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A tale of (maybe) two CEO transitions

Marc Benioff, left and Joe Tucci.Marc Benioff, left and Joe Tucci.
Marc Benioff, left and Joe Tucci.Photographs by Getty Images

What’s next for Marc Benioff and Joe Tucci?

This week, everyone’s been wondering about Salesforce (CRM) CEO Marc Benioff’s future given reports of a possible acquisition of his company by Microsoft, Oracle or perhaps another company. But the speculation around EMC(EMC) Chief Joe Tucci’s future is no less interesting.

As has been reported ad nauseum this week, Salesforce, the company Benioff co-founded 26 years ago, may or may not be sold in what would be a very big deal—worth an estimated $48 billion or $51 billion or so. No one expects that, if an acquisition happens, Benioff will end up being someone else’s number two guy. Perhaps, if Oracle(ORCL) is the purchaser, Oracle co-founder Larry Ellison will name Benioff, once a top lieutenant and a long-time frenemy, CEO. (If that happens, cue an exploding Mark Hurd). Or, maybe Benioff will leave the business to manage his foundation full-time. That would make sense given his philanthropic bent.

Meanwhile, on the East Coast, 67-year-old Tucci has announced and renounced retirement plans a couple of times. In January he told shareholders he’ll stay as long as the board wants him.

Tucci has been CEO of the storage giant since 2001, chairman since 2006, and oversaw a wide-ranging diversification-by-acquisition push into virtualization (VMware) security (RSA), content management (Documentum and others) and yes, still more storage and related technologies (Data Domain, Isilon, XtremIO, Likewise, ScaleIO etc.).

EMC also partnered with VMware (VMW) and Cisco (CSCO) to create VCE, a maker of data center hardware that combines storage and computing in one box. EMC has since taken on more of Cisco’s stake.

He assembled the “EMC federation” of VMware, VCE, RSA and Pivotal, all companies partly owned by EMC. In his view, the federation can expedite deployment of next-generation technologies in large accounts. But it also may be his undoing.

Activist investment firm Elliott Management doesn’t like the idea of the federation at all, saying that an independent VMware is more valuable than a VMware that is partially owned by EMC. And Elliott put some $1 billion where its mouth was, investing in EMC.

In January Elliott got two seats on the EMC board and agreed to a standstill agreement. For now. But no one thinks that’s going to last forever.

At any rate, after Tucci, who has not designated a successor, spoke this week at EMC World, he shared the stage with a pretty impressive-looking Mr. Spock impersonator. Said one audience member after their “live long and prosper” sign off: “Maybe it’s just me, but that sounded an awful lot like a goodbye.”

Given that Cisco CEO John Chambers announced he is stepping down after 20 years at the helm, maybe it’s time for the old guard to let go.

Or not.

For more about CEO transitions, watch this Fortune video: