Benioff’s Bray

Benioff’s Bray

“Once upon a time, an ass found a lion’s skin left in the forest by a hunter.”

Aesop continued:

He dressed himself in it, and amused himself by hiding in a thicket and rushing out suddenly at the animals who passed that way. All took to their heels the moment they saw him.

The Ass was so pleased to see the animals running away from him, just as if he were King Lion himself, that he could not keep from expressing his delight by a loud, harsh bray. A Fox, who ran with the rest, stopped short as soon as he heard the voice. Approaching the Ass, he said with a laugh:

“If you had kept your mouth shut you might have frightened me, too. But you gave yourself away with that silly bray.”

The moral of the story is this: don’t pretend to be something you’re not; and if you do, for crying out loud, keep your mouth shut, lest someone figure out you’re just an ass.

And that brings us to the feel-good financial story of the week, the impending comeuppance of Salesforce founder and CEO Marc Benioff.

For years, Marc Benioff has been dressing up in the skin of a stakeholder capitalist, hiding in a thicket and rushing out suddenly at the shareholders who passed that way.  He donated hundreds of millions of dollars – of SHAREHOLDER funds – to various local charities and do-gooders.  He and his company boycotted states whose politics caused him personal consternation (again, at shareholders’ expense).  “At my company, Salesforce,” Benioff wrote in 2016, “we baked philanthropy into our business model from day one, leveraging one percent of our technology, people, and resources to help nonprofits around the world achieve their missions.”

Benioff, obviously, has been quite pleased to see how the shareholder capitalists run away from him and shudder at his mere presence.  And he therefore could not keep from expressing his delight, insisting that a “new” form of capitalism is needed and that guys like him are the “new” CEOs who will bring it about:

[A]s a capitalist, I believe it’s time to say out loud what we all know to be true: Capitalism, as we know it, is dead….

It’s time for a new capitalism — a more fair, equal and sustainable capitalism that actually works for everyone and where businesses, including tech companies, don’t just take from society but truly give back and have a positive impact….

[B]usiness leaders need to embrace a broader vision of their responsibilities by looking beyond shareholder return and also measuring their stakeholder return. This requires that they focus not only on their shareholders, but also on all of their stakeholders — their employees, customers, communities and the planet….

When we finally start focusing on stakeholder value as well as shareholder value, our companies will be more successful, our communities will be more equal, our societies will be more just and our planet will be healthier.

Recently, a handful of foxes – which is to say, clever activist investors – have heard the noises escaping from the lion skin and noticed that they didn’t sound much like a roar.  They stopped short, in other words, and approached Benioff and Salesforce with a laugh:

Salesforce has had a turbulent few months, including massive layoffs and an executive exodus that included a co-chief executive. But the real chaos may be yet to come.

The cloud software giant is now being targeted by activist firm Elliott Management, which has taken a big stake in the company. That makes Elliott the second such firm to take aim at Salesforce, after Starboard Value disclosed its stake in the company in October….

It’s a very real possibility that these investors could oust most, if not all, of Salesforce’s board of directors in one go. And if that wasn’t enough, some analysts believe that these activist firms could push Benioff to at least explore the possibility of divesting mega-acquisitions like Slack, MuleSoft, and Tableau. It could even result in Salesforce ending its remote-work policies and mandating at least some employees to come back into the office, analysts speculate.

Salesforce, unlike many other tech companies, only appoints its board members to serve for one-year terms, meaning they have to be reelected by shareholders every single year. JMP Securities analyst Pat Walravens tells Insider that Elliott and Starboard could take advantage of the situation by mustering the support to replace many or most of those board seats with their own candidates at this year’s upcoming meeting….

Another change that Walravens thinks could be in the cards is a revamping of compensation, particularly for executives.

He says he thinks Elliott and Starboard might nudge Salesforce towards ending its practice of giving senior leaders major equity grants, instead encouraging a pay scheme that’s tied to performance-based goals.


We don’t want to seem like we’re enjoying one person’s troubles.  But then, we don’t look at it that way.  Rather, we look at it as an opportunity to RELIEVE several hundred-thousand people of THEIR troubles by making Salesforce behave like a real company that gives a damn about its shareholders and the investments they have made.

Marc Benioff is a robber baron who dressed up in the skin of a philanthropist.  Salesforce is a company whose sole purpose over the last decade has been to make billionaires out of C-suite occupants, centi-millionaires out of senior managers, and deci-millionaires out of its salespeople; yet it has long been dressed up in the skin of a software/tech firm.

The whole thing was working fine and probably could have gone on working fine indefinitely, were it not for the fact that Benioff was so tickled with himself that he couldn’t help but bray – loudly, confidently, and incessantly.

If only he had kept his mouth shut…but he gave himself away with that silly bray.

What an ass.

Stephen Soukup
Stephen Soukup
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Steve Soukup is the Vice President and Publisher of The Political Forum, an “independent research provider” that delivers research and consulting services to the institutional investment community, with an emphasis on economic, social, political, and geopolitical events that are likely to have an impact on the financial markets in the United States and abroad.