Mini-Benioff Makes His Mega-Play

Jeff Lawson
Photo by Kevin Dietsch/Getty
Theodore Schleifer
March 22, 2022

For more than two decades, Marc Benioff has towered over Silicon Valley politics as an iconic statesman-C.E.O., personifying a new model for compassionate-and-issues-based mega-capitalists who viewed their corporation as not merely commercial organisms but vessels for political combat. Over the years, Benioff has been eager to wade into policy battles in places like Indiana (LGBT discrimination) and Texas (abortion restrictions) that have nothing to do with Salesforce’s cloud-computing business but are part of his personal moral crusade.

Back in San Francisco, Benioff bent the ear of the city’s leaders and became an unofficial spokesman for its business elite, all the while dousing local institutions with a fusion of personal and corporate philanthropy. (The lines could be blurry.) Meanwhile, far from home, he relished his role as a familiar denizen of CNBC sets and Davos chalets, becoming one of the most outspoken voices for a rejiggered capitalism and, without a doubt, basking in the public mahalo that came with it. Benioff was the architect of the corporate zeitgeist’s modern form of social activism. 

Then, in late 2019, Benioff quietly seemed to take a step backwards. Having bought Time with his wife Lynne, Benioff told me that he was swearing off political donations, and some parts of his hyper-charged brand of political activism, out of a desire to remain non-partisan. (That explanation, I should note, has never really made any sense to many insiders in politics, media or tech, who frequently have told me they don’t buy it. Someone introduce him to Laurene Powell Jobs or Mike Bloomberg!) Nevertheless, Benioff abdicated the throne, creating something of a leadership vacuum in the post-Trump Silicon Valley political milieu.