Marc Benioff, the CEO and co-founder of Salesforce, just threw a hot potato back to five hungry activist investors. Yahoo Finance’s Allie Garfinkle said that the tech giant beat Wall Street’s earnings estimates and gave surprising good guidance for the full year’s earnings after the market closed on Wednesday.
The company also announced a new $20 billion plan to buy back its own stock and told investors on an earnings call that it had “disbanded” its internal M&A committee, which was an important sign to investors who wanted the company to spend less. Shares went up 16% after business hours, and Salesforce’s ticker page shot to the top of Yahoo Finance’s list of most-visited pages.
“We have hit the hyper-space button,” Benioff told Yahoo Finance, referring to initiatives to move faster and improve profitability. A lot of seemingly good news about earnings goes against the story of activist investors and executive departures that has been going around about Salesforce in recent months.
Bret Taylor, who was co-CEO of Salesforce, is no longer co-CEO. Instead, the serial entrepreneur told Yahoo Finance that Taylor is going to start an A.I. company. Stewart Butterfield is the founder of Slack. He stayed with the company after it was bought by Salesforce, but he is no longer with Salesforce, which is now the parent company.
The company is also facing pressure from Elliott Management, Starboard Value, Inclusive Capital, ValueAct, and Third Point, five sharks in the field of activist money management. According to experts who spoke with Yahoo Finance, this conflict between activists and public companies is unprecedented. Yahoo Finance has been informed by its sources that the activist group is demanding significantly higher profit margins, a halt to acquisitions, and a succession plan for Benioff as CEO.
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According to a source familiar with Elliott’s views, conversations with Salesforce have been “heated,” but no agreement has been reached. Yahoo Finance has received this information. According to the source, Elliott has plans to propose multiple candidates for positions on Salesforce’s board of directors and would desire additional cost savings.
Elliott said in a statement late on Wednesday-
“Salesforce’s set of announcements today represents progress towards regaining investor trust. The acceleration of margin targets, commitment to responsible capital-return priorities, creation of a business transformation committee and disbanding of the M&A committee are necessary steps forward. These steps are consistent with our recommendations, and we believe they will help restore value at Salesforce”
It is not clear whether or not Salesforce’s recent overtures to the activists will be successful in placating the group. These overtures include an increased buyback plan, a shout-out to new cost-cutting efforts by working with Bain, a promise of a 27% operating margin in 2023 (and 30% by 1Q24), and a pullback on mergers and acquisitions.
Benioff did not provide any indication as to whether or not a resolution with the activists was close at hand. But, Elliott’s statement gives the impression that additional work needs to be done. Benioff went on to say that significant mergers and acquisitions were probably not going to happen for the foreseeable future.
“Shareholders now part of the Ohana with significant upside to growth + profitability,” Citi analyst Tyler Radke said.
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