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Marc Benioff
Visionary. Innovator. Frater.

How this visionary founder and CEO integrated business and philanthropy to put Salesforce on the Fortune 500 and the top of the Forbes' Most Innovative Company in the World List

“Because the real joy in life comes from giving. It comes from service. It comes from doing things for other people. That is what is so powerful about this. Nothing will make you happier than giving.”

The 2014 University of Southern California graduating class sat in the heat of the California sun, sweating under their black robes and black mortarboard caps, full of excitement for the opportunities unfolding before them. Standing behind a podium in his own stifling ceremonial attire was a fellow USC alumnus. He reminisced about how, not so long ago, he stood where they stood, sharing a few choice words from an already admirable career.

One wonders, as the speaker recalls moments from his life, if he remembers what he was thinking when he first stepped onto the beautiful campus in 1982. Did he know then, that in only a few short decades, the University of Southern California would be honored to sit in the hot sun and listen to Marc Benioff?

1982. Sony launches the first consumer compact disc player and the Commodore 64 personal computer is released. A young entrepreneur from Burlingame High School joined thousands of other students first stepping foot on the campus of the University of Southern California.
    
The compact disc player lives on in legend and the Commodore 64 would go on to sell more than 20 million computers until 1994. One went to that same young entrepreneur, helping him to continue what would become one of the most talked about professional careers in the world, eventually leading him to found a business that has grown to become a Fortune 500 company with 30,000 employees. That young man was Frater Marc Benioff.
    
As of this writing, Salesforce and Benioff are household names. The company is the global leader in customer relationship management software. If you don’t use the Salesforce platform in your career, it is almost guaranteed that you have interacted with it as a consumer.
    
But Marc is more than a talented business leader. His name has become synonymous with corporate giving and philanthropy. From the very start of Salesforce, he created a culture rooted in values and made giving back core to the company, creating a new paradigm for the modern business—from the ground up.
    
“I had always been a computer geek at heart, but I couldn’t have balanced computers and school without the support of my family and teachers. My parents allowed me to get a job—cleaning cases at a jewelry store—so I could save up money for a computer. My grandmother drove me to Radio Shack, where I bought my first TRS-80 Model I,” Benioff says of his early years. Not long after he created his first business.
    
“I started Liberty Software when I was 15 and sold my first piece of software—‘How to Juggle’—for $75. I developed games for the Atari 800 and used the profits to help pay for college.” Atari 8-bit computer game developer Epyx, Inc. was one of his earliest clients. They purchased and published “King Arthur’s Heir,” “The Nightmare,” “Escape from Vulcan’s Isle,” and “Crypt of the Undead.”
    
By the time Marc was able to drive a car, his success as an entrepreneur was starting to take shape. He entered the University of Southern California in the fall of 1982, intending to pursue his gift for programming by participating in their entrepreneur program.
    
As a self-starter, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to find out that Marc had already made up his mind to participate in a fraternity once he arrived at USC. The local TKE chapter was working through a period of rebirth, and Marc seized the opportunity to be a part of the changes.
    
“A group of alumni, led by Connie Solum, was trying to restart it. I was naturally attracted to starting something and joined their efforts,” says Benioff. “It definitely reinforced my skills as an entrepreneur.”
    
Reminiscing about his time at Beta-Sigma, he notes the impact that the organization had in further developing him: “Perhaps the most significant experience for me was being chosen as the Legislative Chairman for Conclave. It was a defining experience for me.” Despite attending two Conclaves, TKE would not be the only thing to occupy his time.
    
“During college at USC, I ran Liberty out of my dorm room. My professors encouraged me to get a job working with customers, which set me off in a new direction,” Marc says. Intending to follow programming to its logical conclusion, this advice from his professors proved to be perfectly timed.
    
“These early experiences—following my passion for technology and believing in myself—absolutely gave me the confidence to innovate and take risks in my career,” Marc adds.
    
Marc would graduate from USC with a Bachelor of Science in business administration but not before taking on an internship that would provide him with inspiration for years to come. In the summer of 1984, he interned with Apple’s Macintosh Division as a programmer, writing code in assembly language.
    
He explains, “It was an incredible experience. The Macintosh had just been introduced to the world. It was where I first met and was inspired by Steve Jobs, and where I discovered that it’s possible for an entrepreneur to unleash revolutionary ideas.”

Even as an entrepreneur, Marc praises the value of internships. “I encourage every young person to pursue an internship if they can—to see how the real world works. Be open to any assignment. Throw yourself into your projects. Volunteer to do more. Seek out a mentor who can help you learn and grow as an entrepreneur,” says Frater Benioff.

