In Q&A, Benioff riffs on Salesforce Tower meditation rooms, Indy strategy and more

Marc Benioff

On May 20, San Francisco-based tech giant Inc. showcased to the public its newest namesake tower—Salesforce Tower Indianapolis.

It was Salesforce's latest local milestone in a journey that began almost four years when it announced its deal to acquire ExactTarget for $2.5 billion. ExactTarget had about 1,000 local employees at the time. Today, Salesforce officials said, its Indianapolis headcount exceeds 1,600.

Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff was in town for the grand opening, and he spoke with IBJ about the company's plans to train 500 apprentices and hire additional exployees, as well as his vision for having all local employees—now scattered across three buildings—in the tower. The conversation, edited for brevity and clarity, follows:

IBJ: Back in 2014 you told IBJ you wanted a tower in Indianapolis. Now it's here. How does it feel?

BENIOFF: Well, we've never been more excited about Indianapolis, and we've never been more excited about Salesforce. We have our tower here and we now have the ability to fulfill our dream to become not only Indiana's largest tech employer but also to help develop the future of Indiana's workforce with our next-generation apprenticeship program that we plan to pilot right here in Indianapolis.

IBJ: How will that program work?

BENIOFF: We know that the requirements for the workforce of the future are changing dramatically, and rapid advancements in technology—whether it's cloud computing or artificial intelligence—mean that there's going to be a vast retraining of individuals looking for new jobs.

As part of that, we've made a new system that’s available online called Trailhead. And Trailhead is a one-to-one learning system that helps people gain expertise in using our Salesforce platform. And we have hundreds of thousands of people on that system today. It's a very exciting online capability, and we are going to do that in a physical way with a Trailhead apprenticeship program. We're going to bring people into our company and provide that exact same knowledge that Trailhead provides to them virtually.

IBJ: What prompted this?

BENIOFF: We want to be the key people to provide that Salesforce knowledge to these people who we call Trailblazers. I'll tell you that of the top 10 jobs in the U.S. that are available now in the tech industry, two are Salesforce jobs. One is Salesforce administrator and the other is Salesforce developer. Indeed published that survey, and if you want those high-paying jobs, you need these Salesforce skills. We've taken factory workers and even ministers and we've been able to give them these valuable skills to transform their lives.

This is really important. The world is changing rapidly, especially with respect to technology—everybody realizes that. We don't want anybody to be left behind, so we need to provide both online and in-person training at scale, and we plan to headquarter that right out of Indianapolis.

IBJ: Who are the types of people you plan to target for this and what's your goal? Do you plan to hire them?

BENIOFF: It's across the board, and if you look on the Trailhead website, you'll see the wide variety of people from different industries who have made this decision to learn these skills and how it's impacted their lives. Those are not our employees. Those are users of this technology; they work for customers of this technology. 

IBJ: What are some the features of Salesforce Tower Indianapolis?

BENIOFF: First, you're going to see our Trailhead interior, which kind of has the resemblance of a national park with our green carpets, lightwood fixtures, and probably the most remarkable thing is the tremendous amount of open space and lack of offices. There are very few offices and very few conference rooms.

The second thing, of course, is that the very top floor of the building will be known as the Ohana Floor. We'll use that for collaboration, communication and coordination during the day for our employees to have events, lunches and dinners. But we'll make that top floor available to the community—religious organizations, non-profits, and non-governmental organizations—so they can have catered events or programs on the weekend or when we're not using it. 

In addition to that, every floor in the tower has meditation and mindfulness rooms. We believe it's really important to give our employees the ability to completely disconnect in a world that's always on. And so those mindfulness rooms are very popular in the world where we put them in. Of course, they serve all peoples and all religions.

And on each floor there's a Salesforce lounge, which is very similar to a home-living environment where employees have an opportunity to relax. Maybe they want to read or make themselves some type of food or snack. It's a residential environment with tremendous views made possible by the tower.

IBJ: Did you ever consider building from scratch here?

BENIOFF: We did. In fact, in our original discussions we thought we would have to build from scratch. But, as you know, through a twist of fate we were able to lease the tower for it to take on our namesake.

IBJ: How many towers bear the Salesforce across the globe?

BENIOFF: The big ones are San Francisco, Indianapolis, New York and London. There's also a very large facility in Munich, Germany. There's a large headquarters building in Paris, France. And I think those are the major facilities right now.

IBJ: Is there anything special about the Indianapolis tower?

BENIOFF: The view of Indianapolis.

IBJ: What's your long-term vision for real estate now. I understand employees are in three buildings right now. Do you want everyone in the tower eventually?

BENIOFF: Ideally, everyone is in the tower. Our goal is for everyone to be in one place.

IBJ: Last year, Salesforce said it planned to add 800 jobs in Indianapolis. It had about 1,400 at the time. How's hiring going?

BENIOFF: Hiring here has been great. We still have a lot of openings. We need technical talent. We need the best and brightest, especially in regard to our schools, colleges and universities. And we're also moving people here from other headquarters locations like San Francisco.

IBJ: How much of that relocation activity is actually happening? Is it few and far between or is there a lot interest?

BENIOFF: There is interest. As housing prices increase in places like the San Francisco Bay area, Indianapolis now with the Salesforce Tower provides an attractive opportunity for people in high-price urban areas to move here and have a great lifestyle at a reasonable price.

IBJ: As you may know, there are a whole host of tech firms that have official plans to expand headcount here. Do such plans make it tougher for Salesforce to meet its hiring goals? 

BENIOFF: I actually think it'll be easier because there will be more people spreading the good news about Indianapolis. Yeah, we don't want to be the only ones. That is never a good situation.

IBJ: The ExactTarget acquisition was almost four years ago and it became the foundation for your Marketing Cloud. So what has the acquisition meant for Salesforce?

BENIOFF: Well it's transformed Salesforce from being just a B2B [software] provider to being a B2C provider. And you can see the tremendous growth from when we bought that company to where we are today. Just through that line, it's amazing and it's phenomenal how much we've been able to grow. And it's been a huge catalyst for that growth.

Please enable JavaScript to view this content.

Story Continues Below

Editor's note: You can comment on IBJ stories by signing in to your IBJ account. If you have not registered, please sign up for a free account now. Please note our updated comment policy that will govern how comments are moderated.

{{ articles_remaining }}
Free {{ article_text }} Remaining
{{ articles_remaining }}
Free {{ article_text }} Remaining Article limit resets on
{{ count_down }}