Salesforce chief who took on Bible Belt is ranked top LGBT ally

Marc Benioff led Silicon Valley in standing up for gay and transgender rights in US

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Marc Benioff, the boss of cloud software company Salesforce.com, is forthright about why chief executives like him have been drawn into political battles in the US over LGBT rights: “Well, the politicians aren’t looking out for our employees any more, so we have to.”

And when it comes to protecting the rights of minority workers, he adds: “Our country is still a long way from people abiding by the Constitution.”

A former Oracle salesman who went on to become a pioneer of the “software as a service” industry, Mr Benioff has always put a social conscience close to the centre of his business and personal dealings. He made philanthropy a part of Salesforce’s operating principles when he founded the company in his home town of San Francisco in 1999 and his name adorns the city’s UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital. It is good business as much as anything, he says: today’s workers want to feel they are part of something with a greater purpose.

It was almost by accident that he came to take a leading role in the US battle over sexual freedoms that has raged at a state level for the past two years. While he was returning home one evening on Interstate 280, a scenic highway that connects San Francisco to Silicon Valley, he was surprised by the news that Indiana governor and now the Republican party’s vice presidential candidate Mike Pence had signed a law that threatened to limit gay rights. Mr Benioff says he decided, there and then, to take a stand.

Two years before, Salesforce had acquired Indiana’s biggest tech company, another cloud software concern called ExactTarget. A big fan of social media, he pondered a takeover offer for Twitter before pulling out this month — it was fitting that Mr Benioff’s initial intervention came in the form of a tweet: “Today we are cancelling all programs that require our customers/employees to travel to Indiana to face discrimination.” This set the ball rolling on a very public campaign among businesses.

Other chief executives joined the protest and Indiana quickly passed an amendment to its new religious freedom law explicitly barring anything that would limit anyone’s rights based on their sexual orientation. “I really think it just took one person to come forward to do it — [other chief executives] wanted to but they were afraid,” Mr Benioff says. “For whatever reason, I was the one who went first. I’m from Silicon Valley, so it’s not a problem for me.”

Being brought up in the politically liberal San Francisco Bay area, and with much of his workforce in the region, he was a natural leader for this cause. The company has more than 1,000 LGBT employees among its workforce of 20,000. “Our employees expect that,” Mr Benioff says of his willingness to take a public stand. “It’s enhanced our culture”.

Mr Benioff has gone on this year to take on other state-level battles over sexual freedoms, including in Georgia — where his company is a large employer — and North Carolina.

Despite this public stance on LGBT rights, Salesforce and the tech industry still have plenty of social issues of their own to put right. High among these is an acute racial inequality in the industry’s workforce.

Top 50 Ally Executives

1 Marc Benioff chief executive, Salesforce

2 Mark Zuckerberg founder and chief executive, Facebook

Australian Andrew Liveris, chief of Dow Chemical © Bloomberg

3 Andrew Liveris chairman and chief executive, Dow Chemical Company (pictured)

4 Julie Shirley managing director, Asia-Pacific business operations, Credit Suisse

5 Paul Polman chief executive, Unilever

6 Jes Staley group chief executive, Barclays

7 Karin Cook group director, operations, Lloyds Banking Group

8 Peter Grauer chairman, Bloomberg

9 Hannah Grove executive vice-president and chief marketing officer, State Street

10 Harry van Dorenmalen general manager Benelux, country general manager IBM Netherlands, IBM

11 Jim Cowles chief executive, Europe, Middle East and Africa, Citi

12 Greg Case president and chief executive, Aon

13 Howard Ungerleider vice-chairman and chief financial officer, Dow Chemical Company

14 Michael Cole-Fontayn executive vice-president and chairman of Europe, Middle East and Africa, BNY Mellon

15 Andy Maguire group chief operating officer, HSBC

16 Steve Varley chairman, EY

17 Chris Grigg chief executive, British Land

18 Eileen Taylor global head of regulatory management, Deutsche Bank

19 Noel Quinn group managing director, chief executive officer global commercial banking, HSBC

20 Ed Carolan president, Campbell Fresh, Campbell Soup Company

21 Jenny Dearborn senior vice-president and chief learning officer, SAP

22 Iain Conn chief executive, Centrica

23 Paul Geddes chief executive, Direct Line

24 Richard Kirkman technical director, Veolia

25 Dino Trevisani president, IBM Canada, IBM

26 Sharon Thorne managing partner, global markets, Deloitte UK

27 Estelle Brachlianoff senior executive vice-president, Veolia UK and Ireland

28 Rhian-Mari Thomas managing director, Barclays

29 Harry Odenhoven group director customer experience and operations, Vodafone

30 Sarah Morris chief people officer, Aviva

 31 Martin Egan global head of origination and primary markets, BNP Paribas

 32 Dan Klein general manager, OEM operations, Microsoft Ireland

 33 Georgina Philippou chief operating officer, Financial Conduct Authority

 34 Marty Rodgers managing director of Metro Washington DC and executive director of Accenture’s Nonprofit Group, Accenture

 35 Mark Barnett president, United Kingdom & Ireland, Mastercard

 36 Matt Elliott people director, Virgin Money

 37 Danny Harmer chief people officer, Metro Bank plc

 38 Peter Harrison group chief executive officer, Schroders

 39 Heidi McCormack chief executive, Emerald Life

 40 Jim Herbert chief development officer EMEA, Aon

 41 Andy Milnes chief executive, BP IST Eastern Hemisphere

 42 Janine Chidlow managing director EMEA & AMER, Resource Solutions

 43 Annette King CEO, Ogilvy & Mather Group UK

 44 Jean Mouton senior partner & managing director, Boston Consulting Group

 45 John Tomovcsik executive vice-president & general manager, North American R&IM, Iron Mountain

 46 Matthew Layton managing partner, Clifford Chance

 47 Laurence Bret-Stern senior director, Marketing, LinkedIn

 48 Simon Eaves senior managing director, Products Operating Group, Accenture

 49 Alex Hoctor-Duncan managing director, Head of EMEA Retail, BlackRock

 50 Francesco Bianco regional HR director, Europe, Vodafone Group Services

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