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Salesforce loses 3 CEOs in a week: “Don’t think you’ll get out of this alive”

Three Salesforce CEOs have quit in a week. Slack founder and CEO Stewart Butterfield has followed Tableau CEO Mark Nelson and Salesforce co-CEO Bret Taylor out of the door, as shares at the software firm slid.

Salesforce announced the abrupt departure of co-CEO Bret Taylor on November 30. Tableau CEO Mark Nelson confirmed that he was leaving the company on December 1.  Slack confirmed that CEO Stewart Butterfield was being replaced as Chief Executive by Lidiane Jones, a former Salesforce EVP and GM on December 5.

Salesforce bought data visualisation company Tableau for more than $15 billion in 2019, its largest acquisition at the time, before completing a $27.7 billion acquisition of loss-making collaboration platform Slack in 2021.

Bret Taylor had been with Salesforce since 2016. Marc Benioff, Salesforce’s founder and now sole CEO told investors: “This is just really hard for me, and I'm extremely sad to see him go. I know he has created two great companies. I know he wants to go create a third great company. And you can't keep a wild tiger in a cage.”

Benioff added: “Don't think that you're going to somehow get out of this alive because you're not.”

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Taylor said on a November 30 earnings call: “The past few years have been tumultuous for all of us, and I've recently been reflecting what's been truly important to me. And while there is absolutely no easy time for a transition like this, I really do feel that now is the right time for me to return to my entrepreneurial roots, particularly given the technology landscape and the economy going through such tectonic shifts.”

The Wall Street Journal reports that tensions between Benioff and Taylor had mounted recently, including over whether Taylor was "spending too much time in a new role as Twitter Inc's chairman, too much time with other CEOs and customers and not enough time on Salesforce product and engineering."

The departures come as Salesforce has put pressure on its staff to return to offices.

CEO Benioff took over 700 words to answer a question on remote work on a recent earnings call, saying: “Today, we are the factory workers. The work that we're doing is required here in our factory…”

Salesforce President and COO Brian Millham added: “I really believe that being together drives more learning, better collaboration, better networking… I've asked my team recently to spend more time in the office.”

The trio of CEO departures come after a challenging year for Salesforce, which has seen net income plummet nearly 80% so far this year (from $1.4 billion in the first nine months of 2021, to $306 million in 2022.)

That figure has been hugely affected by a strong dollar, which Salesforce does not appear to have hedged against meaningfully. As now-sole CEO Marc Benioff put it on a late November earnings call, foreign exchange fluctuations were “our biggest surprise of the year. In the quarter, we saw $300 million year-over-year headwinds to revenue, and we've expected a total of $900 million for the full year. Now that is something we just could not have expected a year ago, and that is when we initiated our revenue guidance…”

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