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Salesforce’s Marc Benioff: “I was in unexplored territory for a CEO”

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18.10.2019

“Do you know how many trees are on the planet Earth?”

“I wish I did.”

“There’s 3 trillion trees. Do you know how many there used to be?”

“How many?”

“Six trillion. If you plant 1 trillion trees, do you know how much carbon you sequester?”

“How much?”

“205 gigatons. It’s as much carbon [that’s] been created since the first Industrial Revolution. So that’s very powerful to know that. And did you know that there’s people today who are on campaigns to plant a trillion trees? If you plant a trillion trees, you will dramatically reduce global warming.”

Salesforce co-CEO Marc Benioff is politely schooling me about a wildly ambitious way to address climate change. And the fact that he takes it seriously leads me to take it seriously. After all, in an era when it’s rational to worry about the impact of big tech companies on our world, the cofounder of the provider of cloud-based enterprise software and services has as impressive a record as any currently active tech titan when it comes to leveraging his company’s enormous success for the greater good.

Benioff has put some of his thoughts on this topic on paper in the form of Trailblazer: The Power of Business as the Greatest Platform for Change, a new book he wrote with former Wall Street Journal reporter Monica Langley. I spoke with him recently about the book and how he became an “activist CEO”—a term he says he initially found unnerving.

“When I went to school, we didn’t have classes on equality or net zero or ethical use of products,” he explains. “This is not what it meant to be a CEO. Being a CEO was just about following the principles of Milton Friedman. That is, it was only about making money. But now being a CEO means that you’re taking care of all stakeholders. That stakeholder return is as much table stakes as shareholder return.” (Salesforce, which has delivered a 3,500% return on investment to its shareholders as a public company, has flourished on both fronts.)

Salesforce’s impact on the world is especially tangible in its hometown, which is also Benioff’s own birthplace: San Francisco. The company is........

© Fast Company