Continuing to heed his professors’ advice, Marc graduated from USC in 1986 and started his career at Oracle Corporation. While this leap onto the corporate ladder seemed counter-intuitive for the young man who had previously shown such promise in making video games, it proved to be wildly successful as he advanced through the ranks at a blistering pace.

“I was at Oracle for 13 years. I had the opportunity to work in a variety of positions in sales, marketing and product development. When I was 26, I was named vice president. Being the youngest VP in the company’s history was exhilarating, but it was also a huge level of responsibility. I was leading larger teams, with responsibility for more people and products,” he recalls.

The new Salesforce Tower in San Francisco is one of the tallest office buildings west of Chicago at 1,070 feet. The new Salesforce Tower in San Francisco is one of the tallest office buildings west of Chicago at 1,070 feet.


But he cautions, “Moving up the ranks gives you a greater ability to shape the direction of the company. But, the higher you go, the more you risk becoming too removed from the day-to-day operations of a company.”
    
By 1996, Marc was the senior vice president at Oracle, but he found himself looking for something more: “I was successful professionally, but I had come to define success almost solely in terms of acquiring money and power. I felt something was missing in my life.”  
  
Marc took a sabbatical. During this time, he and Arjun Gupta, who would later found Telesoft Partners, went to India, a story he shared with the USC Class of 2014.
    
“Something amazing happened. Arjun and I ended up in a little hut, a little hut in a little area of India in the south called Kerala in a little city called Trivandrum,” he recalls from that sunny stage. It was in this hut that he first met Sri Mata Amritanandamayi Devi.
    
He continues, “I was thinking of starting a new company, and she told me, ‘Don’t forget about all the people in the world who need you and how you can help them.’ For me, it was a spiritual awakening.”

A New Name in Philanthropy

The philanthropic contributions made by Salesforce are impressive numbers by any standards. Employees of Salesforce are proud to share their own stories of volunteerism and will gladly sing the praises of their employer.The spirit of philanthropy is ingrained in the core of what Salesforce is.
    
“When Parker Harris and I started Salesforce a few years later, Marc says, we made sure that our philanthropic mission was integrated into the company and into our culture from the very beginning. With our 1-1-1 model, we set aside 1 percent of our equity, 1 percent of our time and 1 percent of our product to nonprofit organizations and to the communities where we live and work.”
    
The impact to those communities is tangible, inspiring countless others to build a better world around them. “Salesforce employees have given close to 3 million volunteer hours over the years to local schools and communities.”
    
He continues, “… to see the extraordinary impact over these past 19 years—and so many other companies following our lead—is deeply moving. This spirit of giving back is woven throughout our culture—our Ohana, the Hawaiian word for family. It’s what helps us recruit such great talent and what makes us one of the world’s best companies in which to work.”
    
Marc and his wife Lynne have no shortage of generosity either. They have donated millions and created a lasting impact for the UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital. Working with a children’s hospital is a cause that is near and dear to many of our hearts, as many of our members support a similar cause in St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, founded by Frater Danny Thomas (Gamma-Nu, Toledo).
  
“I’m a fourth generation San Franciscan. I’m deeply thankful for everything this community has given to me, and Lynne and I have been determined to give back. We believe that in order for our communities to thrive, it’s imperative that all children have access to world-class healthcare and education systems,” he says.
    
Their enthusiasm for charitable giving has not gone unnoticed: “What Lynne and I are most proud of, though, is that our support has also helped spur others to give, helping to generate a wave of funding that will help sustain the medical centers for many years to come.”
    
How do they decide where they can make the most impact? True to form, they do it with deliberate analysis and strategic actions.
    
“Lynne and I often ask a simple question—where can we have the biggest impact? If a charity or a cause is already well-funded, that’s probably not the best use of our philanthropy.” Where are important needs not being met and where can contributions make a real difference? Not content to simply throw money at a problem, they insist on metrics for measuring progress and specific sustainable goals.
    
He echoes the wisdom of a much older proverb calling attention to the difference between creating a fisherman or creating another problem. “It’s not enough to simply help a homeless family find a home; you also want to help them develop the skills and find a job so they’re less likely to become homeless again.”
    
But money isn’t the only way to make an impact. “We need to remember that we all have something to give,” he says. “And there are so many different ways to give back to our communities. It doesn’t have to be money. It can be time.”
  
Benioff’s decision to focus on ethics, philanthropy, equality, and true customer service at Salesforce has helped to create a “new normal” for the business world.
    
