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Salesforce co-CEO Bret Taylor resigns with cryptic parting message

The departure of the executive mirrors the actions taken by his predecessor, who only was in the role for 18 months before leaving as well

The co-CEO at Salesforce, Bret Taylor, has resigned from the joint leadership position just a year after stepping into it.

Taylor's last day at Salesforce will be on 31 January 2023, the company said, and he'll step down from both his co-CEO role as well as his vice chair position. Current chair and co-CEO Marc Benioff will once again assume the role of sole CEO after Taylor departs.

“I am grateful for six fantastic years at Salesforce,” said Taylor. “Marc was my mentor well before I joined Salesforce and the opportunity to partner with him to lead the most important software company in the world is career-defining.

"After a lot of reflection, I've decided to return to my entrepreneurial roots. Salesforce has never been more relevant to customers, and with its best-in-class management team and the company executing on all cylinders, now is the right time for me to step away.”

The news was first announced on Salesforce's quarterly earnings call on Wednesday. The company's share price fell by more than 5% after Taylor's departure was confirmed, despite exceeding financial expectations.

Taylor worked at Salesforce for more than six years, previously serving as chief operating officer (COO) and chief product officer. He joined the company in August 2016 when Salesforce purchased Quip, a collaborative productivity software suite, where he worked as co-founder and CEO. 

Before Salesforce, Taylor also worked as chief technology officer (CTO) at Facebook, where he was credited with the invention of the 'Like' button. He started his career at Google, where he co-created Google Maps, and was the chair at Twitter’s board of directors before he was ousted by Elon Musk following the billionaire’s acquisition of the company.

It’s unclear as to what Taylor will do now. Salesforce had originally tapped Taylor for co-CEO to replace former Oracle executive Keith Block, who stepped away from his role just before the pandemic began.

Block’s resignation was also a surprise at the time - the fast riser in the company had only been in his role as co-CEO for 18 months before deciding to leave. Similarly, the company also mysteriously didn’t give a reason for his departure.

“It’s bittersweet that Bret has decided to step down as my co-CEO,” said Benioff. “He made his mark on Salesforce as an incredible technologist, leader and friend to us all.

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"Bret founded two incredible companies so it’s understandable why he wants to return to his entrepreneurial roots. I’m excited to see his next chapter unfold, as I’ll always be his biggest champion and he’ll always be part of the Salesforce 'Ohana'.”

Although it's evident that Benioff was surprised by the resignation which has set back the company's succession plan, it has very strong business operations and a seasoned executive team, Jason Wong, distinguished VP analyst at Gartner, said to IT Pro. The company also appointed Brian Millham as president and COO in August 2022, which Wong said will drive continuity, especially when it comes to sales.

"Bret has been very influential in the modernisation and evolution of Salesforce products and platform, previously as Chief Product Officer and then co-CEO," said Wong. "He oversaw the rollout of Hyperforce, their new platform substrate, and most recently Salesforce Genie, their new customer data cloud.

"His biggest legacy will likely be Slack, since he championed the acquisition of this company and painted the vision of a new user experience around that platform."

Wong said the Slack business has been doing better than Salesforce expected, and said it was a surprise that Taylor doesn't remain at the organisation to see it meet its prediction of Slack becoming a multi-billion dollar business unit.

"However, Bret is an engineer and entrepreneur at heart and this tech downturn presents great opportunities to pursue new grand ideas of his own," said Wong.

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