The Meaning Behind Salesforce’s Executive Moves

With the promotion of Salesforce.com’s Keith Block to chief operating officer, announced Tuesday, the company gains a potential successor to CEO Marc Benioff who can take on more of the Salesforce founder’s responsibilities with customers and within the company.

Salesforce’s previous chief operating officer, George Hu, was more of a behind-the-scenes operator than Mr. Block. Mr. Hu rarely appeared in public and focused mostly on overseeing internal departments like human resources, legal and facilities without many product or sales responsibilities. (Mr. Hu left Salesforce to found a startup called Peer.) Mr. Block, by contrast, regularly jets off to meet with Salesforce’s biggest customers and drove the overhaul of its partner program.

For that reason, Mr. Block presents a much more conventional choice of COO, especially considering he already holds the title of president, which often accompanies the operating title. He joined in 2013 after rising through the ranks at Oracle Corp. over two decades to become a top sales executive. Mr. Block’s new role is likely to be akin to Google’s Sundar Pichai or Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg—the founding CEO’s close confidant who oversees day-to-day affairs so the founder can focus on the bigger picture and longer term.

Salesforce declined to comment.