Bret Taylor is officially Salesforce's co-CEO with Marc Benioff, ending over a year of speculation. Over a dozen insiders explain his meteoric rise to the top.
Bret Tayloris officially Salesforce's new co-CEO, it was announced on Tuesday.
- It caps off a meteoric 5-year rise at Salesforce that saw him become one of its most powerful execs.
- Over a dozen of his past and current colleagues explain how his star rose so quickly.
Editor's note: This story was originally published September 21, 2021. On November 30, 2021, Bret Taylor was named co-CEO of Salesforce, serving in the role alongside cofounder
Salesforce and its CEO Marc Benioff have a well-earned reputation of crusading for social change: From its pressure campaign to get Indiana's "bathroom bill" repealed, to its new policy of helping employees leave Texas in the wake of a controversial new abortion law, the company is known for taking a stand on big issues.
When Salesforce needs to talk about complicated topics among its own employees, though, it is increasingly Chief Operating Officer Bret Taylor who handles the toughest conversations — such as how the company handled the aftermath of the January 6th riots at the US Capitol.
Taylor was the executive who sent the companywide email communicating with employees as the events unfolded, according to a memo viewed by Insider, and later disclosed at an all-hands meeting that Salesforce was reviewing its roster of customers to make sure its technology was not being used to incite violence.
Employees say that the decision to make Taylor the internal face of the company on those matters is another sign that the company has spent much of the past few years grooming its COO to one day take over for Benioff, if and when the constantly-swirling rumors that he's planning to take a step back come true.
"When you see Bret taking on those hard conversations and Marc's nowhere to be found on the call," a former senior Salesforce executive told Insider, "you just know that's a test."
Indeed, within five short years of joining the $250 billion cloud giant, Taylor has emerged as one of the company's top leaders, with Salesforce employees past and present telling Insider that he is spoken of openly as Benioff's most likely successor — matching a recent Reuters report saying much the same. He's widely seen by employees as running the company day to day, even as Benioff spends more time on bigger-picture strategy, philanthropy, and activism.
A Salesforce spokesperson declined to comment on any succession plans but said that Benioff is a "hands-on CEO who has led Salesforce throughout the pandemic."
For his part, Taylor himself dismissed the speculation about his future role as a "distraction" at best and "uncomfortable" at worst. In an interview arranged by the company, Taylor said he understands where it's coming from — especially as companies like Amazon make significant leadership transitions — but said he tries "not to pay attention to it because I think our management team is operating as cohesively as they ever have and so we're focused on working with each other right now."
Taylor was already a seasoned tech exec with a storied career even before arriving at Salesforce: He cocreated Google Maps in 2005 and later succeeded Dustin Moskovitz as Facebook's chief technology officer. In 2012, Taylor cofounded Quip, a competitor to Google Docs, which was ultimately acquired by Salesforce in 2016. In 2017, Taylor was named chief product officer; in 2019, he became COO.
So far, Taylor's biggest impact at Salesforce came in masterminding its $27.7 billion acquisition of Slack in 2020, with Benioff crediting the COO's vision for the future of work as the driving force behind the deal. This week, Taylor has the chance to bring that vision to the wider Salesforce community, as he makes his first big public appearance since the Slack deal closed at the company's Dreamforce mega-event.
Insider spoke to more than a dozen current and former Salesforce employees, some of Taylor's past colleagues, and the company's top leaders, who describe him as a down-to-earth yet ambitious leader who draws a sharp contrast with Benioff's trademark bombastic salesmanship but makes up for it in engineering prowess. Some spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak with the media, but their identities are known to Insider.
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