I spent the day yesterday at Dreamforce, Salesforce’s annual conference in San Francisco that attracts more than 170,000 attendees and is part sales pitch, part circus, and part tent revival. Its eclectic program includes some 2,700 sessions, many focusing on the use of Salesforce software, but others featuring Hawaiian dancers, Buddhist monks, and celebrities ranging from Ashton Kutcher to Will.i.am. When I went to bed last night, the party was still raging outside my hotel window.
The kickoff to the weeklong event was CEO Marc Benioff’s two-hour “keynote,” during which he wandered through the audience at the Moscone Center Oprah-style, spreading his unique tech message. And here’s what I found most remarkable: during the first hour of that presentation, he barely mentioned Salesforce products at all. Instead, he propounded his view that the “business of business is to make the world a better place.”
We are in the midst of a fourth industrial revolution, he told the rapt crowd, and “revolutions never change the world gently.” It was up to the people filling the Moscone Center to make sure that technology unites us rather than divides us, makes us more connected rather than less connected, and reduces inequality rather than increasing it. He also touted Salesforce’s “1-1-1” business model, in which it devotes one percent of its equity, one percent of its products and one percent of its employees’ time to charity.
Is this any way to sell software? Well, it seems to work for Salesforce, which will have revenues of over $10 billion this year, and has earned the top spot on Fortune’s new Future 50 list. (You can read Adam Lashinsky’s excellent profile of the company here.). While Benioff clearly marks the extreme of the spectrum, an increasing number of CEOs are concluding that they can motivate their employees, build loyalty among their customers, and perhaps even play a small role in restoring public trust in business, by making a strong public commitment to doing good in the world. Benioff says his 1-1-1 plan has been adopted by more than 3,000 other companies. That can’t be a bad thing.
More news below.
• Disney Went Fox Hunting
Walt Disney held (unsuccessful) talks to buy most of 21st Century Fox, according to CNBC. The disclosure effectively put Fox in play, pushing its stock up 7%, while Disney’s rose 1.7%, on market perceptions that the company is serious about beefing up content for its planned streaming services and broadening its existing distribution as it prepares to go head-to-head with Netflix and other disruptors. Fox would have kept control of its sports and news coverage, as antitrust concerns would have blocked a full-on merger.
• Apple Tries on a Loose Jersey
Apple’s tax practices came in for fresh and unwelcome scrutiny after the Paradise Papers leak revealed it had shifted its tax-optimizing holding companies from Ireland to the U.K. dependency of Jersey. Around 94% of Apple’s $252 billion cash pile is held offshore, waiting for the day when the company can repatriate it at a favorable rate.
• Saudi Accuses Iran of “Act of War”
It may not be time yet to don the hard hats, but if you live in the Persian Gulf you might want to remind yourself where you keep yours. Saudi Arabia accused Iran of “an act of war” in supplying long-range missiles to Houthi rebels in Yemen, one of which was intercepted on its way to strike Riyadh’s King Khaled airport at the weekend. It’s a sharp escalation of rhetoric between the region’s two biggest powers, as well as a useful distraction from what amounts to Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman’s gamble on consolidating power. President Trump offered fulsome support for ‘MbS’s actions on Monday via Twitter.
• The Art of the Non-Deal
The lawyer who met with Donald Trump Jr. during last year’s election campaign told Bloomberg Trump Jr. implicitly offered a direct quid pro quo: dirt on Hillary Clinton in return for a change to the so-called “Magnitsky Law” that imposes sanctions on various Russian officials tied to a particularly squalid case of abuse of power in Russia. However, she had no dirt that would stick. Elsewhere, it emerged that Carter Page, an unpaid advisor to the Trump campaign, had changed his story about not meeting Russian government officials while in Moscow in 2016, but he continued to insist he hadn’t talked turkey with them.
Around the Water Cooler
• Valeant’s Sprouting Ambition Comes Full Circle
Valeant, which paid $1 billion for Sprout, the company behind the ‘Female Viagra’ pill Addyi, gave the company back to its original founders, along with a $25 million loan to cover up their startup expenses. Valeant will get 6% of future Addyi sales from 2019. Addyi had failed to generate much interest from consumers, leading Sprout’s former shareholders to accuse Valeant of failing to market it as promised. As an epilog to the Canadian company’s disastrous spending-spree, it’s hard to think of a more fitting one. Still, Sprout still has to prove it can be a success.
• Google and Salesforce Become Cloud BFFs
Google and Salesforce signed a deal to make their respective services work better with each other. Customers of Google’s G Suite-branded business software will be able to more easily use Salesforce’s sales analytics tools with Google’s business services like its online word processing software and spreadsheets. It will also let companies move customer data stored in Salesforce into Google’s data crunching service for marketers, Google Analytics.
• AMD and Intel Hold a Love-In Too
The Broadcom-Qualcomm deal elicited a quick response around a sector that still has plenty of consolidation potential. Advanced Micro Devices and Intel unveiled a partnership that will integrate AMD’s semi-custom graphics chip into Intel’s new multi-chip processor package for personal computing. The target of this cooperation is, however, less Broadcom than Nvidia.
• Trouble Over Bridgewater
The Wall Street Journal reported that Bridgewater had paid a $1 million settlement to a woman who it says “was pushed out” after a consensual relationship with Greg Jensen, for many years seen as heir apparent to founder and CEO Ray Dalio. It also reported further allegations of sexual harassment against Jensen. Both incidents date back to 2013. Jensen called the reporting “salacious and inaccurate.”
WSJ, subscription required
Summaries by Geoffrey Smith; firstname.lastname@example.org