Salesforce (CRM) CEO Marc Benioff has burnished his reputation amid the COVID-19 pandemic as an outspoken advocate for a “new capitalism” that improves social welfare, and he has used his resources to develop contact-tracing technology and donate 1 million masks.
That commitment to “stakeholder capitalism” caught the attention of actor and investor Matthew McConaughey, who told Yahoo Finance that Benioff “inspired” him to embrace the notion that business ventures can both generate profit and promote the common good.
“I'm all for making money — I have good money. I'm all for fame — I'm happy to be famous,” says McConaughey, author of a new memoir called “Greenlights.” “But I'm inspired by looking at people like a [CEO] John Mackey with Whole Foods or Marc Benioff at Salesforce that go, ‘Hey, I have an idea that's really good to do, even if it was for nonprofit, but let's make profit off of it.”
McConaughey elaborated on the mentality embodied by Benioff: “I want to make money off this. I want to get rich off this. And how can we parlay that to being something like, ‘Oh, and it's good for the most amount of people.”
“Those two are interchangeable and they don't have to be a contradiction.” adds McConaughey, known for roles in movies like “Dazed and Confused” and “Dallas Buyers Club.”
McConaughey’s investment portfolio includes a membership-only medical facility called Forward, the subscription-based sports website The Athletic, and a Major League Soccer team in his hometown of Austin, Texas.
He served as a judge alongside Benioff in 2018 at a pitch competition at South by Southwest, where a financial education startup won the $100,000 top prize and Benioff added a $200,000 investment on top of that.
The push for a more socially conscious capitalism gained momentum last August when the Business Roundtable, a group then chaired by JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon that represents CEOs at 192 firms, called on companies to balance the needs of shareholders with employees and community members. (A handful of the CEOs declined to sign onto the group’s statement, including Blackstone CEO Stephen Schwarzman and Alcoa CEO Roy Harvey).
Two months later, Benioff minced no words, writing in a New York Times op-ed that “capitalism as it has been practiced in recent decades” has led to “horrifying inequality.”
Salesforce in August announced the layoff of 1,000 employees a day after the the release of a strong earnings report, prompting criticism from an engineer at Salesforce-owned data firm Tableau as well as Wall Street Journal columnist John Stoll, who questioned whether Benioff had lived up to his ideals.
Moreover, a report commissioned by the Ford Foundation in September raised doubts about the follow through from companies that have backed the push for better practices, finding firms that signed onto the Business Roundtable commitment to stakeholder capitalism performed “no better” amid COVID-19 on measures of social impact than other companies.
McConaughey spoke to Yahoo Finance Editor-in-Chief Andy Serwer in an episode of “Influencers with Andy Serwer,” a weekly interview series with leaders in business, politics, and entertainment.
While acknowledging this own financial success, he raised questions about whether U.S. culture focuses too much on the race to win riches and notoriety.
“America tells our children and ourselves that to be successful is money and fame,” McConaughey says. “We need to not necessarily have those always at the top.”