Q&A with Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff and fast-rising COO Brian Millham

Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff
Photo by Kimberly White/Getty Images for Fortune

  • Benioff just shook up Salesforce̵[ads1]7;s leadership, bringing several former executives back to the company.
  • The changes shifted more responsibility to president and COO Brian Millham.
  • Benioff and Millham spoke with Insider editor-in-chief Nich Carlson.

Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff just announced a shakeup that re-staffs his brain trust with an armful of boomerang executives.

The changes shift more responsibility to president and COO Brian Millham, and go some way toward addressing investors’ concerns about succession — should Benioff decide to take over as CEO in the future.

Salesforce has gone through a challenging 18-month period. Activist investors circled. The company cut thousands of jobs. Some managers quit. Recently, results have improved, with quarterly revenue heading toward Salesforce’s 30% margin target.

Benioff and Millham sat down with Insider editor-in-chief Nich Carlson to discuss the changes. What follows is a transcript of the conversation. It has been edited for length and clarity.

Marc Benioff: We have a phenomenal situation with Brian, who has been with Salesforce now for 24 years. Hired number 13. Lucky number 13. Brian was appointed CEO last August. And he’s just had a phenomenal run at Salesforce, and this is an incredible new opportunity for him where he’s not just taking on some of the traditional functions of sales and service. He already leads more than 50% of our staff, but now he takes on markup, he takes on employee success, human resources as well as business technology which is our CIO and transformation function. So it’s really a broad expansion of his abilities. What percentage of all employees will now work for you?

Brian Millham: Closer to 70%.

Nick Carlson: An obvious question: Why not name him co-CEO right now?

Benioff: Well, we have to walk before we can run here. Brian is amazing and President and CEO, my most loyal partner in running the business for two and a half decades, and I couldn’t be more excited to have him in this new capacity.

Nick Carlson: Why are you excited to take on this role?

Millham: I am thrilled to be in this role. Very, very excited to not only take advantage of the huge opportunity we have in front of us from a product perspective, the innovation coming out of our teams on the product development side is really incredible. Our customers are going to love what we deliver.

But I’m also really excited about our Ohana, our culture, to be more involved in the day-to-day operations of our human resources organization, what we call employee success to really focus on our employees. We have an incredible culture here. Marc said on our last earnings call that’s our superpower at Salesforce.

We have great leadership on the IT side of the organization as well, which we call business technology, and are doing some incredible things with our own technology to drive efficiency, scale and our organization. And of course I am delighted that the marketing organization is also coming under us.

Carlson: Brian, given the past few months of layoffs, do you think there is any repair work that needs to be done? What do you mean by getting more involved with the people?

Millham: I think we need to focus on our culture. We obviously went through a difficult time, but I also think we are seeing a rebirth in many ways in our culture. So people are very, very excited about the way we delivered the numbers in Q4 and in our first quarter. The results are there.

We see many of our former employees wanting to come back to Salesforce, incredible boomerangers back to the company. Ariel Kelman has just been announced as our CMO and Miguel Milano is returning as our Chief Revenue Officer and Kendall Collins is returning as our Chief of Staff. So many people want to be back in this business and are inspired by what we do.

Benioff: The key part is that these leaders always felt like they were part of Salesforce, and now they’ve gone through what we like to call Salesforce (laughs) “external training.” They never left Ohana. And now we’ve got them back. The good thing is that when people come back, they can start almost immediately because they hit the ground running. It’s really a metaphor for a kind of rebirth of Salesforce in this new way and new structure.

Carlson: So, you’ve had two other CEOs before, and both quit. What’s different this time?

Benioff: Well, I think Brian and my marriage is pretty much proven. Over two and a half decades, I don’t think there has been a more successful business partnership over such a long period of time than Brian and I have had.

Carlson: Brian, what are you going to do differently than others before you?

Millham: I’ve been around Marc for 24 years now, and I’ve also been around this culture and this company, and I know how we operate. I know what the expectations are for the role. I have lived it every day for 24 years. So I’m coming in with my eyes wide open to do this job, and I feel like I understand enough about the job and the business to be sure that this marriage is going to work. So I feel very comfortable with our future and very excited to embark on it.

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