- Salesforce COO Bret Taylor has risen rapidly through the ranks since joining the company four years ago and has helped guide Salesforce through a transformational year.
- Salesforce has seen executive upheaval in 2020 and, like other companies, had to adapt quickly to remote work. Then, it bought Slack in a $27.7 billion deal spearheaded by Taylor.
- Taylor is also the product visionary behind Salesforce’s goal to give its clients a “360 degree” view of their own customers, which is suddenly more important than ever in this new “all-digital, work-anywhere economy.”
- Because of his work, Business Insider named Taylor to our annual list of the 10 leaders transforming enterprise tech.
- Visit Business Insider’s Transforming Business homepage for more stories.
Salesforce chief operating officer Bret Taylor played a key role in the firm’s $27.7 billion deal to buy Slack, putting the exec in the spotlight near the end of a tumultuous year in which he’s leaned on his experience and expertise to help guide the firm.
Taylor acted as the main Lisson to Slack CEO Stewart Butterfield, and Salesforce CEO Benioff publicly praised him on an analyst call following the announcement:
“I couldn’t be more excited about what Bret and Stewart put together,” he said.
Taylor has risen rapidly through the ranks at Salesforce since he joined the company four years ago via the acquisition of his collaboration tool Quip and is widely believed to be the next in line to Benioff thanks to his prominence and vision within the company.
For example, he leaned on his experience as an entrepreneur who built a collaboration tool to extol the benefits Salesforce could gain from Slack.
“Slack is really one of the few companies in the history of software that set out to change the way people work and actually succeeded,” he said at the company’s annual investor day. “We truly believe this is the next generation of the way companies work together.”
His role at Salesforce this year earned him a spot on Business Insider’s annual list of the 10 leaders transforming enterprise tech.
Salesforce went through executive upheaval at the beginning of the year, and then needed to shift gears as the coronavirus pandemic began raging through the world.
“Every single industry overnight went digital,” Taylor told Business Insider in a July interview. As the needs of Salesforce’s customers adjusted, so did the company.
Here’s how Taylor is leading the firm as it adjusts to what he describes as an “all-digital, work-anywhere economy”:
Rising through the ranks at Salesforce
From the moment Taylor started working at Salesforce, he was reporting directly to Benioff, who had said it was his “dream to work more closely” with the young “rising star.”
A year later, he made the leap to the C-Suite, becoming president and chief product officer – a role he held until December 2019 when he became the company’s chief operating officer. He now oversees global product vision, engineering, security, marketing, and communications, taking on a greater leadership role with more influence over the future of Salesforce.
Taylor’s background is much more product-focused, rather than sales focused like Keith Block or Benioff. Before co-founding Quip, Taylor was Facebook’s chief technology officer. He gets credit for creating its “Like” button an helped lead the company through its IPO in 2012. Before that, he was at Google, where he helped found Google Maps.
“What we see with Brett is, bringing that deep product knowledge, the understanding of how dev teams work,” said Valoir analyst Rebecca Wettemann.
Quip’s office suite tools are now embedded directly into Salesforce tools like Sales and Service Cloud. Earlier this year Salesforce also took the infrastructure and technology it acquired from Quip and added built in chat features to its customer relationship management tools.
How Salesforce is pursuing its product vision during a pandemic
Since Taylor joined Salesforce, the firm has been building its platform with the goal of offering clients a “360 degree” view of their customers across sales, service, marketing, commerce, and other customer touchpoints. The goal is to make the customers of Salesforce’s clients feel like they’re interacting with the same brand or company no matter what their needs are.
That got even more difficult as the entire customer experience changed.
“Across our portfolio – across sales, customer service, marketing, e-commerce – we’ve really tried to work on digital technologies that are relevant in an era where a huge percentage of your customer and employee interactions are digital,” Taylor said in July.
Part of that 360-degree approach is “speaking the language of our customers,” which has increased Salesforce’s focus on building industry specific tools, like its Health Cloud and Financial Services Cloud.
Taylor is also behind Salesforce’s new Work.com tools to help companies and public agencies reopen their facilities safely. Thirty-five state and federal agencies are now using Salesforce’s tools for contract tracing, as are countries including Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom. The pandemic has shown businesses that it needs software to help it deal with all types of crises, and Salesforce wants to be the one to provide those important tools.
The tools were developed because Salesforce executives asked, “How can we have a culture of action to help every community and every business reopen safely?” Taylor said. “But behind that is actually a robust platform that really will endure.”
It’s relied on partnerships with companies like Amazon, Zoom, and Workday for this initiative.
The Slack deal is also a big part of that goal, Taylor said at the company’s investor day, because “Slack amplifies the value proposition of this entire platform.”
Over the last six months, under Taylor’s leadership, Salesforce has displayed “much faster development and time to market,” according to Valoir’s Wettemann.
Embracing remote work across the company, customers, and products
Embracing distributed and remote work didn’t come naturally to Salesforce, but it has managed to adapt, Taylor said. “We’re famous for having towers in every major city in the world,” he said in July. “We weren’t exactly a company that was oriented towards distributed work, and now we’ve proven to ourselves we can do it.”
A few months later in November, Taylor told Business Insider that Salesforce execs are now asking themselves what practices they want to continue doing even after the pandemic ends.
“Our answer is likely a hybrid model that optimizes for distributed and in-office work,” he said. “It’s an exciting opportunity because it opens up recruiting in a big way and gives employees a lot more flexibility if we do it right.”
On the company’s earnings call earlier this month, the company said it plans to scale back its multi-million square foot office footprint and expects to write down between $80 million and $100 million for offices it will offer for sublease during its fiscal fourth quarter.
To influence the company’s thinking and product direction, Taylor has also spent time this talking to executives who are “trailblazers” of distributed work. That’s long been part of Salesforce’s culture: Rather than just selling software, it aims to act as a partner and advisor to its customers as they undertake massive digital change, which allows it to learn from them in turn.
“I think we’re unique in technology because we really lead with our values,” Taylor said, “and we really try to sell to not just technology leaders, but to business leaders, who aren’t necessarily looking at technology for technology’s sake, but looking at it to achieve an end.”