Silicon Valley Watcher - Former FT journalist Tom Foremski reporting from the intersection of technology and media

Marc Benioff's Leadership Opportunity - How To Live Well And Do Right

Posted by Tom Foremski - January 28, 2014

2014 01 28 10 56 24

Marc Benioff is the CEO and founder of San Francisco’s largest technology company, Salesforce; he’s a 4th generation San Franciscan; and he’s a top philanthropist in his own community.

He’s perfectly positioned to help heal the rift between locals and the tech workers, and he’s able to teach tech companies about philanthropy, especially where it counts the most, in your local communities.

Corporate social responsibility used to be important but it’s fallen off dramatically since 2004 and Google’s IPO. Benioff can bring it back into view as an imperative function that every company must have, because it motivates workers and creates meaning. And it feels good.  

 The San Francisco Bay Area has the highest concentration of tech companies and wealth in the world — it would be in the top ten wealthiest countries. Yet our cities suffer from the same problems, the same issues, as anywhere; and our schools are failing 50% of their high school students as they dropout into a life unprepared.

Benioff has been hard at work improving local communities. His chief focus has been on building a children’s hospital but he has been active in many other philanthropic activities.

He can mentor some of the younger nouveau riche technologists on what it means to give back.  And the importance of it in the places where you live.

Protecting SF culture…

I’m certain Benioff won’t allow San Francisco to become a bedroom community to a business park. San Francisco’s non-conformist culture provides a treasure trove of experiences that won’t be found in the cubicle cultures of Silicon Valley. 

Without original experiences you can’t have original ideas. Yet the tech workers have the same experience every day, waiting for their cubicle to pick them up early morning and then release them late in the day. They are strangers in their own neighborhoods. 

The solution!

There is a super-easy solution to the bus problem that I hope Marc Benioff will champion: telecommuting. It works!

Google has great telecommuting technologies that are free to use.  And Google’s own studies have shown that teams working remotely are as productive as those in the Googleplex. 

Telecommuting can heal community conflicts very quickly because the tech workers will get to know their neighbors. They won’t seem so strange to each other.

Telecommuting means that tens of thousands of tech workers will be putting millions of dollars into the local economy. Google et al. compete with local restaurants and local services providers with their large perks package. Tech workers will be spending money in the cafes, gyms, bars, restaurants, dry cleaners, dentists, and that will raise incomes for local people. 

Telecommuting means that tech workers will know the problems in their communities and might want to do something about them. That sharp stench of urine on the streets in the early morning can do wonders to awaken the innovative centers inside their brains. 

Telecommuting will allow tech workers to collaborate on solving some of the problems they see around them. An app to help the helpless. They might even come up with some original ideas that their employer could use. 

So why does Google, Apple, Facebook, and the others, insist on shipping their workers every day to a central holding facility when telecommuting works? 

They don’t want their workers telecommuting from local cafes and parks because some of them might band together and hatch up a Google-killer, with others. Best to ship them to an office every day and keep them isolated from outsiders. 

What works for Google doesn’t work for San Francisco. Those corporate policies of busing are divisive and lead to conflicts, just as busing of schoolchildren did in the 1980s. San Francisco city government has worked hard over the past 30 years on groundbreaking policies of inclusion, which has resulted in far less community conflict. The city has a vested interest in protecting its achievements. 

Telecommuting is the best answer. Maybe in the form of a city bylaw that’s applied to firms with large numbers of workers, so that San Francisco’s culture isn’t run over by the buses. 

I hope Benioff will rise to the occasion — this is absolutely the right time for his leadership in San Francisco.

If tech can sell shoes, it can sell us on empathy,  which is sorely needed in San Francisco. Marc Benioff is a great salesman because he represents, rather than sells.  

His life is an excellent example to the tech community of how to live well and do right. 

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