Leading By Example: A Lesson from CEO Marc Benioff

By David Waclo


When I first started at Salesforce over four years ago, I’ll admit that the name ‘Marc Benioff’ didn’t mean much more to me than the CEO of the company I’d be working for. But it was only a few months into the job before a co-worker bolstered my perception of the man with the highest of corporate titles and what he symbolized. The co-worker described Benioff and his fiery speeches — that each time he is on, he delivers a “right on!” moment.

He further characterized the executive as one who always speaks exactly what is on his mind, and manages to get his audience to laugh in the process. I had to hear it for myself, see the man in action, find out what he was all about.

How to be a leader in the workplace

If you have ever heard him speak, it’s likely you already know what my co-worker said is spot-on. My favorite example came a few years back, following what was another phenomenal Dreamforce. Every year, after Salesforce customers, employees, and partners flock to San Francisco for our annual convention, Benioff and Salesforce co-founder Parker Harris conduct a wrap-up Q&A session. I had the opportunity to attend that session in 2013. It was an interesting environment to hear the two speak; with such a big week coming to an end, they were finally able to relax and loosen their ties a little bit.

One can imagine the end of a grand party, one for the books: the doors are closed and janitors are starting to sweep up, but there are still a couple guys sitting on the edge of the stage, swapping stories about the week, laughing, ribbing each other, and generally letting it all hang out. Well, that’s what this session was.

There were a number of topics discussed, but what interested me the most was the topic of philanthropy, and Marc was on a roll. He described an “aha” moment with another business leader — someone who had successfully made the transition from focusing on profits to finding ways to change the world for the better. This kind of shift in thinking, Marc acknowledged, amounts to a huge transformation — counting success by the millions of lives saved, not by millions of products or subscriptions sold.

It was a revealing moment for me. What could be more inspiring than that message? It’s easy for the cynic to say that millionaires have the luxury of using their money for philanthropic purposes, but what Marc was saying is that money aside, everyone has the power and ability to do good, not just the leaders of companies.

Even wealthy executives have the choice: either use their time and money only in the pursuit of power, or leverage their valuable resources to make the world better place. That’s the true definition of a leader. And it’s not just a responsibility — from that conversation, I realized that it’s also the path to happiness.

Marc concluded by explaining that he wants to be happy, and that happiness comes from giving. You can define yourself as a businessperson or an employee of a company, he continued, but you can also define yourself through giving.

The thing that makes me the most proud to work for Salesforce is how it redefined the workplace with our 1–1–1 model of integrated philanthropy that Marc Benioff pioneered. The philosophy breaks down to 1% equity, 1% product, and 1% employee time that Salesforce donates to communities in need.

The fact that I’ve seen him drive the point home, live it, and do it with such passion, makes it all the better. I’m inspired to volunteer and do everything I can to make the world a better place, and I thank the CEO of my company for leading by example and providing that inspiration.


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