According to Nobel Laureate economist Milton Friedman, the only social responsibility of a business is to increase its profits. Friedman was wrong, says salesforce.com founder and CEO Marc Benioff. In his commencement address Friday at the University of Southern California, Benioff advised graduates the opposite.
Benioff said he selected USC because it was his mother’s alma mater and shared some of his favorite memores of being a student there. He's been on quite a journey since his own graduation from USC nearly 30 years ago.
He started his first job at Oracle two days after graduation and over the next ten years
rose to the senior executive level. “I was ready to make it happen. I was motivated, I was educated, I was inspired. And I had some great success there. I was the youngest VP and youngest SVP and went on and created some great products,” said Benioff.
“And then a decade went by and all of the sudden I kind of felt kind of a little bit weird. I felt unmotivated, unenergized, not very excited, not very inspired,” said Benioff. With the encouragement of boss Larry Ellison, he took time off to find his path.
Benioff’s quest took him to India, where he toured the country. "Something amazing happened,” said Benioff. A conversation in an ashram with an Indian saint took his life in a new direction. The saint said, “While you are working so hard to change the world and creating all of this great technology, don’t forget to do something for others.”
Not long after that trip, Benioff was invited to an executive summit with the five living American presidents and former U.S. Secretary of State Gen. Colin Powell. It was there that Benioff heard Powell dispute Friedman’s maxim of corporate selfishness.
Powell told the audience that the companies represented there needed to tap into their employees, products, technology, and resources, and integrate with the communities they were in. Powell added, “Just remember this: get out there and do something for other people.”
When he founded salesforce.com in 1999, Benioff took the saint’s and Gen. Powell’s advice, integrating a culture of philanthropy into the business itself from the very beginning.
The company’s growth to more than 13,000 employees and more than $5 billion in revenue is a major accomplishment, but Benioff is prouder of what the organization gives than what it gets. One percent of salesforce.com's equity, one percent of its products and one percent of employees' time has gone to charity.
Today, salesforce.com is not only the most admired company in computer software, the most innovative company, and one of the best places to work. It has also donated 600-thousand hours of community service and $50 million in grants, and supports 20,000 nonprofits and NGOs with its technology at no cost to them.
Benioff challenged the graduates with this advice: “The real joy in life comes from giving. It comes from service. It comes from doing things for other people. That is what is so powerful about this. Nothing will make you happier than giving.” He added, “Don’t let these walls be a metaphor for your life… Get out there and do something for others!”
Want to work at a company that lives these values every day? Salesforce.com is hiring.