There are many interpretations of Salesforce’s elevation of Keith Block to serve as co-CEO with Marc Benioff, a decision announced Tuesday.
Block has been the company’s vice chairman and president for several years, and the elevation simply could be a recognition of the obvious — he’s been doing the job without the title for a while.
However, Salesforce and Benioff are well known for getting added mileage from any move they make, so why should this be different?
Division of Labor
Block and Benioff have worked together since their early career days at Oracle in the 1980s. They know each other and how they operate. If you’re running a big software company, which Salesforce surely is these days, that kind of relationship is essential.
Salesforce’s ambition to hit US$20 billion in revenue early in the next decade, while a doable thing, will require all hands on deck. The relationship, which appears to be a close one, will be essential.
Of course, the division of labor is critical.
“I am going to be focusing on, No. 1, the products, the technology — as well as the culture, and Keith is very much focused on the operations and distribution functions of the company,” Benioff told Fortune. “We feel it’s going to naturally align with both of our strengths.”
That sounds about right. I disagree with the Fortune article, though, when it points out that “the lackluster growth at Salesforce rival Oracle, where Safra Catz and Mark Hurd share top billing, would suggest that arrangement (co-CEO) isn’t ideal.”
Horses for courses I say. Catz and Hurd have been working with a different company in a different part of its lifecycle, and it’s just as easy to say that they’re doing a good job navigating a legacy enterprise software giant to the cloud. So no comparisons there, please.
It’s also useless to begin speculating that Benioff, who is 53, might be angling for retirement or a career change. Many people have commented on his natural political skills and figure he’d be good for a high position. That might take time, though.
Lots of people think that Benioff would be a good U.S. president, but who knows? History shows that some of the best presidents entered office with minimal executive government experience. Those people include both Roosevelts and Ronald Reagan, all of whom served as governors, and Barack Obama, who went from state senate to U.S. Senate to the White House in a very short time. There were others too.
Enough guessing, though. My suspicion is that institutional investors like the Salesforce story, but they are extremely risk-averse. One area of risk is succession in the event of a catastrophe that wipes out senior management. I’m thinking earthquakes, for starters, and then there’s the Millennium Tower leaning 14 inches off center next door to the new Salesforce Tower.
However, let’s not get maudlin. Defining a clear path of succession is just smart business when you’re a $10 billion company heading to $20 billion. So good luck and godspeed. No doubt there will be more news as Dreamforce draws near, and we can expect an enhanced role for Block at the event.