Salesforce co-CEO Marc Benioff seemed determined to focus on the role that business leaders can play in addressing social challenges Tuesday morning at Fortune’s CEO Initiative in New York, in line with the event’s theme. But a day after Salesforce announced the biggest acquisition in its history, the topic of its $15.7 billion deal for Seattle’s Tableau Software proved unavoidable.
In response to questions from Fortune CEO Alan Murray, Benioff defended the Tableau deal to investors who have sent the San Francisco company’s shares down more than 7 percent since it was announced. Benioff views Tableau’s data visualization technology as a strong fit with Salesforce’s customer relationship management and AI offerings.
But the conversation Tuesday started someplace else entirely. The Salesforce co-founder was talking about the influx of millennials into the workforce, and their desire to ensure that the companies they work for are “actually committed to improving the state of the world.”
This has contributed to the surge in employee activism at major tech companies, Benioff explained, noting that the same underlying trend led him to get more active in social issues. Examples include his support for a business tax to fund housing and homeless services in San Francisco (and his personal funding of related initiatives), and his stance against anti-LGBTQ initiatives in some states.
“You know, I didn’t become, all of a sudden, this activist CEO,” he said. “I got kinda pushed by my employees into it, and my job as CEO is to listen deeply to my employees and my customers and to respond to them effectively.”
That’s when he brought up Tableau. “I’m doing that because it’s customer-driven,” he said.
“The investors aren’t crazy about it,” Murray responded.
“Well, the investors will see, just like they’ve always seen, how amazing it is,” he said. “It’s just a spectacular combination.”
He compared the current situation to Salesforce’s announcement of its MuleSoft acquisition last year. That deal also sent Salesforce’s shares down after it was announced. MuleSoft provides technology for integrating applications across the cloud and on-premises servers. Salesforce’s $6.5 billion acquisition of the company was its largest before the Tableau deal was announced.
Benioff and Murray both moved on quickly. Watch the full video above.
But on a conference call following the announcement Monday morning, Benioff offered his big picture thoughts explaining the logic behind the acquisition.
“Tableau is all about people seeing and understanding their data, servicing actual insights for every business user,” he said on the call. “And Salesforce is all about helping people engage with and understand customers delivering connected, integrated, intelligent, customer experiences across every business process. And now together, we have the leading products in these most important categories, underlying digital transformation, the very cornerstones of digital transformation.”
Watching the deal closely
One person with a unique perspective on the acquisition is Manny Medina, CEO of Outreach, the Seattle-based sales automation company and newly minted unicorn whose technology can be integrated with Salesforce. Medina described the acquisition price, about 50 percent more than Tableau’s previous market value, as a “huge premium.”
“Benioff has the reputation of being an emotional acquirer of companies and has even said his logic isn’t always clear, which may be how they arrived at that significant price,” Medina said via email. However, he added, “Coupled with the Mulesoft acquisition, the acquisition makes a lot of sense – now you have a CRM with these additional value-adding businesses on premises and off.
“MuleSoft that can put all the data into the cloud and now a data visualization through Tableau that brings the insights/analytics into it and defends the value of the CRM. That opens up the market considerably to upsell your customers. It will be interesting to see what happens with their marketing organizations as they are very different — you won’t see MuleSoft reps selling Tableau and vice versa.”
Benioff said when making the announcement that the Tableau deal would effectively make Seattle the second headquarters for Salesforce.
Addressing the Seattle angle, Medina said, “Tableau has proven that it is possible to build a great tech company here in Seattle if you build a culture based on inclusivity [that] has a high value to the employee. This move also sends a clear signal to other tech employers here in Seattle that SF is serious about its commitment to the region — going so far as calling the Tableau office HQ2 is a very pointed comment at Amazon. You can physically see this manifest in [South Lake Union] already — as soon as you come down Mercer, the first thing you see isn’t Amazon, it’s a Google building.”
Competitors and partners
The announcement came just days after Google announced its the $2.6 billion acquisition of Looker, which makes business-intelligence software for data analysis. Microsoft’s Power BI data visualization technology competes with Tableau, but the companies haven’t yet said if the bidding for Tableau was competitive.
In an SEC filing made in conjunction with the deal, Salesforce disclosed its answers to a series of questions, prepared in advance for people including partners, employees and press. One passage addressed Salesforce’s relationship with Google.
How does the acquisition of Tableau impact Salesforce’s partnership with Google — specifically Google Analytics?
Google is a strategic customer, partner, and infrastructure provider for Salesforce and we’ll continue to partner deeply with them. Our partnership with Google is focused on reselling Google analytics, integration the worlds # 1 CRM with G Suite, infrastructure with Google Cloud and helping our customers deliver intelligent, personalized 1:1 journeys. Additionally Tableau and Google Cloud already have a number of key areas of integration. For example, Tableau and Big Query, and Google Analytics and Google Spreadsheets, which make it easier for customers to bring data together and visualize with Tableau.
Google Cloud just acquired Looker – what does this mean for the Salesforce and Google partnership?
We continue to be strategic partners and will look for ways to integrate with Looker and Google Cloud that benefit our joint customers.
The deal is expected to close in the third quarter. Following the acquisition, Tableau will remain headquartered in Seattle, operating independently under the Tableau brand, and led by CEO Adam Selipsky, according to the companies.