The not-exactly-thrilling world of enterprise software, which manages the workings of corporations and monitors their client relationships, paradoxically generates larger-than-life executives in its own ranks. Think Larry Ellison, the billionaire CEO of Oracle. It's no accident that Marc Benioff worked for Ellison for 13 years before founding San Francisco-based Salesforce.com in 1999. That new company was based on the premise that business software--and maybe all software--was changing from a product to a service. Leaving Oracle was a risk for Benioff, but risk-taking is in keeping with his outsize, gregarious personality, which has gotten him in hot water--like when he spoke too much about his company's ultimately successful IPO before the offering last year. Now that the quiet period is long over, the 40-year-old can dish.
NEWSWEEK: What do you mean when you say software is dead?
BENIOFF: The concept that you buy the software, that you own it, that you manage it has really come to the end of its life. It will be replaced by something that looks more like what we see today with major Web sites, like Amazon.com, eBay and Google. Companies will be able to run their business using a service delivered over the Internet that looks like a mainstream Web site.
This summer you're coming out with what you've described as an operating system for these on-demand applications. Doesn't this put you in the sights of Bill Gates, who's now calling you a rival?
Yeah, that's true. But we haven't really seen Microsoft take the leadership position in moving the software model forward. In fact, they recently announced that their competing product would be delayed until the end of this year and maybe even the first quarter of next year. That is just unreal.
So you're saying that Microsoft is top-heavy and sluggish?
We've seen that with the BlackBerry, we've seen that with the iPod, we've seen that even with Firefox in the browser. Microsoft's models are breaking down in many areas.
What did you learn from Larry Ellison?
You have to have a vision of the long view. When we make a big, grandiose statement like software is dead, or Microsoft is letting us down, that's what we're doing.
What's behind your emphasis on corporate philanthropy?
CEOs have a responsibility. On the day I started Salesforce, I took 1 percent of the equity and put it into a public charity. I also said 1 percent of our time, or four hours a month per employee, will be for paid volunteerism. And 1 percent of our profits would go to nonprofits. Now, at the time, of course, we had no profits, we had no employees and had no value in our stock options. But when we went public, the foundation was vested with over $15 million, and there will be 12,000 hours of volunteerism by our employees.
Do you think that an attention-getting CEO helps a company?
It's worked well for us. People become journalists because they love writing stories, and they love talking about heroes and villains. A CEO's job is to frame his company in a story. Now, of course, he has to fulfill that with great products, with value, with successful customers. You can hype and promote all you want, but ultimately you've got to deliver.