Investors sometimes seem to have over-the-top expectations of what activists can achieve in a poorly run company. But the bar is low for them to make an impact at Salesforce. The stock is in the doghouse thanks to weak profit margins, partly a result of costly acquisitions such as the Slack deal, as well as a revolving door of top management. CEO Marc Benioff has been running things since he co-founded the company in 1999, despite periodic stabs at co-CEO arrangements. Nowadays, Benioff works much of the time from Hawaii. And he has some personal distractions, like his ownership of Time magazine. No wonder Elliott Management has jumped in, we learned today, joining Starboard Value and, according to CNBC, Inclusive Capital.
To start with—and this is where you can bet the activists will initially focus—Salesforce could use a more tech-savvy board. The current group includes the CEO of Williams-Sonoma, the former CEO of Hasbro, the former CEO of United Airlines, a former vice president of the European Commission and a smattering of others with different business backgrounds. As for actual tech folks, aside from the two co-founders, there’s YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki, former PeopleSoft CEO Craig Conway and tech veteran Maynard Webb. That’s it, out of a total of 12 members (excluding Bret Taylor, who is leaving as co-CEO and vice chair of the board at the end of this month). And some of the directors, such as Francisco Partners principal Sanford Robertson (who is in his 90s) and Hasbro’s former top executive, have been on the board for 20 years. An infusion of fresh tech talent would help.