Economics/Class Relations

Efficiency and empathy. Can Salesforce have both?

April 1, 2023



Happy Saturday!

Fortune magazine’s latest cover story is out and the subject is Marc Benioff. It digs into an important question all leaders face as economic headwinds strengthen: Can you be both an efficient and empathetic leader at the same time? The Salesforce founder spent years creating a beloved internal culture that has ranked highly on Fortune‘s 100 Best Companies To Work For list. But can great company culture survive when CEOs are forced to tighten their belts?


Tech editor Alexei Oreskovic breaks down Benioff’s dilemma, below:

If you live in San Francisco, Salesforce is a big presence. It’s the city’s largest private employer, its carnival-like Dreamforce conference shuts down several blocks of the downtown area for a few days every year, and its namesake tower soars higher than any other building, dominating the skyline.


Marc Benioff, Salesforce’s garrulous founder and CEO, is also a big part of the company’s aura. An outspoken advocate of stakeholder capitalism and corporate responsibility, Benioff has infused the company with progressive values and so-called empathetic leadership principles.


Lately, though, there has been a noticeable disturbance in the force at Salesforce. Benioff has laid off thousands of employees and cut costs amid a slowing economy and pressure from activist investors. As you might imagine, it has not gone over well with Salesforce employees accustomed to being told they were “family.” The fallout has been chronicled for several months by Fortune reporter Kylie Robison, who has delivered a string of scoops about the goings-on inside Salesforce at this pivotal juncture.


For our upcoming print issue, Fortune editor-at-large Michal Lev-Ram interviewed Benioff to better understand how his approach is changing, and how he is reconciling his values with the difficult demands of the current business climate. The 58-year-old San Francisco native insists he’s just as committed to his principles as ever. But, in a classic bit of Benioff flair, he says he also assesses new challenges—whether it be the post-pandemic work policies or market gyrations—with a Japanese concept about having an open mind. From the story:


“I think you have to have, as the Japanese say, shoshin, or beginner’s mind,” the CEO tells Lev-Ram. “As the leader, you have to realize that the past is gone, and that you’re going to have to create a new future. But it also means that the kind of leadership notion that you’ve had in the past is also gone. In the expert’s mind, there are few possibilities, but in the beginner’s mind, there’s every possibility.”

Click the link below to read the full story about Benioff’s evolution as Salesforce CEO.


Marc Benioff says he can juggle empathy, cost cuts, and layoffs as he doubles down on efficiency at Salesforce


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