University of Southern California

Charity begins at work
Do good while doing well, Salesforce.com CEO says in undergraduate commencement speech
May 14, 2007 • by News at Marshall

When Marc Benioff arrived at USC as a freshman 25 years ago, he was the only person in Birnkrant dorm with a personal computer, a big, boxy device he had to lug up to his room past the questions and stares of dorm mates.

But Benioff's ability to ride technology trends like the PC revolution has served him well in the years since, leading to great success as a software innovator and eventually to an invitation to return to his alma mater, the USC Marshall School of Business, to speak at the 2007 undergraduate commencement ceremony May 11 at the Galen Center.

While at USC, Benioff worked for Apple Computer on a new product "called the Mac" and wrote a term paper on how CDs and DVDs would eventually replace floppy discs. He described his business plan for a music-industry computer network, "which unfortunately I didn't call iTunes."

Urged by a Marshall mentor to take up sales when he graduated so he could get some real-world experience that writing code wouldn't provide, Benioff spent 13 years moving up the ladder at software giant Oracle.

After great success there during the 1990s, Benioff struck off on his own to found Salesforce.com. At Salesforce, his essential innovation -- delivering software through an on-demand online service, rather than as a discrete packaged product -- has transformed the computer industry.

Such innovation is a vital part of his business success, Benioff told the commencement audience of perhaps 7,000 people, but it's not the only thing his or any other business should be focused on doing.

"The business of business is not business, it is to do well while doing good," Benioff said. And he's built his own publicly traded company, a member of Wired magazine's index of the 40 companies transforming the global economy, with that credo firmly in mind.

The same day Salesforce.com was incorporated in 1999, so too was the non-profit Salesforce Foundation, Benioff said. He did it that way to make it clear that "philanthropy was part of what we did."

Under the structure Benioff built and still advocates, Salesforce.com operates on the "1-1-1 model." One percent of Salesforce.com stock, 1 percent of staff time and 1 percent of profits go back to the foundation and its charitable causes.

It wasn't a big commitment when the company was founded, and had no employees or revenues, Benioff said. But it has become a big deal in the years since, as the company has exploded in size and success, with 2,000 employees, 30,000 customers and half-a-billion dollars in annual sales.

Regardless, he said the commitment of those resources has helped Salesforce succeed, attracting and keeping better and more engaged employees while winning over community and industry audiences.

He proudly related how 70 of his employees spontaneously self-organized in the wake of Katrina to create one searchable survivor database -- an extraordinary grassroots use of the Web. They had accomplished the goal he now set before the graduates, to "integrate the intention of serving others into your business dreams."

Though the commencement speech was Benioff's first, he was scheduled to make his second such speech just nine days later, at the business school of the University of California, Berkeley. A USC Marshall grad giving a commencement address at Berkeley, he said, was like asking "(USC quarterback) John David Booty to give the farewell address to the Cal football team."

Benioff closed his remarks with a call to action, a gift and a tease.

"The people who are going to change the world aren't out there, I assure you, they are in here....you are those leaders," Benioff said.

Waving his best-selling book, The Business of Changing the World, which he promised as a graduation gift to any of the 983 graduates who sent him an e-mail, he continued, "We're hiring at Salesforce.com, so send me a resume, too."


About USC Marshall School of Business
Based in Los Angeles at the University of Southern California, at the crossroads of the Pacific Rim, the USC Marshall School is the best place to learn the art and science of business. The school's programs serve nearly 5,000 undergraduate, graduate, professional and executive-education students, who attend classes in facilities at the main Los Angeles campus, as well as satellite facilities in Irvine and San Diego. USC Marshall also operates a Global MBA program in conjunction with Jiao Tong University in Shanghai, China.


About the USC Marshall School of Business
Consistently ranked among the nation's premier schools, USC Marshall is internationally recognized for its emphasis on entrepreneurship and innovation, social responsibility and path-breaking research. Located in the heart of Los Angeles, one of the world's leading business centers and the U.S. gateway to the Pacific Rim, Marshall offers its 5,700-plus undergraduate and graduate students a unique world view and impressive global experiential opportunities. With an alumni community spanning 123 countries, USC Marshall students join a worldwide community of thought leaders who are redefining the way business works.