Marc Benioff – Doing well and doing good - Activate World

Marc Benioff – Doing well and doing good

Marc Benioff, co-founder and co-CEO of Salesforce, is the epitome of the activist business leader and frames every discussion in terms of values. He says that “Capitalism as we know it is dead.” He opposed a law in Indiana that could have discriminated against the LGBTQ community, and he has called Facebook “the new cigarettes.” His new book, Trailblazer: The Power of Business as the Greatest Platform for Change, makes the case that doing the right thing may be difficult, but it always creates the most value in the end. 

Lunchtime Conversations:

  • How can business leaders find the courage of their convictions when it comes to issues that impact society? 
  • Benioff does have his critics. Some ask whether a billionaire who rode technology to wealth and fame should be trusted to help fix the problems his industry has exacerbated. Can a big-tech billionaire lead a positive change in capitalism?
  • How can consumers influence business leaders to move to a new capitalism?
  • Bonus question: Who has more influence to change capitalism – business leaders or consumers? Political leaders or citizens?


  • What is new capitalism? According to Marc Benioff, it is “a more fair, equal and sustainable capitalism that actually works for everyone and where businesses, including tech companies, don’t just take from society but truly give back and have a positive impact.”
  • Marc Benioff formed a friendship with Steve Jobs as an intern at Apple in 1984. After founding Salesforce, Jobs was impressed but said, “If you want to be a great CEO, be mindful and project the future.”
  • A spiritual journey to India in 1996 sparked a leadership style oriented towards values. When Benioff started Salesforce in 1999, he earmarked 1% of the company’s products, stock, and labor for charity. 
  • Benioff bought Time magazine last year for $190 million and has his name on children’s hospitals, a legacy of the more than $300 million that Benioff and his wife, Lynne, have donated to those institutions.


In Trailblazer, Benioff and his co-author Monica Langley, provide behind-the-scenes stories of how Salesforce’s values — trust, customer success, innovation, and equality — have been pivotal in evolving the company from a startup in a tiny San Francisco apartment to a Fortune 500 corporation today.

In the book, he calls on activist CEOs to lead a revolution that puts the welfare of people and the planet ahead of profits. “We are at a point where CEOs recognize that they just can’t be for their shareholders,” Benioff said in an interview. “They have to be for all their stakeholders, whether it’s for their schools, whether it’s for the environment, whether it’s for the fundamental equality for every human being.”

Benioff blames much of society’s current troubles on “CEOs who have been asleep at the wheel.” And he’s urging fellow CEOs to help fix a “train wreck” of inequality his industry helped create. He wants them to take a stand on homelessness, along with other polarizing issues such as gay rights, climate change, and gun control, to fill what he considers a leadership void that is paralyzing government in times of crisis.

He believes the obsession with maximizing profits for shareholders — has also led to horrifying inequality. Globally, the 26 richest people in the world now have as much wealth as the poorest 3.8 billion people, and the relentless spewing of carbon emissions is pushing the planet toward catastrophic climate change.

Benioff says It’s time for a new capitalism — a more fair, equal, and sustainable capitalism that actually works for everyone and where businesses, including tech companies, don’t just take from society but truly give back and have a positive impact.

Sources: The New York Times,  San Francisco ChronicleThe Verge, The Wall Street JournalWired