Benioff: The Business of Business is Bettering the World


Steve Jurvetson | Flickr

Marc Benioff finds a sweet spot for corporate idealism. Salesforce is set to announce a big new program called Einstein, aimed at infusing its entire line of business software tools with predictive artificial intelligence. That news tops Forbes’ cover story on Salesforce founder, CEO and force-of-nature Marc Benioff. But the most interesting angle is at the end, in a close look at the wide range of social, political, and philanthropic causes Benioff has energetically, and sometimes recklessly, embraced. For instance, he’s put his billionaire shoulders and company’s weight behind efforts to resist state laws that discriminate against gays. When female executives inside Salesforce pointed out gender-based pay imbalances there, he reviewed the data and adjusted salaries to redress the situation. “I strongly believe the business of a business is to improve the world,” he says. You don’t need an Einstein AI to predict that Benioff will continue to act on that belief — or to understand that it, as much as any technological insight or business savvy, is what lies behind his success.

Et tu, WhatsApp? When Jan Koum, founder of WhatsApp, sold it to Facebook in 2014 for $16 billion, users of the privacy-conscious messaging service feared that Facebook would start harvesting their data. Koum — an ardent defender of privacy and detester of advertising — assured the world that WhatsApp’s values would hold strong under its new ownership. Two years later, that assurance is beginning to break down, as WhatsApp has announced that it will share some user data with Facebook to help target ads to its users (The New York Times). But surely this change was predictable and inevitable. Could anyone believe Facebook wouldn’t try to monetize WhatsApp after spending that sort of dough? The lesson for founders, employees, and customers alike is simple: When one company sells out to another, you can safely ignore all the quotes about how nothing will change. In the long run, the buyer’s culture will always prevail — something to put in the scales in weighing any acquisition.

The case for globalization and its “elites.” The revolt against global free trade that has powered populist candidacies in the U.S. and worldwide has put globalists on the defensive. Former George W. Bush aide and now Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson argues that the populist talk is cheap, and it ignores a lot of hard evidence. Global growth may have taken a toll in devastating some domestic industries and the communities they support, but we shouldn’t forget the positive side of the ledger — and the elites accused of being out of touch shouldn’t shy away from celebrating their wins. Taking a billion people out of poverty over the past two decades might or might not be (Gerson’s words) “the greatest humanitarian achievement in history,” but it’s … something. Healthcare and standard-of-living improvements have driven U.S. life expectancy steadily higher. Anyway, if we ditch free trade, what do we replace it with? History shows tariffs don’t help anybody. Smart governments shun them and instead help their workers with training and subsidies. What stands in the way of that? The biggest obstacle, according to Gersten: an obdurate Republican congress.

A nonprofit finds the way to leaner drug R&D. In the topsy-turvy world of pharmaceutical pricing, defenders of industry practice usually insist that drug companies need to milk their cash cows extra greedily to pay for all the expensive research dead ends they hit before making a breakthrough. But Big Pharma’s costly process isn’t the only way to find new treatments: an innovative nonprofit called the Drugs for Neglected Diseases Initiative (DNDi) has mapped a different road (Nature). DNDi collaborates with universities, governments, and drug companies to achieve broad results at relatively low cost in realms that the for-profit world has neglected. DNDi started 20 years ago as an offshoot of Doctors Without Borders, which seeded the venture with the cash from its Nobel Prize. It has already found promising treatments for a half-dozen ailments that affect the world’s poorest populations, like malaria and sleeping sickness, and it’s beginning to explore applying its techniques to global challenges like hepatitis C and antibiotic-resistant infections.

Singapore is first out of the gate with self-driving taxis. NuTonomy in Singapore beat out Uber in Pittsburgh to be the first city to offer autonomous taxis to the riding public (AP). For now, the half-dozen cars operate in a small zone with backup drivers. Meanwhile, if you want to see the drone-driven future of Domino’s Pizza delivery, you’ll have to go to Auckland, New Zealand (Fortune). That’s where Domino’s is testing the scheme, in partnership with delivery startup Flirtey (which has also conducted drone experiments with 7-Eleven in Reno, Nevada). What these trials have in common: lower regulatory barriers. You may not want such tests happening in your backyard, but if these novel industries are going to prosper, they need to happen somewhere.

Featured in NewCo Shift: Boulder-based VC Brad Feld explains what ants can teach us about AI and superintelligence.

Want to follow the biggest story in business? Get our NewCo Daily and Weekly newsletter!

Leave a Reply