“I think Salesforce shows that CEOs and companies don’t have to decide between doing well and doing good. You can do both. In fact, today’s customers seek out companies that reflect their values—it’s the values that define the company and ultimately create value,” says Benioff.

“It starts by recognizing that the business of business can’t only be about making money. The business of business has to be about making the world a better place.”

The Age of Salesforce

Salesforce holds the top spot on the Forbes Most Innovative list, they ranked No. 1 on the Fortune World’s Best Workplaces List, and was Fortune's 15th Most Admired Company in 2018. They often hold spots on Fortune’s Best Workplaces for Giving Back, and for Parents, and for millennials. You name the list and Salesforce will be on it.
    
“It starts by recognizing that the business of business can’t only be about making money. The business of business has to be about making the world a better place. After all, our companies don’t exist in isolation; we’re only as successful as the communities and world around us.”  
    
Every organization needs to be responsible to all of their stakeholders, including employees, partners, communities and the environment. Marc says that a committed leadership team is essential, but there is more to it.
    
“It has to be integrated with business operations and woven into the culture of the company,” he states. “The world’s greatest challenges—from income inequality to climate change—are too complex to be solved by governments and politicians alone. In today’s interconnected world, every business can be a platform for change and every CEO, every individual can do something, big or small, to improve the state of the world.”
    
Many companies have taken up that challenge through Pledge 1%. More than 4,000 companies in 80 countries have taken the pledge making philanthropy a core part of their culture.
    
Thoughts of creating Better Men for a Better World echo through the mind as we learn more about Marc Benioff and the ideology at the heart of Salesforce. What vision drives the inspirational changes that push Salesforce to the forefront of innovators? A vision that allows one of the largest technology companies in the world to spend $3 million to close their gender pay gap. Twice.
    
“I believe that one of the central challenges we face today—as local communities, as countries, as a global village—is inequality,” Benioff confides. “We’re losing so much human potential because people are denied an equal opportunity to succeed because of their race, socio-economic status, religion, gender, sexual orientation or gender identity. So, my vision of a better world is a more equal world where more people have the chance to thrive.”
  

Marc Benioff is the result of many diverse influences, to be sure. But one can’t help but be proud to have a Frater in the Bond of Tau Kappa Epsilon so devout in modeling our values. Just as we are proud to have never had an exclusionary clause, and to only judge our members by personal worth and character, so too are we proud to see Frater Benioff at the helm of an organization that is breaking down walls to equality as if they were made of paper.
    
Salesforce and its ecosystem of customers and partners will drive 3.3 million new jobs around the world and more than $859 billion in new business revenues by 2022. With a company that large, shared values play a crucial role.
    
Marc admits, “It’s a lot to keep up with! But we have incredible employees and a world-class leadership team, and we all keep ourselves on track by what we call our V2MOM—our vision, values, methods of achieving our goals, an understanding of obstacles that might get in our way and measures to track our progress so we’ll know if we have succeeded.”
    
With all of these measures, goals and benchmarks, one expects life at Salesforce to be stressful. But Marc encourages balance.
    
“It’s easy in life—especially in a fast-paced company like Salesforce—to get trapped in our work and lose the balance we need in our lives,” says Marc. He advises, “It’s important that we have reprieves from the intensity and stress of work and reboot our minds.”
    
He suggests a practice of sitting or walking meditation. Before a meeting, waiting for an elevator or riding in a car, take a few moments to be fully present, insisting that presence of mind allows for greater flexibility when problems arise.

“One of the most important things to remember is that there’s no avoiding the bumps. No matter how talented you may think you are or how profitable your company may be, there are going to be setbacks. If you accept the inevitability of difficulty—you’ll be more prepared when the moment comes,” he says.
    
At Salesforce, as in TKE, we are guided by a set of values. These values won’t decide every action for us, but they deliver a very clear road map when you start to lose your way, providing you with solace and understanding when the road gets rough.
    
“And when it happens, don’t lose sight of the vision you’re striving for or the values that define you and your company. At the end of the day—whether your stock price is up or down—you have to be able to look yourself in the mirror and be able to say, ‘I stayed true to my values,’ ” he added.
    
He highlighted these values with that graduating class in 2014. As he concluded his remarks, standing before a silent crowd of young professionals, he led with a final memorable line of wisdom and inspiration: “If you are going to connect your business and your philanthropy, you better make sure that it’s integrated deep into your culture, that it’s not just something you’re going to tack on, but that you’re going to build an integrated business. You’re going to build an integrated life. You’re going to get these things to work deeply together! And you can do it.”