SAN FRANCISCO — Larry Ellison didn't show up at Dreamforce 2009 to return the guest appearance Marc Benioff made at Oracle Open World, but Salesforce.com didn't pass on a chance to end its biggest event of the year with a bang. General Colin Powell took the stage to conclude the event's final full day with his address on "Leadership in the New Era of Collaboration."
Salesforce.com Chief Executive Officer Marc Benioff has had a relationship with Powell dating back to when he was at Oracle, running the organization's Promise program, a $100 million foundation established in 1998 to put computers in disadvantaged schools. Benioff retold the story to highlight Oracle's — or as he referred to it, "[The company] I used to work for a company about 20 miles from here, I don't remember the name, but I think it starts with an O" — lack of dedication to the philanthropic mission.
With the exception of now Salesforce.com senior vice president and Chief Trust Officer Jim Cavalieri and former vice president of IT Integration Mitch Wallace, both Oracle employees at the time, no one from the company showed up. So Benioff made a call to Powell; and to remedy the situation, Powell sent in the United States Marines. "All the computers got installed that day," Benioff said.
"In business school, I learned that the business of business was business!" Benioff said emphatically to the audience. "We're supposed to make a profit!" It was after a leadership conference in Washington, D.C., where Powell, too, was in attendance, that he realized that businesses have the assets, relationships, and power to enact change. "Those who are given the most," he said, "have the most obligation to give back."
Powell supported Salesforce.com Foundation when it launched back in 1999, and in honor of the former Secretary of State, the company donated $2 million to the University of California San Francisco's Medical Center for its new children's hospital at Mission Bay. Taking the stage, Powell returned the compliments, applauding Benioff and Salesoforce.com for their contribution. "It's great to be at Dreamforce," he said laughingly, "but to be honest, at this stage of my life, my career, it's a great pleasure to be anywhere," pointing out Time Magazine's feature on notable men and women who have aged gracefully.
For Powell, post-retirement has yet to be any less busy as he continues to actively promote youth education in the United States. Certain regions of the U.S., he said, actually use the reading skill levels of their third grade students as a predictive metric for how many jail cells they will need in 15 years — a situation he calls a disgrace. He credited the achievements of companies like Salesforce.com and Google as companies that have led the mission to "provide a product or service to make the world a better place" through "brainware, hardware, and software,"
Where their success comes from, he said, is through effective leadership. "Leaders have to believe. Leaders have to be infectious," Powell said. "Motivator's good word, but I want people working for me to be inspired." Employees want to work for a company that has a clear purpose and a leader who can establish a culture that enables its people to deliver on that purpose. Whether it's through solutions like Salesforce.com, he said, companies have to give their employees the tools they need to get the job done. More important, Powell stressed that employees should never be regarded as mere servers. "These are human beings entrusted in your care," he said, and as such should be treated with respect and appreciation.
The talk then expanded in scope, extending beyond the individual organization to give Americans as a whole a reminder of their purpose in the world. "The most powerful political force in the world today is wealth creation and economic development," he said, a movement for which he says the U.S. is still the leader. "We touch every nation," he said, but as such, Americans have to restore their "belief in democracy, the human spirit, and freedom," he said. "It's our solemn obligation to our citizens and citizen of world to make world a better place."
Powell recalled an instance when he himself was subjected to the strict examinations of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). "The security guard did the job as thorough as humanly possible," he said, adding still that the country is far safer now than it was pre-September 11.
However, concerns about American TSA policies became very real when the nation saw a decline in foreign students applying to its institutions and fewer patients sought American medical aid. "We were trying too hard," he said, "We were communicating that we don't want [them] here, to go somewhere else." But the world has flattened, intellectual capital transcends borders, and America can't isolate itself from the wealth of knowledge that exists in other nations. "Who we are as people is the greatest defense against terrorism," he said. "[Terrorists] can knock down a building, we'll mourn and rebuild. We can't let them change who we are as warm, compassionate, welcoming people. We must not. We can only do that to ourselves."
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