most admired company in the world by Fortune. Benioff was named Innovator of the Decade by Forbes, ranked #3 on Fortune’s 2017 Businessperson of the Year list, and recognized as one of the world’s 25 greatest leaders by Fortune and one of the best-performing CEOs by Harvard Business Review. He has won numerous awards for his leadership on equality.

He founded Salesforce not only to develop great products, but also to have a positive impact on the world. On day one, he created the 1-1-1 model of philanthropy, of giving 1% of Salesforce’s equity, product, and employees’ time back to communities around the world. Today, more than 8,500 companies have adopted the 1-1-1 model through the Pledge 1% movement.

His new book, Trailblazer

What’s the secret to business growth and innovation and a purpose-driven career in a world that’s becoming more complicated by the day? According to Benioff, the answer is embracing a culture in which your values permeate everything you do.

In his new book Trailblazer, the tech CEO gives readers a rare behind-the-scenes look at the inner workings of one of the world’s most admired companies. He reveals how Salesforce’s core values — trust, customer success, innovation, and equality — and commitment to giving back have become the company’s greatest competitive advantage and the most powerful engine of its success.

No matter what business you’re in, he argues, values are the bedrock of a resilient company culture that inspires all employees, at every level, to do the best work of their lives. Along the way, he shares insights and best practices for anyone who wants to cultivate a company culture positioned to thrive in the face of the inevitable disruption ahead.

None of us in the business world can afford to sit on the sidelines and ignore what’s going on outside the walls of our workplaces. In the future, profits and progress will no longer be sustainable unless they serve the greater good. Trailblazer argues that anyone can become an agent of change.

Here are some great quotes from his new book:

“Here’s the thing about values: You have to use words to identify them, but they won’t create true value for you unless they turn into consistent behaviors.”

“It’s about how to create a culture where doing well is synonymous with doing good in order to thrive in a world where a company is only as strong as the principles it adopts.”

“Companies, and the people who lead them, can no longer afford to separate business objectives from the social issues surrounding them. They can no longer view their mission as a set of binary choices: growing vs. giving back, making a profit vs. promoting the public good, or innovating vs. making the world a better place.”

“Doing well by doing good is no longer just a competitive advantage. It’s becoming a business imperative.”

“Lots of businesses talk about values, but in turbulent times, when they matter most, executives often forget to operationalize them.”

“Just as CEOs can’t look away when social issues clash with their values, employees can’t pretend that whatever its leadership decides to do is above their pay grade. If leadership won’t act on a company’s values, employees at every level need to hold them accountable.”

“Whether you’re starting a business, managing a team, or running an entire company, trusting your instincts can be essential in bringing a vision or idea to life. I now understand that trusting yourself is only half the story. To be effective as a leader, you need a reservoir of trust to draw from. And once you use it all up, it can take years and years to replenish.”

“As I write this, I know there are countless mysteries about the future of business that we’ve yet to unravel. That’s a process that will never end. When it comes to customer success, however, I have achieved absolute clarity on four points. First, technology will never stop evolving. In the years to come, machine learning and artificial intelligence will probably make or break your business. Success will involve using these tools to understand your customers like never before so that you can deliver more intelligent, personalized experiences. The second point is this: We’ve never had a better set of tools to help meet every possible standard of success, whether it’s finding a better way to match investment opportunities with interested clients, or making customers feel thrilled about the experience of renovating their home. The third point is that customer success depends on every stakeholder. By that I mean employees who feel engaged and responsible and are growing their careers in an environment that allows them to do their best work—and this applies to all employees, from the interns to the CEO. The same goes for partners working to design and implement customer solutions, as well as our communities, which provide the schools, hospitals, parks, and other facilities to support us all. The fourth and most important point is this: The gap between what customers really want from businesses and what’s actually possible is vanishing rapidly. And that’s going to change everything. The future isn’t about learning to be better at doing what we already do, it’s about how far we can stretch the boundaries of our imagination. The ability to produce success stories that weren’t possible a few years ago, to help customers thrive in dramatic new ways—that is going to become a driver of growth for any successful company. I believe we’re entering a new age in which customers will increasingly expect miracles from you. If you don’t value putting the customer at the center of everything you do, then you are going to fall behind. Whether you make cars, solar panels, television programs, or anything else, untold opportunities exist. Every company should invest in helping its customers find new destinations, and in blazing new trails to reach them. To do so, we have to resist the urge to make quick, marginal improvements and spend more time listening deeply to what customers really want, even if they’re not fully aware of it yet. In the end, it’s a matter of accepting that your success is inextricably linked to theirs.”

