Elon Musk has drastically changed the social-media company by slashing costs

Marc Benioff says every CEO in Silicon Valley has asked themselves if they ‘need to unleash their own Elon’

Marc Benioff (left) and Elon Musk (right) Business Insider; Kimberly White/Getty Images for Fortune; Stephan Savoia/AP Images/Insider

Since taking over Twitter late last year, Elon Musk has drastically changed the social-media company by slashing costs, chopping headcount, and closing offices.

Tech industry CEOs and investors are watching to see how it all pans out — including Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff.

“Every CEO in Silicon Valley has looked at what Elon Musk has done and has asked themselves, ‘Do they need to unleash their own Elon within them?'” Benioff told Insider during an interview on Thursday.

“That is an existential question that if you are any kind of executive in the company,” Benioff added. “You have to look at him and say, ‘Wow, it’s a very unorthodox management style,’ but, as I’ve said, you can’t underestimate what he’s done.”

Salesforce has embarked on its own cost-cutting plan as activist investors circle the company. It’s cutting 10% of its workforce, and a draft of a business plan viewed by Insider states that Salesforce wants to lift profit margins over 30% by capping headcount growth, reducing general and administrative expenses, sales and marketing spending, and cutting back on real estate.

In the draft plan, Salesforce directs employees to “run lean and mean” and “spend like it’s yours,” and to not let considerations like company culture get in the way, decrying obstacles like policies that favor culture rather than efficiency or “using culture as an excuse,” for not acting on changes, Insider wrote.

Salesforce reported strong quarterly results on Wednesday, announced a big new share buyback, and signaled that it would back off big acquisitions for the time being. The report showed that Benioff’s new efficiency drive is showing signs of success.

‘I had no choice but to step in’

After co-CEO Bret Taylor left Salesforce in late November, Benioff said he got more involved in the company’s operations.

“I had no choice but to step in and to guide the company’s performance,” Benioff told Insider. “And that’s the results that you’re seeing here today with these numbers.”

Benioff still hasn’t satisfied Elliott Management, one of the activist investors that have built a large stake in Salesforce in recent months. Elliott said on Wednesday that the company needs a “sustainable leadership plan.”

Since he co-founded Salesforce in 1999, Benioff has led with an emphasis on growth for most of that time, and some insiders are concerned that he’s not up for the task of cost-cutting.

In his interview with Insider, though, Benioff said he’s been through similar tough periods, citing changes Salesforce had to make during the Great Recession of 2008 and 2009.

“Now we’re having to make slight adjustments,” he said. “And that doesn’t mean that our culture changes, it just means that we have to operate a business. That business is business, but business can be the greatest platform for change.”

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