Featured Executive: Marc Benioff

Salesforce Founder, Chairman and CEO Marc Benioff

Salesforce Founder, Chairman and CEO Marc Benioff is one of Silicon Valley’s original disruptors and he has some unconventional advice for retailers and CPG companies struggling with their transformation journey.

Benioff’s $10.4 billion company revolutionized the software industry with a unique business model and approach to philanthropy. Salesforce was in the cloud before there was a cloud, selling its software via subscription rather than the standard licensed approach. Equally distinctive was the creation of the 1-1-1 philanthropy model whereby the company donates 1% of its product, 1% of its equity and 1% of employees’ time to help nonprofits achieve their mission.

Since the beginning, Benioff’s approach has been to view the company he founded as a platform for change on a number of fronts. He shared his perspective, much of which has application for the retail and CPG world, recently with roughly 8,000 technology industry executives who gathered for the annual Gartner Symposium/ITxpo.

“I don’t think anything can protect you from disruption. If you want to be a great innovator then you have to cultivate a beginner’s mind,” Benioff said, referencing a Buddhist philosophy of having an open mind free of preconceptions. “You have to get up every morning, just like I did today, and take a few minutes and do some mindfulness. Just let your mind go. Let everything go. Let your whole world go. Let your present reality go and then let everything get recreated again from the beginning. From the beginning of the beginning. If you can do that then you can continue to innovate.”

The beginners’ mind philosophy is something Salesforce takes so seriously that on every floor of the company’s offices there is a mindfulness room, according to Benioff. Whether in the room or elsewhere, Benioff applies an approach he said Apple Founder Steve Jobs espoused that involves listening and receiving. When he wakes up in the morning, Benioff said he orients himself and gets into a sense of gratitude and forgiveness by saying thanks for the things that he is given everyday.

“I try to let go of the anxiety and fears and stresses of the world and all the horror that you see on TV. I try to quiet my mind. I try to come all the way down and go deeper and deeper into my heart and let it all go,” Benioff said. “If I can get into that very quiet place, and if I  come down even further, then I can maybe start to hear the future and maybe I can hear the past at the same time. Then if I can start to delineate those two things, I can say, ‘alright, how are we all moving forward together.’”

The approach has worked well for Salesforce, a company operating in an industry that produces much of the innovation that is helping other industries transform.