Marc Benioff: The eccentric tech baron who will buy Time

Chairman and chief executive of Salesforce Marc Benioff at the World Economic Forum annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland, on Jan 23, 2018. PHOTO: REUTERS

NEW YORK (NYTIMES, CNBC) - Marc Benioff, the billionaire co-founder of the software company Salesforce, is set to become the latest tech baron to take the reins of an iconic media brand.

Mr Benioff and his wife Lynne will buy Time, the pre-eminent weekly news magazine of the 20th century for US$190 million (S$261 million) in cash, Time's parent company Meredith Corp announced on Sunday (Sept 16).

Mr Benioff, 53, follows the footsteps of Mr Jeff Bezos, the founder and chief executive of Amazon who bought The Washington Post in 2013; and Mrs Laurene Powell Jobs, the widow of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs who agreed to acquire a majority stake in The Atlantic magazine through her organisation, Emerson Collective.

But Mr Benioff stands on his own as an impassioned and eccentric billionaire, even by Silicon Valley standards.

Drawn to computers at an early age, he interned at Apple as a college student, and became a top salesman at Oracle, the enterprise software company.

After burning out at Oracle, he travelled to India, decided to leave the company, and co-founded Salesforce in 1999.

Today, Salesforce, a pioneer in the business model of offering software as a service, is worth some US$120 billion. Mr Benioff has an estimated net worth of US$6.5 billion and ranks 246th on Bloomberg's billionaires list.

Mr Benioff has an affinity for Buddhism, attending meditation retreats and installing meditation rooms throughout the Salesforce Tower, the tallest office building west of Mississippi.

He signalled a Zen-like, hands-off approach to his latest investment on Sunday, saying that his decision to buy Time was motivated by a desire to preserve the title.

"We don't plan to be operational or involved in editorial," he wrote in a text message. "We are only stewards of a historic and iconic brand."

He said he did not expect the magazine to reflect his own social or political views, which he is not shy about sharing.

In 2015, for example, he threatened to reduce Salesforce's business in Indiana in protest of a state law that critics said discriminated against gay and transgender communities.

He has since taken a stand on the gender pay gap and recently spoke out on the problematic aspects of social media.

He says he is neither a Democrat nor a Republican, though he publicly supported Mrs Hillary Clinton over Mr Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election. He has criticised Mr Trump in public appearances and through his Twitter account.

Mr Edward Felsenthal, the editor-in-chief at Time, led the search for a buyer of the 95-year-old news magazine. Since taking over a year ago, Mr Felsenthal, a veteran Wall Street Journal editor who helped start The Daily Beast in 2008, has overseen an aggressive expansion into video, live events and Web initiatives.

That push is expected to continue under its new owners, who plan to keep Mr Felsenthal at the helm.

"On behalf of the entire Time team, we are very excited to begin this next chapter in our history," Mr Felsenthal said. "We can't imagine better stewards for Time than Marc and Lynne Benioff."

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