Marc Benioff’s Long Rise to the Top
The founder and CEO of Salesforce acts as a passive benefactor of institutional incumbents. His successes show that conventional strategies can work for tech founders.
Despite a population of less than one million people, the city of San Francisco is arguably the most important hub for the tech industry in the United States, if not worldwide. In 2021, San Francisco proper was home to 151 tech “unicorns”—privately-held start-ups with valuations over $1 billion—the highest number in the world and nearly double the number of runners-up Beijing and New York City.1 The influx of new wealth has relatively failed to transform the local cityscape. Due to labor shortages and complex regulation, San Francisco has the second-highest construction costs in the world after New York City.2 But while eight of the ten tallest buildings in New York City were nevertheless completed after 2010, just four of the top ten in San Francisco were. Completed in 2018, one of these few is the tallest building in San Francisco, the 61-story Salesforce Tower. It sits atop a major public transit terminal, constructed simultaneously and linked to the tower via a rooftop public park—all of which are named after Salesforce Inc., a publicly-traded software company with a market capitalization of over $180 billion as of August 2022, and which is San Francisco’s largest private sector employer, with nearly 11,000 employees in the city.3 Specializing in software for sales, customer service, and business analytics, Salesforce is led by Marc Benioff, who is one of the company’s cofounders and its long-time chairman, CEO, and most prominent public face. With a net worth of over $7.4 billion as of August 2022, Benioff is not just a successful tech founder but one of the industry’s longest-serving CEOs, having founded the company over two decades ago in 1999.4