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The rise of Marc Benioff, the CEO of Salesforce and owner of Time Magazine

Matt Weinberger,Taylor Nicole Rogers,Jordan Hart   

The rise of Marc Benioff, the CEO of Salesforce and owner of Time Magazine
Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff rides a Segway around one of Salesforce's earliest office spaces.AP Photo/Ben Margot
  • Marc Benioff is the chief executive of cloud-based software company Salesforce.
  • Benioff worked at Oracle for 13 years before leaving the company to work on Salesforce full time.

Marc Benioff has seen his company, Salesforce, through many ups and downs throughout its 25 years.

The cloud software giant's market cap has swelled to over $250 billion in 2024 and even briefly crossed the $300 billion mark. But it hasn't been immune to the struggles facing the tech industry in recent years. Salesforce announced in January that it would be cutting 700 more jobs after slashing thousands in 2023.

Benioff has outlasted multiple co-CEOs at Salesforce — including one who reportedly tried to go for the top job. He and his wife Lynne are known for donating millions to charity.

Here's how Benioff, whose estimated net worth now stands at $10.1 billion, worked his way onto the national stage.

Marc Russell Benioff, 59, was born in San Francisco on September 25th, 1964, the son of Joelle and Russell Benioff.

Marc Russell Benioff, 59, was born in San Francisco on September 25th, 1964, the son of Joelle and Russell Benioff.
An image of San Francisco.      Getty Images

Benioff is something of an anomaly among Silicon Valley CEOs — he was actually born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area. He graduated from Burlingame High School in 1982, Bloomberg reported.

His father, Russell Benioff, owned a local department store in San Francisco. "I learned my work ethic from him," Benioff once said, according to SFGate.

Early on, Benioff was interested in tech and being an entrepreneur.

Early on, Benioff was interested in tech and being an entrepreneur.
Benioff held numerous jobs and side hustles.      Kevin Dietsch/Staff/Getty Images.

Benioff got his first job at a jewelry store to save for his first computer. He was eventually fired for cleaning the floors with the wrong soap. While in high school, Benioff sold his software — "How To Juggle" for the TRS-80 Model 1 computer — to a computer magazine for $75.

At age 15, Benioff founded Liberty Software, a one-man company making games for the Atari 800 computer. Titles included "King Arthur's Heir," "The Nightmare," "Escape from Vulcan's Isle," and "Crypt of the Undead," Entrepreneur reported.

By age 16, Benioff was pulling in $1,500 a month — enough that he was able to pay for his own tuition at the University of Southern California.

While at USC, Benioff took a summer internship with Apple.

While at USC, Benioff took a summer internship with Apple.
Apple cofounder Steve Jobs at the debut of the original Apple Macintosh.      AP Photo/Paul Sakuma

He worked as a programmer in the Macintosh division under cofounder Steve Jobs. "That summer, I discovered it was possible for an entrepreneur to encourage revolutionary ideas," Benioff would later write in his book "Behind the Cloud: The Untold Story of How Salesforce.com Went from Idea to Billion-dollar Company — and Revolutionized an Industry."

Jobs became one of Benioff's mentors. "There would be no Salesforce.com without Steve Jobs," Benioff said in 2013, according to Entrepreneur.

Benioff graduated with a B.S. in Business Administration in 1986.

Benioff graduated with a B.S. in Business Administration in 1986.
Benioff delivering the keynote address during commencement at the University of California, Berkeley in 2015.      REUTERS/Noah Berger

USC named him an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters in 2014. He now sits on the University's Board of Trustees.

Benioff planned to stay in programming for the rest of his career, but a USC professor suggested he might have a mind for business. So he took a customer support role at high-flying database company Oracle right out of college, according to his "Behind the Cloud" book.

Benioff rapidly rose up the ranks at Oracle after starting in 1986.

Benioff rapidly rose up the ranks at Oracle after starting in 1986.
Benioff had a meteoric rise at Oracle.      Sven Hoppe/picture alliance via Getty Images

At age 23, Benioff was named Oracle's "Rookie of the Year."

By age 26, he was named a vice president — the youngest person to attain the role in the company's history, according to his bio on Salesforce.

While at Oracle, Benioff caught the attention of its founder Larry Ellison. The two became very close, with Ellison mentoring the younger Benioff.

While at Oracle, Benioff caught the attention of its founder Larry Ellison. The two became very close, with Ellison mentoring the younger Benioff.
Benioff (left) and Larry Ellison (right).      Mike Nudelman/Business Insider

"They sailed to the Mediterranean on Ellison's yacht, visited Japan during cherry blossom season, spent Thanksgiving together, and even double-dated," according to Fortune.

After 13 years with Oracle, Benioff started itching for something new.

After 13 years with Oracle, Benioff started itching for something new.
Benioff worked at Oracle from 1986 to 1999.      Business Insider

With Ellison's permission, Benioff took a sabbatical to travel the world. He spent part of that time studying meditation in Hawaii.

