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Salesforce's CEO rallies to the coronavirus fight, vows no layoffs for at least 90 days

Julia La Roche
·Correspondent
·4 min read

Salesforce (CRM) founder and CEO Marc Benioff is rallying to the cause of fighting the coronavirus, helping to procure millions of pieces of lifesaving personal protective equipment (PPE) amid a nationwide shortage, while vowing to keep employees on the payroll as the crisis forces millions into unemployment.

As the COVID-19 pandemic batters the global economy, the billionaire tech titan told Yahoo Finance in an interview that now is the time for every CEO to use their business "as the greatest platform for change."

For the PPE procurement effort, the enterprise software giant teamed up with e-commerce giant Alibaba (BABA) to bring a 747 full of masks, face shields, and gowns for frontline healthcare workers to New York, the hardest-hit state in the pandemic.

The CRM giant also partnered Walmart (WMT) and State Farm to distribute the PPE in Louisiana, and Michigan and Uber Freight in California.

"[We] think about our company and our business, and how does business be the greatest platform for change? How can we help eliminate or alleviate or reduce any suffering at all?” Benioff told Yahoo Finance, touting Salesforce’s “tremendous relationships.”

As part of Salesforce's response to COVID-19, the tech giant is also providing free access to its technology for those directly responding to the pandemic. It’s part the company’s strategy to “use the power of our own company to improve the world” while forging partnerships with key players.

“We’ve had so many organizations — it could be states, it could be our federal government, or other countries — come to us and say, ‘Help us with the analytics. Help us with the applications,’” he said.

“And, so, we have unleashed a whole program that we call Salesforce Care, and we have deployed now about 4,000 emergency implementations of our service,” Benioff added.

Holding the line on headcount, for now

Marc Benioff, Founder, Chairman, and CEO of Salesforce, participates in a panel discussion at the 2015 Fortune Global Forum in San Francisco, California November 3, 2015. REUTERS/Elijah Nouvelage
Marc Benioff, Founder, Chairman, and CEO of Salesforce, participates in a panel discussion at the 2015 Fortune Global Forum in San Francisco, California November 3, 2015. REUTERS/Elijah Nouvelage

What's more, Salesforce publicly committed to its employees that there will be no layoffs for 90 days, and Benioff has called on other CEOs to join the movement. He's also continued to pay all vendor hourly service providers and interns during this time.

Benioff says the no-layoff pledge is meant to “assess where this is and where everything is going, because we know how much is going to change in this situation in just 90 days. And then, we can just be much clearer and much more straightforward with everyone.” He added that other CEOs have followed suit.

When Benioff started Salesforce in 1999, integrated philanthropy was a critical part of the company's mission — primarily with its 1-1-1 model he pioneered, where the company donates 1% of its equity, product, and employee time to charity.

Benioff, 55, has long also espoused the notion that "business is the greatest platform for change," and that CEOs no longer have an option for not taking a stand when it comes to tackling some of society's toughest challenges.

While promoting his book “Trailblazer” last fall, the tech CEO declared that capitalism as we know it "is dead." He’s advocated for a new type of capitalism that's fairer, more equitable, and takes all stakeholders into account — including non-investors and communities at large.

"And this is a tremendous opportunity for all CEOs and all businesses to really put their resources right out there and say, 'We're going to do everything we can to lead and help the world get through this.’ That is truly stakeholder capitalism,” he added.

Julia La Roche is a Correspondent at Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter.