Marc Benioff refuses to compromise on company values. Here's how that's turned Salesforce into one of America's happiest companies — and most attractive employers.

salesforce tower san francisco marc benioff 5328

  • Salesforce co-CEO Marc Benioff has made four key values a
    centerpiece of the company’s culture since founding it in 1999:
    trust, innovation, equality, and customer success. 
  • That focus on values has, at-times, put Benioff in the middle
    of hot-button political issues like LGBTQ rights. But his steadfast
    adherence to the four tenets has helped Salesforce consistently
    rank high on top workplace and employee satisfaction
  • Now, as the war for talent intensifies, Benioff says its
    impossible to recruit the most qualified individuals without
    upholding a commitment to values. 

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Since founding Salesforce in 1999, co-CEO Marc Benioff has
always made four key values — trust, innovation, equality, and
customer success — a centerpiece of the company’s culture.

That focus has become even more critical as the war over talent
intensifies and employees increasingly want their
top executives
to publicly rebuke behavior from politicians and
others that defy those values.

“Gone are the days when companies can recruit and retain top
talent without upholding a commitment to values,” Benioff wrote in
recent book “Trailblazer.”

Benioff has lived up to the moniker of so-called
activist CEO
, or those executives that more aggressively speak
out on hot-button, sometimes politically-charged issues like
immigration and income equality.
When Indiana tried to pass a law
that would have effectively
given businesses the choice to discriminate against LGBTQ patrons,
for example, he quickly assembled a coalition of other
business-leaders to push then-Gov. Mike Pence to successfully
change the measure.

That focus on values is just one reason why Salesforce — with
a market cap of $139 billion — consistently sits at the top of
rankings for
employee happiness
and most-desired companies to work for. 2018
LinkedIn research found that 71% of full-time professionals in the
US said they’d be willing to take a pay cut if they could work for
a company whose mission and values aligned with theirs.

Salesforce’s commitment to values is also why Benioff regularly
ranks high on the
Harvard Business Review’s list of top CEOs
, which takes into
account environmental, social, and governance criteria.

How Salesforce ensures that managers adhere to company values

Publicizing the values is the easy part. Making sure employees
stick to them daily is a more difficult task. But it’s crucial to
retaining talent, according to Benioff.

“When bright employees see misalignment with their values, they
view it as a personal betrayal — and then they walk,” he

Sometimes that means literally walking out. When the New York
unveiled a $90 million severance package
for Android co-founder
Andy Rubin after he was terminated amid sexual misconduct claims,
thousands of Google employees staged a global protest.

At Salesforce, leadership takes several steps to ensure that
managers are living up to the company’s four main values. According
to Jody Kohner, Salesforce’s senior vice president of employee
marketing and engagement, the results of a biannual employee
engagement survey helps the organization identify outstanding
managers, or the leaders who hit their business goals and keep
their teams excited about the company’s mission.

The results also help employees figure out which boss they might
like to work for at Salesforce. If a manager has more than five
employees complete the survey, that manager’s aggregate scores on
measures like how overwhelmed their team feels are available to the
entire organization.

Benioff says a company’s commitment to values ‘will come at the
expense of profits’

Companies of every size and stripe love to tout their values.
But adhering to that culture becomes more difficult in times of
crisis, namely when abiding by those tenets could cost money.

Benioff, for example, was a big supporter of former WeWork CEO
Adam Neumann, once praising him for also leading a value-driven
company. But when discussing the
implosion of the office-sharing firm
, Benioff
appeared to criticize Neumann’s propensity
for money above all
else. It’s another example of his belief that you can’t place a
dollar amount on value.

“There will be times when prioritizing values, especially trust,
will come at the expense of profits. In the short term, that is,”
he wrote. “But the money your company makes in any given quarter
will never be more valuable than the trust you stand to lose over

Other executives seem to be coming to the same conclusion. The
Business Roundtable, a coalition of the nation’s most high-profile
CEOs like JPMorgan Chase’s JP Dimon or IBM’s Ginni Rometty,

recently pledged to prioritize all stakeholders
, not just
shareholders. But
some are skeptical
of the pledge and how signatories will react
when faced with the prospect of losing potentially millions of

Ben Horowitz, cofounder of the legendary venture-capital firm
Andreessen Horowitz,
just published a book
on the importance of company culture and
He told Business Insider
that an organization’s actions — how
they live up to those values — are more important than mission
statements and vague pronouncements. 

In Benioff’s case, he has very publicly stood by the four values
several times. When Salesforce’s top human resources executives
said the organization could have a pay disparity problem between
male and female workers, for example, he quickly launched a
top-to-bottom review of salaries that ultimately resulted in
$10.3 million
to adjust employee pay across the enterprise.

“To attract and retain women and minorities in the company,
equality needs to be embedded not only in our stated values but in
our actions: in our hiring practices, in our retention practices,
in how we promote employees,” he wrote.

Business Insider is putting together a guide to getting hired at
Salesforce. If you are a current or former employee who would like
to share your experience, contact the reporters at or

Salesforce’s Marc Benioff has been pushing other CEOs to do the
right thing, even when the government won’t

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Marc Benioff refuses to compromise on company values. Here's how that's turned Salesforce into one of America's happiest companies — and most attractive employers.