Benioff came up with the idea for Salesforce while swimming with dolphins. He soon started working on the company with a few other Oracle veterans, Entrepreneur reported.

Salesforce was a revolutionary idea in 1999.

Salesforce was a revolutionary idea in 1999.
Salesforce took the tech industry by storm when it launched.      Business Insider/Julie Bort

The big idea behind Salesforce was that while most companies — including Oracle — sold enterprise software that companies had to install on their own servers, Salesforce could let people access business software from a web browser. For the late nineties, this was revolutionary, Benioff wrote in "Behind the Cloud."

At first, Ellison was supportive of Benioff.

At first, Ellison was supportive of Benioff.
Ellison and Benioff's relationship has fluctuated over the years.      Ezra Shaw/Getty

Ellison even gave Salesforce $2 million in funding from his own pocket to get it started and sat on its board of directors.

But things turned sour between Ellison and Benioff.

But things turned sour between Ellison and Benioff.
Benioff with an early Salesforce ad.      Eric Risberg/AP

Benioff found out that Oracle was working on a direct competitor to Salesforce, the Mercury News reported in 2000. Benioff tried to force his mentor to quit the company's board. Instead, Ellison forced Benioff to fire him — meaning Ellison kept his shares in Salesforce.

It kicked off an epic rivalry, with the two taking shots at each other in the press. Note the Salesforce jet shooting down the Oracle biplane in this early Salesforce ad from 2001.

The dot-com bust of the early 2000s was a difficult time for Salesforce, but the company rebounded.

The dot-com bust of the early 2000s was a difficult time for Salesforce, but the company rebounded.
Salesforce survived the dot-com bust when others didn't.      David Wong/South China Morning Post via Getty Images

"Suddenly everything around us was falling apart," Benioff's cofounder Parker Harris said, according to the Australian Financial Review. However, several clients remained, and Salesforce survived and kept growing, becoming one of the earliest and biggest companies in the modern cloud computing market.

And in June 2004, Salesforce held its IPO, raising $110 million at $11 per share.

And in June 2004, Salesforce held its IPO, raising $110 million at $11 per share.
Benioff on the day of the Salesforce IPO.      AP Photo/Paul Sakuma

That year, the company had about 767 employees.

Benioff personally donated $250 million to the University of California, San Francisco in 2010 to found UCSF Benioff Children's Hospitals.

Benioff personally donated $250 million to the University of California, San Francisco in 2010 to found UCSF Benioff Children
Benioff and his wife Lynne have donated hundreds of millions over the years.      Photo by Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images

In 206, Benioff fought against proposed bills in Indiana and Georgia that would allow discrimination against gay people. He rallied other business leaders to the cause, with a positive result, according to Time.

Benioff is also a big believer in corporate philanthropy.

Benioff is also a big believer in corporate philanthropy.
San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee in 2011.      Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Under his leadership, Salesforce invented the "1-1-1" model, where the company gives 1% of employee time as volunteer hours, 1% of its profits, and 1% of its resources to charitable causes.

San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee declared March 7 "Global 1/1/1 Day" in honor of Salesforce's 15th birthday in 2014. Benioff keeps a copy of the proclamation in his office, Forbes reported.

Benioff's philanthropic efforts focus on children's health, the environment, public education, and homelessness, according to his biography on Salesforce's website.

In 2016, Benioff and his wife launched the Benioff Ocean Initiative at the University of California, Santa Barbara to study marine life.

In 2016, Benioff and his wife launched the Benioff Ocean Initiative at the University of California, Santa Barbara to study marine life.
Benioff and his wife Lynne.      Alberto E. Rodriguez / Getty

Benioff also serves on the World Economic Forum's Board of Trustees. He credits former Secretary of State Colin Powell and the Hindu guru Mata Amritanandamayi — whom he met on a trip through India — with encouraging him to put Salesforce's resources to work helping others.

And while he may not have the globetrotting playboy reputation that his mentor Ellison has, Benioff has lots of friends in the celebrity and political worlds.

Benioff has earned a reputation as one of Silicon Valley's most boisterous CEOs. He rarely appears in public without his custom cloud sneakers.

Benioff has earned a reputation as one of Silicon Valley
Benioff's sneakers.      Getty Images/Justin Sullivan

Over the years, Benioff has spent some of his billions on "Star Wars" desk trinkets, according to Forbes, and an extensive tech-themed shoe collection.

The Benioffs have several homes, including acres of Hawaiian land.

The Benioffs have several homes, including acres of Hawaiian land.
Waimea is home to many native Hawaiians and known for its ranching.      VW Pics/Getty Images

Over the past few years, Benioff has bought up land in an agricultural and largely native Hawaiian town called Waimea. He lives in a beachside mansion nearby. Since 2000, Benioff has bought at least 38 parcels of land in Hawaii through various LLCs and a nonprofit, NPR reported in 2024.

