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Salesforce is actively preparing COO Bret Taylor to be chief executive officer, people familiar with the matter told Reuters. The promotion is “not imminent” but could happen in the next couple months, the Tuesday report said.
Current CEO Marc Benioff would possibly relinquish his CEO title, the report added, avoiding the challenges of the co-CEO arrangement that he had with Keith Block, who left in February 2020 after less than two years on the job.
While the timing is new, the idea that Taylor may eventually become CEO of Salesforce — replacing Benioff, who founded the firm 22 years ago — is not.
His profile at the $194 billion firm has risen tremendously over the last few years and he’s long been rumored to be Benioff’s eventual successor. For years, his influence has shaped Salesforce’s product roadmap and long-term vision — if and when Taylor gets promoted to CEO, it will have been a decision years in the making.
How Taylor rose through the ranks at Salesforce
Taylor is a product focused executive, bringing a different skillset to the C-suite than Benioff or Block, who had a background in sales.
Earlier in his career, Taylor helped found Google Maps and was later Facebook’s chief technology officer, where he gets credit for creating its “Like” button and helping lead the company through its IPO in 2012.
Shortly afterwards, he launched his own firm, collaboration tool Quip, which Salesforce acquired for $750 million in 2016. Right away he reported to directly to Benioff, who had said it was his “dream to work more closely” with the young “rising star.”
A year later, he made the leap to the C-Suite, becoming president and chief product officer — a role he held until December 2019 when he became the company’s chief operating officer. He now oversees global product vision, engineering, security, marketing, and communications, taking on a greater leadership role with more influence over the future of Salesforce.
“What we see with Bret is, bringing that deep product knowledge, the understanding of how dev teams work,” Valoir analyst Rebecca Wettemann told Insider in December.
Industry watches point to former co-CEO Block’s resignation last February as a turning point in Taylor’s trajectory: It was the “first clue” that the rumors of him being “a more likely candidate to truly succeed Benioff at some point in the future,” had merit, said Futurum Research analyst Dan Newman.
During the pandemic, he also spearheaded Salesforce’s new Work.com tools to help companies and public agencies reopen their facilities safely and manage vaccine distribution management,
Most recently, Taylor played a key role in the firm’s $27.7 billion deal to buy workplace chat app Slack, announced in December, which cemented his position as Benioff’s most powerful C-suite executive.
How Taylor is guiding Salesforce’s future
Since Taylor joined Salesforce, the firm has been building a platform to give clients a “360 degree” view of their customers across sales, service, marketing, commerce, and other touchpoints to make them feel like they’re interacting with the same brand no matter what their needs are.
Taylor has been key to building that strategy:
“Across our portfolio — across sales, customer service, marketing, e-commerce — we’ve really tried to work on digital technologies that are relevant in an era where a huge percentage of your customer and employee interactions are digital,” Taylor told Insider in a July 2020 interview.
The Slack deal, which is slated to close mid-year, represents the biggest display of Taylor’s influence yet. Slack CEO Stewart Butterfield and Taylor are industry peers, both having founded productivity startups in the last decade, and their relationship laid the foundation for Salesforce buying the company.
While Benioff has typically spearheaded Salesforce’s past acquisitions like MuleSoft and Tableau, he didn’t have as much day-to-day involvement with the Slack deal and let Taylor lead the way, a source familiar with the process told Business Insider.
With Slack, Salesforce is rewriting its product roadmap, long-term plans for success, and growth strategy, with the company’s tools ultimately becoming the way users interact with all of Salesforce’s products for sales, service, marketing, commerce, data visualization, and more.
Taylor’s ability to lead that integration will be a reflection of his leadership thus far, said Valoir’s Wettemann.
It’s also telling, Wettemann said, that Taylor has started to express more “thought-leadership,” through speaking at company events, writing on corporate blogs, and posting on social media about topics like the future of work. That’s a natural evolution for someone who could take the CEO role eventually, she said.
For the company’s virtual annual kickoff event in February, Taylor traveled with Benioff to Singapore, and spent the first few minutes of his presentation to customers and partners talking about how companies want to get back to growth in an “all digital, work from anywhere world.”
“How do we get back to growth in cloud 3.0?” Taylor said during his presentation. “And that’s really our vision for this customer 360 platform. This is the operating system for this all digital, work from anywhere world.”
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