Does billionaire tech entrepreneur Marc Benioff, an outspoken social activist in his corporate base of San Francisco, intend to get involved in the contentious, urgent issue of homelessness in Seattle, his new HQ2?
Over the last two years, the term HQ2 has been freighted with meaning. In Seattle, it’s shorthand for the city’s largest employer, Amazon, deciding to look for other places to grow, for a host of reasons including mounting dissatisfaction with city hall. In cities across North America, it defined a corporate site-selection sweepstakes the likes of which had never been seen before.
None of that context would have been lost on Benioff, founder and CEO of Salesforce, when he said this week that he saw Seattle as HQ2 for his company while announcing its acquisition of Seattle-based Tableau Software in a blockbuster $15.7 billion deal.
It was, perhaps, a silver lining for those lamenting the loss of a local company headquarters, as well as a not-so-subtle poke at the resident technology and commerce giant that 13 months ago threatened to slow its growth in the city to oppose the proposed employee head tax on large businesses to fund housing and homelessness. (Amazon this past week announced $8 million in donations to affordable-housing nonprofits in its two HQs, Seattle and Arlington County, Virginia.)
Benioff came out vocally in support of a business tax in his native San Francisco, where Salesforce is the largest employer, to raise funds for the same purpose. Billboards bearing the Salesforce name urged passage of the measure.
A Salesforce spokesperson said Benioff didn’t have anything to say right now about homelessness in Seattle, but emphasized his focus on it broadly, providing transcripts of several recent speeches and media appearances in which he addressed the topic, and corporate responsibility generally.
Tableau CEO Adam Selipsky said he had not had specific discussions with Benioff about the combined companies’ local philanthropic plans.
“It’s kind of a TBD, but I’ll go out on a limb and guarantee there have got to be cool things that we can do together,” said Selipsky. He pointed to Benioff’s leadership and Tableau’s efforts, including providing its data and analysis tools, as well as grants, to nonprofits focused on the issue in Seattle and beyond, such as Community Solutions.
Selipsky grew up in the Seattle area, left to attend college at Harvard and start his career, and returned 20 years ago as an executive for RealNetworks. Then he spent 11 years at Amazon helping build its most profitable business — Amazon Web Services — before taking over at the data analysis and visualization-software maker Tableau in 2016.
Selipsky said he couldn’t recall whether Benioff had tried out the Seattle HQ2 line on him before sharing it with the world during a conference call announcing the acquisition Monday morning.
“I think that Marc and Salesforce realize what we’ve known for a long time, which is Seattle is one of the best places in the country, and indeed the world, to grow out a significant tech company,” Selipsky said in an interview in his glass-walled office, looking south onto Lake Union and the dozens of Amazon buildings clustered on the far shore.
With more than 3,200 employees between Tableau and Salesforce in the region, Selipsky said, the combined companies have “a sizable and interesting presence in the Seattle area,” which should make it “easier for us to attract the best talent.”
Rather than a local headquarters disappearing, Tableau, as a stand-alone brand with its leadership fully intact, intends to continue to grow its local employment, not shrink, he said. He pointed to a new Kirkland office Tableau opened two weeks ago designed for hundreds of employees.
Executives are still working out the details of how to combine Salesforce, which, as the name indicates, makes cloud-based software to help businesses improve sales and customer service, and Tableau, which for 16 years has been producing software to help people better see and understand data.
“If you look at the technical assets, the resources, the IP inside the two companies, I think there’s going to be a really fun exercise of dumping over the toy chests and seeing all the new toys on the table and deciding what to do with them all,” he said.
Selipsky is also looking forward to leveraging the new parent company’s own very large, global sales force. “I can’t wait for those thousands of sales reps to start raining leads down on to our sales team’s heads,” he said.