By: Minda Zetlin
On Sunday, MSNBC’s “Revolution” included an interview with Salesforce founder and co-CEO Marc Benioff. The interview, was conducted by Recode co-founder Kara Swisher, and covered a wide range of topics, from the passage of Proposition C in San Francisco (Benioff was a huge supporter) to his view that Facebook should be regulated like cigarettes.
Perhaps inevitably, the conversation came around to politics and political ambitions. Benioff insisted that not only would he never run for president, he would never run for any political office. But then Swisher asked him if he somehow did become president, what is the first thing he would do?
Benioff seemed to have an answer all ready: “I’d radically invest in our public education system,” he said. “I think we have a tremendous need today to look at 3.5 million public school teachers who on average are making about $35,000 a year and say, ‘We’re behind you. We support you. We love you. Thank you for everything you’re doing for our children. And we’re going to double your salary right now.’ Because I don’t know why our public school teachers are not the highest paid employees in our country.”
Indeed, Benioff, who has two daughters, has focused his philanthropy on children’s health, such as supporting children’s hospitals, and on public education. Salesforce is giving annual donations to public schools in San Francisco and Oakland, encouraging them to innovate and add high-tech equipment, and more students are taking computer classes as a result. This fall, he told the San Francisco Chronicle that these donations were on their way to totaling $100 million. He has a point, though, about teacher salaries. As a society, we’re fond of saying that our children are the most important thing, and our future. But the way we invest our money says something else again.
Do elected officials have more power than business leaders?
As Swisher pointed out, Benioff’s quick answer did suggest that he was putting together a platform for a campaign. “Oh, I know, but I’m just telling you exactly what I would do. I’m not running here,” he said. In fact, he had explained earlier in the interview just why he would never run for political office: “Because I believe that business is the greatest platform for change.”
In other words, as chairman and co-CEO of Salesforce–which recently became San Francisco’s largest employer–Benioff has more power to effect the changes he wants than he would as an elected official. His analysis is likely right. Business leaders with their billions and their legions of employees wield more power than mayors and members of Congress, and maybe even presidents. It’s a disturbing thought. Neither ordinary citizens nor employees get to vote on who runs big and powerful companies such as Salesforce. And some business leaders have shown themselves to be strikingly unconcerned with the welfare of anyone other than their shareholders.
So, Swisher asked, who would make a good president? Is it a good role for CEOs? “I think it really depends on the person,” he said. “Somebody, first of all, is going to have a deep desire to be president. There aren’t that many people who want to be president, number one. Number two is, what about their values? You know, that this is an important country. And this country stands for something in the world.”
In fact, pressed for a suggestion as to who might make a good president, Benioff suggested that Swisher should run. “I think it’d be great if we had a woman president,” he said. “I think you’re pioneering. You’d be a great politician, Kara.”
Swisher demurred, saying she had no interest in being president–but “maybe something else.” When Benioff asked what position she might like, she answered “Queen of the world.”
If Benioff does run, she added, she expected him to give her the first interview. And he answered that if she decides to run, “I want to be the first one that you call.”