Salesforce CEO Benioff: Capitalism Should Be Compassionate

  • Business Versus Government
  • Walmart, RuPaul not Benioff’s Only Allies
  • Hybrid Program Unanticipated
  • It’s Getting Hot in the Kitchen
  • Setting an Example

Business Versus Government

The inclusive, benevolent approach of Marc Benioff has been known to those in the San Francisco Bay Area for some time. Now that he finds himself under the glare of the national spotlight, many people want to know more about this guy who takes immediate action when anyone tries to discriminate against his employees and friends.

In late March, the chief of cloud computing giant Salesforce gathered support from other tech company leaders to stand up against Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act for opening the door to LGBT discrimination and making it difficult for companies to hire people who now feel that the state has an established anti-gay policy.

Supporters of the bill, signed into law by Republican Gov. Mike Pence, “sought legal protection for business owners if they denied services to the LGBT community based on religious beliefs,” explains Marco della Cava of USA Today.

Benioff asked users of the Salesforce cloud-delivered system not to visit Indiana and gave stipends to Indiana-based workers to move elsewhere.

If part of you thinks Benioff is a loopy maverick, keep in mind that Walmart is opposing a similar bill in Arkansas. Yes, that’s right: Walmart. Remember them?

Walmart, RuPaul not Benioff’s Only Allies

Other top executives joined the Salesforce head in his refusal to let the bill go unanswered.

  • Tim Cook, chief executive of Apple, penned an opinion piece for The Washington Post entitled, “Pro-discrimination ‘religious freedom’ laws are dangerous“.
  • Max Levchin, cofounder of PayPal, wrote a statement of general opposition to congresspeople, with signatures from dozens of top executives.
  • Jeremy Stoppelman, CEO of Yelp, argued that no one in good conscience could conduct operations in any area that has passed an act to uphold the behaviors of discriminatory businesses.

Hybrid Program Unanticipated

A kingpin of the software-as-a-service branch of the cloud computing industry, Benioff told della Cava that he was floored by the whirlwind of activity that has taken place following an enraged tweet he shot out to his Twitter followers on March 26. He said that the amount of focus on the anti-discrimination perspective of the CEOs is a novel position that none of them really anticipated.

“We didn’t know we were going to get into this hybrid social-business program,” he comments. “So … we’re seeing some best-practices forming, whether it’s Tim and his op-ed or Max and his letter.”

Benioff adds that he was unaware the dismay he and his team experienced in response to the law would help to galvanize a broader business effort. He sent out emails to other top executives with whom he maintains close contact, and they similarly wanted to make statements about the bill.

It’s Getting Hot in the Kitchen

The cloud computing head believes that the frustration with these anti-discrimination laws is not just about the laws themselves. Rather, he thinks that the corporate world is not going to be quiet about socially reactionary legislation moving forward.

We certainly aren’t used to seeing businesses stand up for the little guy. It’s not just corporations, either. Even small businesses are hesitant to stand up for justice or become controversial. I once was a ticket clerk at a movie theater in Madison, Indiana, and I witnessed disgusting child abuse of toddlers inside the building. I reported it to my manager, and she said simply, “Madison 6 Theaters does not get involved in the personal lives of its customers.”

Benioff says that CEOs are no longer willing to take neutral positions when they can foresee that governmentally backed social policies will hurt their employees, customers, and bottom lines. There will be consequences. Even when companies look to hire executives to fill their top positions, it may become important for the headhunters doing the work to understand the policies and stance of the company itself. Ensuring that senior management and executives share the opinions of the company as a whole makes it easier to take a united stand against discriminatory policies and/or laws. Now the governors are aware of that, and they will know that any actions they take could result in a rapidfire business backlash.

“And there’s a reason,” Benioff argues. “Everyone’s been working super hard since 2008 to get the economy turned around, so they’re pissed at some level when someone throws a wrench in it.”

CEOs of businesses operate globally, he said, even interacting with world leaders and trying to craft solutions with them on a regular basis. As businesses have taken a stand against the “religious freedom” bills – which Tim Cook notes have been introduced in more than twenty states – they are not just addressing the specific issue but sending a general message that they will not be ignored.

Setting An Example

Levchin says that Benioff has been inspirational to him. He decided to appear on CNBC to discuss the law because he was the victim of anti-Semitic discrimination in the Ukraine before moving to the US in the early 90s. Stoppelman, who sees Benioff each month, notes that he is essentially concerned with doing the right thing.

Cloud computing and other technology isn’t everything. We all want to be a positive example to our peers.

We also want to partner with organizations that set a strong example by actually caring about their customers. That’s Superb Internet.

By Kent Roberts

Free Use image source: Tech Crunch (via Wikipedia)