Last month Jeff Bezos announced he would step down as CEO of Amazon later this year, moving into the executive chairman role, while passing the baton to AWS CEO Andy Jassy. Could Marc Benioff, co-founder, chairman and CEO at Salesforce be the next big-name executive to make a similar move?
A Reuter’s story published on Monday suggested that could be the case. Citing unnamed sources, the story indicated that Benioff’s CEO exit could happen this year. Further those same sources suggested that current Salesforce president and COO Bret Taylor is the likely heir apparent.
We wrote a story at the end of last year speculating on possible successors to Benioff, were he to step away from the CEO role. There were a number of worthy candidates, several of whom, like Taylor, came to the company via an acquisition. All the same, we thought that Taylor seemed to be the most likely candidate to replace Benioff.
We asked Salesforce for a comment on the Reuter’s story. A company spokesperson told us that the company doesn’t comment on rumors or speculation.
While the entire scenario fits firmly in the rumor and speculation column, it is not entirely unlikely either. What would it mean if Benioff stepped away and what if Taylor was truly the next in line? And how would that swap compare with the Bezos decision were it to happen?
Similar yet different
Salesforce and Amazon are both companies founded in the 1990s, each looking to shake up its industry.
For Amazon, it was changing the way goods (starting with books) were bought and sold. And for Benioff the goal was changing the way software was sold. Bezos famously founded his company in his garage. Benioff built his in a rented apartment. From these humble beginnings both have built iconic companies and accumulated enormous wealth. You could understand why either could be ready to step away from the daily grind of running a company after all these years.
Bezos announced that veteran executive Andy Jassy, who runs the company’s cloud arm, would be his replacement when the handoff comes. Jassy knows the organization’s priority mix as he’s been working at the company for more than two decades. He’s locked into the culture and helped take AWS from idea to $50 billion juggernaut.
While Benioff hasn’t made any actual firm pronouncement, we have seen Bret Taylor — who joined the company in 2016 when Salesforce purchased his startup Quip for $750 million — move quickly up the ladder.
Laurie McCabe, co-founder and analyst at SMB Group, who has been following Salesforce since its earliest days, says that if Benioff were to leave, he would obviously leave big shoes to fill. But she agreed that everything seems to point to Taylor as his successor should that happen.
“Salesforce has been grooming Taylor for awhile. He has some stellar credentials both at Salesforce, his own start-up, Quip, that Salesforce acquired, and at Facebook. There’s no doubt in my mind he can lead Salesforce forward, but he’ll bring a different more low-key style to the role. And I’m sure Benioff will stay very involved […],” McCabe said.
Two different situations
Brent Leary, founder and principal analyst at CRM Essentials says that while he believes Taylor could be chosen as Benioff’s successor, and would be qualified to lead the company, he’s taken a very different path from Jassy.
“I think Benioff moving on could be different from Bezos in the sense that Jassy has been at Amazon for over 20 years and was there to basically see and be part of most of the story. […] But if Taylor were to succeed Benioff there’s not as much [history] at Salesforce with him not being on board until the Quip acquisition in 2016,” Leary said.
Leary wonders if this relatively short history with the company could create some political friction in the organization if he were chosen to succeed Benioff. “I’m not saying that this would happen, but choosing one of the many possible heirs that have come via a number of high profile acquisitions could possibly lead to high level turnover from those not picked to succeed Benioff,” he said.
But Holger Mueller, an analyst at Constellation Research says that if you look at the range of candidates available, he believes that Taylor would be the best choice. “I don’t expect any issue because there is no one with a similar or even better background, which is when there are problems — that or when people are in an open competition as it used to be at GE,” he said.
We don’t know for sure what the final outcome will be, but if Benioff does decide to join Bezos and takes the executive chairman mantle at the company, it makes sense that the person to replace him will be Taylor. But for now, it remains in the realm of speculation, and we’ll just to wait and see if that’s what comes to pass.