Wealth

Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff started as a 19-year-old Apple intern — here’s why he was hired and what he learned

Years before co-founding Salesforce, CEO Marc Benioff started his career like a lot of people do – as an intern. 

Benioff’s first step on the corporate ladder was far from typical. His Apple internship placed him in close proximity to tech icon and company co-founder Steve Jobs. And the future CEO’s “first boss” was Guy Kawasaki, an early software evangelist in Apple’s Macintosh division. It was Kawasaki who got Benioff in the door at Apple – after a little persistence from the 19-year-old.

In a recent episode of the Remarkable People podcast, Kawasaki interviewed his former intern on what he learned working at Apple and how the experience helped him launch his own business.

The teenaged Benioff was already an entrepreneur when he first got in touch with Kawasaki. He’d founded a small company that made computer games, called Liberty Software, when he was just 15 years old and then used the money he made from games to help pay for his tuition at the University of Southern California.

But Benioff says his ultimate dream at the time was to work for Apple, so he cold-called Kawasaki multiple times with questions for the software pioneer. Benioff asked Kawasaki about everything from how to get his hands on the latest Macintosh software, to how to make writing software more accessible to others.

Kawasaki was impressed by the teenager’s gumption and asked if he had summer plans. 

“I told him I was planning on writing software to put myself through college,'” Benioff wrote in a 2014 CNET article. “That’s when Guy changed my life forever by asking, ‘Why don’t you spend the summer of 1984 at Apple?'”

Kawasaki hired Benioff to write 70 coding language programs. While there, Benioff says he not only learned more about computer programming, but he also got an idea of how to run a successful tech business. 

“I learned, while being at Apple, that a technology company, a great one, is filled with amazing energy, vitality and a sense of urgency,” Benioff said on the podcast. “And at the same time, there was a great culture [at Apple]. Steve Jobs had those Odwalla juices for everyone and shiatsu masseurs were going up and down the hallways, keeping programmers limber.”

Today, Benioff runs a company that is valued at $192 billion and brought in $21.3 billion in 2021 revenue. But culture is still something Salesforce prides itself on, he says. In 2021, the company ranked second on Fortune’s 100 Best Companies to Work For list. 

Kawasaki said on the podcast that he always knew Benioff would be successful. He also learned over time how much the Salesforce CEO values his friendships and lends a hand to the people who helped get him where he is today.

“Whenever I tell stories about you, the story I tell is that 36 years after I did you a favor, you did me a favor,” Kawasaki told Benioff on the podcast, referring to the fact that Benioff extended a Salesforce interview to Kawasaki’s son. “That has always stuck with me – that you are a person who remembers your friends and that is not true of everyone.”

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