Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff, 50, and Box CEO Aaron Levie, 29, have a lot in common They both lead public, Bay Area-based enterprise software companies. But the affinity doesn't end there. It turns out Benioff's philanthropic initiatives have influenced Levie's own view of the role charity should play at his company.
When Benioff founded Salesforce in 1999, he created the 1/1/1 model, through which the company donates one percent of its equity, one percent profits in the form of product donations and one percent of employees' time to charitable causes.
Over the past few years, amid an ongoing discussion about the growing income inequality in San Francisco, Benioff has been using speaking engagements to publicize his model and call on startups to adopt it. He did the same Wednesday at Box Dev 2015, Box's annual developer conference in San Francisco.
"When I think about last generation's CEOs they were all about being 100 percent about shareholders," Benioff told Levie on stage. "But I think there's a new way to think about this, which is being about stakeholders."
"[If you] say the only thing that matters to you is the shareholder, then ultimately the shareholder is going to suffer," Benioff said, adding that in order to make money to keep your shareholders happy, you have to tend to the entire ecosystem that supports your company.
Over the past year Box, has integrated philanthropy into its mission in its own way. The company hasn't taken the 1/1/1 pledge, but it lets nonprofits and other organizations like the World Bank, International Rescue Committee and Teach For America use its technology for free or at a heavily discounted rate. During the conference, I sat down with Levie to talk about his views on philanthropy and how they compare to Benioff's. Below is a transcript of our conversation, edited for length.
Benioff was born and bred in the Bay Area, and he has made a point of giving back to his home community. Which is great, and I think we all would love to do that. But could that be an inherent issue with Silicon Valley? That so many people here are transplants and don't think of it as their home?
There's a lot of awareness to how important community in The Valley is. Maybe the bigger issue is going to be that. Because there's so much economic opportunity and innovation here in The Valley, how can we have that flow back to other communities?
So yes, there's a lot of issues in San Francisco that need to be improved, but when I think about that transplant issue, how are people going to give back to the places that they came from? That might be actually the bigger challenge of all of this -- making sure that some of those original communities are remembered because we do all come from different places here.
Have you taken Salesforce's 1/1/1 pledge?
We got started well before we even knew about a lot of that stuff. Absolutely, if we were starting over today, I would do that playbook exactly as Marc outlines it.
We wanted to have a specific point of view about what we could bring to the table. We wanted to hopefully help accelerate and increase the impact that nonprofits can have.
We figure that we would have only a limited ability to directly impact, so instead we want to indirectly cause as much impact as possible. So our technology, because it enables collaboration and sharing of ideas and allows you to accelerate your nonprofit or your organization, that's the best way that I think we can have a very large impact.
Benioff has said that he believes philanthropy and profits go hand and hand. Do you agree?
You can get better talent and employees because of it. So if your employees know that they're having an impact more than just the product or service that they're creating, you just end up attracting better talent. And better talent, in a business like ours, is the lifeblood of our organization.
But then it's also better from a customer standpoint. If you're a bigger part of your community and you're having an impact more than your technology, customers tend to care about that as well. So there's no contradiction between philanthropy and doing good and getting business success. And if anything, the two actually accelerate one another.