The Wall Street Journal said in their recent article, “Salesforce’s Marc Benioff Has Kicked Off New Era of Corporate Social Activism”: “Marc rallies CEOs when business and trade groups are much slower to act, particularly on noneconomic issues, ‘Our jobs as CEOs now include driving what we think is right,’ says Bank of America CEO Brian Moynihan. ‘It’s not exactly political activism, but it is action on issues beyond business.’”
I don’t call this social or political activism. This is taking care of stakeholders, and doing it right. Business always has had and always will have an impact on communities at large, and Marc Benioff is among the executives who are conscious of this.
BusinessDictionary.com says, “Stakeholders can affect or be affected by the organization’s actions, objectives and policies.”
Stakeholders include everyone within an organization’s ecosystem: employees, customers, partners, investors, influencers, shareholders, the town in which the organization is located and anyone affected by it directly. Shareholders are one of the types of stakeholders, and their returns depend on the success of the organization serving all of its stakeholders well. Marc Benioff is a leader who grasps this.
Benioff is the founder of Salesforce.com, the hugely successful cloud-based Customer Relationship Management (CRM) solution. He is the enabler of “an amazing rocketship ride” for leaders and employees of Salesforce and all whom it touches by disrupting the sales industry, accelerating sales and impacting organizations’ revenue growth.
In becoming the market leader, Benioff drove “a maniacal obsession with customer success” with his executives, such as Jim Steele (who was Salesforce’s Chief Customer Officer). Said Steele, “We did everything we could to celebrate the customer success.”
Benioff co-authored with Karen Southwick Compassionate Capitalism: How Corporations can make doing good an integral part of doing well. In this book his convictions are well articulated: “It is simply being human to be able to give.”
He shared in his blog on HuffPost after attending the World Economic Forum in Davos, “To be successful in business, we have to be ready to buy into the stakeholder theory.” I am glad that he has a call to action; it is what needs to be done. As he says in Compassionate Capitalism, “…stakeholders want to be associated with a company that has heart.”
Here are 3 things Marc Benioff gets right with stakeholders.
- He does not treat stakeholders as an afterthought.
- He pays attention to the evolving dynamics within the business ecosystem.
* 40% of his leadership team is gender diverse.
* 25% of his board is diverse inclusive of ethnicity and gender.
* He closed the gender pay gap across the company. (Salesforce Spent $3 Million on Equal Pay.)
- He wants Salesforce to help make the world a better place. He committed to building philanthropy into the business. He created “the ‘1/1/1’ model, where 1% of profits, 1% of equity and 1% of employees’ time would go to the office’s community.” He also threw the weight of his company behind social issues, such as taking a recent position of support for LGBT rights, saying, “You better consider the economic consequences of your social and political advocacy if you are taking on a law that features discrimination.”
Other leaders can learn a lot from Marc Benioff’s strength with stakeholders.
Here are a few key take-aways for leaders:
Own a clear vision authentic to who you are. Benioff’s focus is integral to him. He is not separate from what he intends to do and does.
Prioritize stakeholders over shareholders. As a visionary, Benioff knows that it is about the stakeholders. Their returns create a return for shareholders.
Listen to understand the key needs of each stakeholder group.
– Let employees know that they are stakeholders who matter. Address what engages them. Embrace diversity of thoughts and being. “They want to work for a company that has a meaning associated with it, not just a product.” Position/state the value of their contributions and how they have impact.
– Serve your customers. This goes beyond “collaborating.” Listen to them, understanding what they want and delivering in the ways that matter to them. Then applaud what they did by letting them tell their stories. Be prepared to embrace change as you gain their insights.
Partner for real value creation for the ecosystem. Integrate a social model in your business. As you grow, so will these social values scale. “Former Secretary of State Colin Powell inspired (Benioff) to integrate philanthropy into his company from day one.”
Learn from stakeholders who are different than you. Colin Powell was a mentor to Benioff and currently is on his board of directors.
Understand the value of prioritizing stakeholders over shareholders. Said Benioff to Time: “CEOs have to decide: are they advocating for their shareholders or advocating for their stakeholders? If you’re only focused on shareholders, then you’ve got a very different situation on your hands. And in our case, we are very much focused on stakeholder theory.” In my opinion that is the wave of the future. Shareholders advocacy is for annual reports of the past.
I met Marc Benioff in 1992 when he was at the beginning of his flamboyant career. Ever since, I have watched this man grow to become a leader in service. While direct with his convictions he is not arrogant, but clear and confident. He has taken his leadership role and responsibilities to heart, and he is leveraging his power and his voice, often being quite outspoken, to positively influence. He wants to change the world, and he is. In doing so, he has to be reflective and introspective, and care to embrace change for himself. In continuing to challenge himself to be better each day, he can make his positive impact.
Image credit: Dan Escobar