Despite his wishful predictions that Donald Trump would never become president, Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff suggested on Monday evening that people forget their anxiety and give Trump a chance – at least initially. Speaking at the Code Enterprise conference in San Francisco, the politically outspoken and activist Benioff also revealed what turned him away from acquisition talks with Microsoft, and talked about the company’s brush with buying Twitter.
“Over the weekend, I’ve seen a wide variety of emotions from my friends – from tears to anger to anxiety and stress – and we have to have a reset, let go of our fears,” Benioff said during his 45-minute interview by Kara Swisher, the co-founder of conference organizer Recode. “There’s a rhetoric when you’re campaigning, and now there’s an adjustment. He said President Obama is actually a great guy. So there’s a lot of positive stuff coming. I’m going to keep that position for now.”
After the election he tweeted, “Congratulations President Trump. This is what makes America great – our democracy. Now is the time for us to come together as one country.”
Asked just what Silicon Valley wants from Washington, D.C., Benioff said it wants patent reform, which “unfortunately got killed in the Senate,” as he noted. Silicon Valley also wants repatriation of foreign capital at a reasonable tax rate, which hasn’t happened under Obama but has been promised by Trump. It and wants H-1B visa expansion, while Trump has vowed to curtail their use.
In response to the election of vice president-to-be Mike Pence, against whom he squared off over a restrictive state LGBTQ law when Pence was Indiana’s governor, Benioff said, “I’ll continue to do everything I have been doing. It’s important to me that we keep looking out for everybody in all our people. He signed the law, and then he changed it. There was some enlightenment involved. We were able to move on and move forward.”
Benioff called for more CEOs to become more activist.
“We’re shifting from CEOs being all about the shareholders to being all about stakeholders,” he said. “You should have a point of view and be clear about what it is. The CEO has to be willing to take on the risk (that he could be fired by the board for being outspoken). If this election shows anything, it shows you’d better let your voice be known.”
Asked whether Salesforce had ever been an acquisition target, Benioff related that when Satya Nadella became Microsoft CEO and an old friend, John Thompson, became chairman of the board, Thompson “made the case that it’s a new Microsoft, they were going to change their business ethics and how they want to do partnerships, and we should engage.”
Shortly thereafter, “we had a lot of conversations about the different possible relationships between Salesforce and Microsoft. . . . We looked at every possible option.”
At about the same time, Nadella called Benioff and asked Benioff to meet with Scott Guthrie, the head of Azure, “to walk him through the details of your business, because maybe we can get Salesforce to run on Azure and that would be very exciting for you. It was clear he wasn’t in our business, so I had this meeting with him.”
A couple of weeks later, Benioff said, “I read that Scott was now running (Microsoft’s) CRM business. I was very surprised by that. I came to the conclusion that the new Microsoft was actually the old Microsoft.”
Similar things continued to put him off Microsoft, including first being invited to a partner conference and then being disinvited, he said.
The companies announced a cloud partnership in May 2014 but more recently competed against each other for LinkedIn, and Benioff has asked regulators to investigate Microsoft’s planned $26 billion acquisition of the business social network.
As to Salesforce’s flirtation with purchasing Twitter, “one of my key stakeholders – my shareholders – made it very clear they wanted me to exit that idea, and I did, because I had no choice. . . . I had a really uncomfortable meeting with 200 shareholders at Dreamforce, and they said, ‘You need to listen more closely to us,’ and I agreed.”
Code Enterprise, which also features appearances by Google Cloud senior VP Diane Greene and LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner, is oriented toward senior-level executives and continues through Tuesday. Watch the archived video of Benioff’s appearance below.
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