Salesforce.com Inc. Chief Executive Marc Benioff has thoughts on how to reinvigorate the software company’s workplace culture in the post-pandemic era, and it involves the great outdoors and possibly a ranch.
Speaking at The Wall Street Journal’s Future of Everything Festival on Tuesday, Mr. Benioff said that following Covid-19, business leaders will look to the past and the future to create new models of work. In Salesforce’s case, he said, that includes the possible purchase of a large property to use for team- and culture-building activities, as well as employee orientations and training sessions.
"We’re looking at maybe buying a large piece of land, maybe a large ranch in the United States or some other type of acreage where we can build the next generation of Crotonville," Mr. Benioff said in an interview with Journal Editor in Chief Matt Murray, referring to the storied New York state campus that General Electric Co. built in 1956 as its epicenter of culture and training.
He said Walt Disney Co. ’s theme parks also were an inspiration. "What they’ve done so successfully with their parks is you show up at a Disney park and you smell Disney, you see Disney, you feel Disney, you hear Disney. That’s what I want my new employees to feel for Salesforce. That’s the culture coming through," he said, adding that he envisions a place where employees might bring their families.
This vision, he added, is "very different from what we were thinking a year ago before this pandemic began."
Addressing a range of questions about leadership and the role of chief executives today, Mr. Benioff said that Facebook Inc. founder Mark Zuckerberg should make the final call on the controversial question of whether the social-media platform should permanently ban former President Trump.
Facebook’s Oversight Board, created to independently rule on difficult issues around content moderation, last week upheld the platform’s temporary suspension of Mr. Trump and sent the question back to Facebook’s management for a permanent decision.
That was the right call, said Mr. Benioff, a frequent critic of Facebook. Difficult decisions like the one facing Mr. Zuckerberg are a key responsibility of a chief executive, he said.
"They were right to punt it back," he said of the Oversight Board’s call. "They basically said, this is your company, you are the leader, and you have to know what is right in your heart to do, and if you cannot do that, then you should probably not be the CEO because that’s the CEO’s job. The CEO’s job is not just to have a shareholder return. The CEO’s job is also to have stakeholder return and you have to do both."
In another interview at the Future of Everything Festival, Facebook Chief Technology Officer Mike Schroepfer pushed back on Mr. Benioff’s remarks and defended the company’s use of an oversight board on such decisions.
"Things that are important in this world require oversight," Mr. Schroepfer said. "This is a conversation that should be had not just within the company but within society broadly." He added: "It is not a delegation of responsibility. It’s making sure we hold ourselves to a higher standard."
Mr. Benioff has been outspoken on political and social issues for many years, and continues to say that business can be a force for good, including pressing for equity internally and externally. He said that when he was labeled an "activist CEO" in a 2016 Journal profile, "I was quite offended by the term. But I understand it now." He said CEOs "do have a responsibility, they have a responsibility to their employees, to their customers, to their partners, to all of their stakeholders."
Salesforce recently sent a planeload of supplies to India to help with the COVID-19 outbreaks there. "Am I supposed to sit idly by when I know I have the ability to provide some relief or some capability out of Salesforce? No," he said, "I must act."
Mr. Benioff said he has no plans to retire soon or enter an executive chairman role. "I’ve been very gratified to be a CEO especially in the last year, when I can demonstrate that business really is the greatest platform for change," he said. "This is what I want to be able to continue to do."