“There’s no way to put a dollar value on values. And yes, there will be times when prioritizing values, especially trust, will come at the expense of profits. In the short term, that is. But the money your company makes in any given quarter will never be more valuable than the trust you stand to lose over time.”

“A genuine culture built on fundamentals like trust and aimed at the goal of business for good is more than enough, but only if it genuinely outweighs the traditional business motives of driving revenue, growth, and profit.”

“Our public schools need people to show up and care more than they need the donations of benefactors. They need people who can contribute professional expertise mentoring students, assisting teachers, or even applying a fresh coat of paint.”

“But let me be clear: What Indiana ultimately showed me is that no one person is in charge of the moral compass of a business. The phone calls and messages from my employees proved that if the leadership won’t act, they’ll have to face the bayonets poking up from below. Gone are the days when companies can recruit and retain top talent without upholding a commitment to values.”

“The great miscalculation of the age is the idea that businesses have to make a choice: to become profitable, or to become platforms for change. This is not the case.” 

Here are 10 details from Benioff’s life, according to Entrepreneur Magazine, that begin to paint a picture of the tech billionaire:

1. He cleaned cases at a jewellery store for his first official paying job.

Benioff asked his parents for permission to work at the jewelry store after school so he could save enough money for his first computer, which he bought at Radio Shack. (He was later fired for using the wrong soap on the floors.)

2. He developed games for Atari as a teenager.

Benioff founded his first company, Liberty Software, at age 15 — the same age he sold his first piece of software (“How to Juggle”) for $75. Benioff then sold several 8-bit games for systems including the Atari 800, including Crypt of the Undead, King Arthur’s Heir, The Nightmare and Escape From Vulcan’s Isle.

3. He was a millionaire by age 25.

Benioff spent 13 years working at database software giant Oracle under then-CEO Larry Ellison. He was one of the company’s youngest executives, and at age 25, his salary put him over the millionaire mark.

4. A sabbatical trip around the world inspired him to start Salesforce.

After about a decade at Oracle, Benioff felt something was missing in his view of success and spoke with Ellison about taking a sabbatical. He spent a few months in Hawaii studying meditation, and had the fundamental idea for Salesforce while swimming with dolphins in the Pacific Ocean. Amazon and eBay had recently emerged, and he asked himself, “Why are we still loading and upgrading software the way we’ve been doing all this time when we can now do it over the internet?” The next leg of Benioff’s trip was India, where a host of spiritual leaders inspired him to prioritize philanthropy.

5. He considered Steve Jobs a mentor.

In 1984, Benioff, then a college student, interned at Apple. He went on to develop a friendship with founder Steve Jobs and often asked him for input in Salesforce’s early stages. “There would be no Salesforce.com without Steve Jobs,” Benioff said at a 2013 conference, crediting Jobs as the guide for many of his early decisions. Jobs, like Benioff, also spent time searching for inspiration in India.

6. He helped invent a $116 billion market.

With Salesforce, Benioff launched a new form of cloud computing: software as a service (SaaS). Through SaaS, individuals and companies can rent software over the internet instead of installing it on physical computers — and its estimated market size for 2018 is upwards of $116 billion.

7. He turned down a $55 billion offer from Microsoft.

Microsoft and Salesforce have a famously volatile relationship — they’ve been both competitors and partners over the years, and a potential merger fell apart in 2015. Microsoft made a bid for Salesforce amounting to roughly $55 billion, but Benioff’s asking price was reportedly $15 billion more. The deal fell through.

8. He developed a new 1-1-1 model for corporate philanthropy.

Benioff dedicated Salesforce to philanthropy at its core: a 1-1-1 model stipulating that the company set aside 1 percent of equity, 1 percent of product and 1 percent of employees’ time for nonprofits and local communities.

9. His net worth is an estimated $6.51 billion.

Benioff’s wealth has increased by about 60 percent since June 2016, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

10. He and his wife Lynne paid $190 million in cash for Time magazine.

Eight months after the end of TIME Inc., the brand’s namesake publication will change hands in a $190 million deal between the Benioffs and Meredith Corp. The Benioffs announced their acquisition of Time magazine on Sunday. The deal, which is already drawing comparisons to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’s purchase of The Washington Post, is expected to close within 30 days. Benioff said he and his wife will have no journalistic input and will not be involved in the magazine’s day-to-day operations.

“The power of Time has always been in its unique storytelling of the people and issues that affect us all and connect us all,” said Benioff in a tweet. “[Time is a] treasure trove of our history and culture. We have deep respect for their organization and [are] honored to be stewards of this iconic brand.”

More from the blog