Salesforce's Marc Benioff says it's time for tech to change

Marc Benioff
Marc Benioff Copyright Reuters
By Jasmin Boyce with NBC News Tech and Science News
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"This is a more important time to have positive global impact than ever," Benioff told Recode's Kara Swisher.


Marc Benioff, the billionaire Salesforce co-founder and co-chief executive officer, has a message for the leaders of big tech: You're thinking too small.

"I believe that business is the greatest platform for change," Benioff said. "This is a more important time to have positive global impact than ever."

Benioff was interviewed by Kara Swisher, co-founder of tech news website Recode, for MSNBC's "Revolution" series, which has previously featured Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook's chief operating officer, and Apple CEO Tim Cook. The interview will air on MSNBC on Sunday, Nov. 18, at 10 p.m. ET.

Benioff said that big tech's leaders needed to shift from a money-centric worldview to one that focuses on civic improvement, calling out Facebook in particular as having a negative impact.

"Facebook is the new cigarettes," Benioff said. "You know it's addictive. It's not good for you... Facebook can have very serious effects on society the same way that cigarettes can."

Tech giants have recently come under increasing scrutiny amid reports of questionable data privacy practices, the use of technology by governments and issues of sexual misconduct by senior executives.

Most recently, Google employees staged a walkout at company offices around the world in protest of how Google handled sexual misconduct claims made against some of its senior executives. The New York Times reported that two executives who had been credibly accused of misconduct or harassment had received tens of millions of dollars when they left the company and a third executive had been allowed to stay, though he has since resigned.

Benioff is ranked No. 259 on Bloomberg's Billionaires Index with a net worth around $5.8 billion. He helped found Salesforce in 1999, building the company into one of the biggest providers of cloud-based business software. In September, he bought Time magazine for $190 million and pledged to a "steward" of the publication.

During the interview, Benioff reiterated his support of Prop C, the legislative measure adopted by San Franciscans during the 2018 midterms that taxes tech companies in order to provide funding to address the city's rising homeless population.

Other tech executives, including Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, spoke out against the taxation measure. Dorsey tweeted that while a giant like Salesforce — which is now the largest employer in San Francisco — can easily handle the tax, smaller tech innovators would find it harder to sustain their business in the Bay Area.

Benioff said he thinks Prop C's backlash was a result of "Pavlovian" wealth hoarding, as if many tech leaders were historically conditioned to value their company's revenue over social impact.

"You are either for the homeless or you're for yourself," Benioff said. "For me it was binary… I walk around San Francisco every day… and you can see we are in a horrible situation. A lot of those employees of those companies were upset that those companies were not supporting Prop C while this was going down."

Benioff added that he was disappointed by the lack of support from other tech executives at first.

"I had the rabbis and the imams and all that helping me," Benioff said. "But there were no CEOs on my side. I was the only CEO. Now they're coming out and it's really helpful."

Benioff alluded to an impending rehabilitation of the tech industry — a "revolution" driven by consumers and legislators who continue to call for increased transparency and regulation in order to rebuild trust.

"And that is a message, by the way, not just for every tech company," Benioff stated. "It's for every company which is, you know, we're in a trust revolution."

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