"This is a place that everybody loves to be. It's a magical place. It's a place that people come and transform and change, evolve. They experience God. They experience nature. They experience themselves," Benioff said about Hawaii, according to NPR.

Salesforce has swelled to a company worth more than $250 million, and its annual Dreamforce conference has ballooned to take over much of San Francisco every autumn.

Salesforce has swelled to a company worth more than $250 million, and its annual Dreamforce conference has ballooned to take over much of San Francisco every autumn.
Salesforce's annual Dreamforce conference is a massive event.      Robert Galbraith/Reuters

It's described as a global four-day event hosting official sessions and unofficial meetings between key players in the tech industry. Dreamforce also has a reputation for being big on social events, with acts like Metallica and Foo Fighters headlining its afterparties

The company opened Salesforce Tower, its new headquarters — and the tallest building in San Francisco — in 2018.

The company opened Salesforce Tower, its new headquarters — and the tallest building in San Francisco — in 2018.
Salesforce Tower.      Cushman & Wakefield

Salesforce had gotten so big that in 2012, the company abandoned plans to move into a new San Francisco campus because it said it had already outgrown it. It had 9,800 employees globally that year.

Marc Benioff is distantly related to David Benioff of "Game of Thrones" fame.

Marc Benioff is distantly related to David Benioff of "Game of Thrones" fame.
David Benioff is the co-creator of "Game of Thrones."      Evan Agostini/Invision/AP

The pair share a great-grandfather, but they never met until 2015 when "Game of Thrones" premiered. David is the co-creator of the hit HBO adaption of the fantasy book series written by George R. R. Martin.

Over the last five years, Salesforce has appointed, and lost, two co-CEOs.

Over the last five years, Salesforce has appointed, and lost, two co-CEOs.
Former Salesforce co-CEO Keith Block.      Salesforce

Salesforce announced in 2020 that Benioff's co-CEO, Keith Block, stepped down after a year and a half. Block did not give a reason for the transition at the time but said he was excited for the future.

In 2021, Bret Taylor — who had been with the company since 2016 — was appointed to the role. Taylor announced his resignation in 2022 after a reported showdown for the sole CEO position.

In 2018, Benioff and his wife announced that they intended to purchase Time Magazine for $190 million.

In 2018, Benioff and his wife announced that they intended to purchase Time Magazine for $190 million.
Benioff implemented Salesforce strategies at Time.      Bryan Bedder/Getty Images for Time

When the acquisition went through, insiders at the company expressed their excitement for the future. Time was reportedly able to go on a hiring spree after being purchased by the Benioffs.

Salesforce acquired Slack in 2021.

Salesforce acquired Slack in 2021.
The new Slack redesign with "Activity" notifications.      Slack

The acquisition of the messaging platform cost about $27.7 billion. After just over a year as CEO, Lidiane Jones left Slack for the top job at dating app Bumble. In November 2023, Salesforce exec Denise Dresser was named the CEO of Slack.

Salesforce wasn't immune to the job cuts that plagued the tech industry in 2023 and 2024.

Salesforce wasn
Salesforce laid off about 7,000 employees in 2023.      Gary Hershorn / Getty Images

Salesforce kicked off 2024 by cutting about 1% of its global workforce after laying off roughly 7,000 in 2023. Benioff blamed the cuts on over-hiring during the pandemic.

He's neighbors with OpenAI CEO Sam Altman.

He
Sam Altman (R) is the CEO and cofounder of OpenAI.      Nathan Posner/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images; Roy Rochlin/Getty Images

Slack began integrating ChatGPT — the generative AI chatbot made by OpenAI — in 2023.

During a June earnings call, Benioff said that he and Sam Altman are neighbors who've had dinner at least once to discuss artificial intelligence.

He and his wife donated $150 million to Hawaii hospitals in March 2024.

He and his wife donated $150 million to Hawaii hospitals in March 2024.
The couple have donated hundreds of millions to Hawaii hospitals.      Caleb Jones/AP

In a press release, the couple expressed their intentions to give back to the local community through experts who "deeply understand" local needs.

"We feel fortunate to have been part of the Hawaii community for many decades and to be able to support our ohana in this way. Nothing is more important than the health of our community and access to care for all who need it."

The Benioffs donated $50 million to Hilo Medical Center and $100 million to Hawaii Pacific Health in March, according to Spectrum News.

Benioff's total compensation for fiscal 2024 was $39.6 million.

Benioff
Benioff has expressed support for higher taxes on the wealthy.      Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Still, he has previously said he should pay more taxes.

"Well get an economy that works for everyone when 1) create educational system that works for everyone & 2) Affordable Higher education & 3) strengthen our local K-12 public schools 4) We must focus online reskilling that brings everyone along & 5) higher ind & Crp taxes to pay for it," Benioff tweeted in June 2019.

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