Last November, Salesforce co-CEO Bret Taylor shocked the business world when he resigned from his position. At the time, Taylor was widely regarded as the successor to Salesforce founder and CEO Marc Benioff. There was much speculation about what really happened, and the fact that the departure came during a time of intense uncertainty at the cloud giant (and at a time when its stock price was cratering) added to the intrigue.
Now, new information from Business Insider’s recent profile of Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff revealed more details about the departure of co-CEO Taylor last November.
A former executive told Insider that Taylor made an "abrupt" play to become Salesforce's sole CEO and "it was a showdown," where Benioff apparently said that Taylor wasn't ready. Taylor resigned on November 30, one year after taking the job as co-CEO.
"Nobody expected that, including me. It was a disappointment. That's all there is to it. And then based on that, we had to pivot," Benioff said in an interview.
In 2016, Salesforce acquired Quip, a productivity software startup founded by Taylor, for $750 million. In 2019, Taylor was appointed Salesforce president and chief operating officer, and in November 2021 he was promoted to co-CEO, when Salesforce's stock was at record levels and the outlook for the company looked rosy.
At the same time, activist investors like Starboard Value were pushing Salesforce to take significant cost-cutting measures, and this didn’t sit well with Taylor. He knew the budget cuts meant massive layoffs, and innovation would suffer.
"You could feel and sense [Taylor’s] frustration level of not being able to change the place," a former Salesforce executive told Insider. "And he was the top dog. If you can't feel like you're changing the place as the top dog, it's gotta be frustrating right?"
But, according to the report, it was when Taylor made moves with an eye toward displacing Benioff as leader of the firm that things seemed to fall apart. One can only speculate about Benioff’s reluctance to relinquish control, as discussions about his succession plan have gone on for years. But apparently, Benioff felt that Taylor wasn’t ready, or, (just as likely) was himself not ready to step down from the massively successful firm he’d built.
Like the old saying goes, “If you come at the king and tell him you’re ready to take his place, you better hope he gives you his permission.”