Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff built a $50 billion empire by following 7 lessons from his mentor turned nemesis Larry Ellison

Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff is now one of the most powerful leaders in Silicon Valley, but 30 years ago, he was a young, aspiring entrepreneur just starting off his career.

It was Oracle CEO Larry Ellison, now the world’s fifth richest man, who took Benioff under his wing, and turned him into a star executive.

Although their relationship had its ups and downs through the years, Benioff wrote in his 2009 book, “Behind the Cloud,” that Ellison is his “mentor” and “close friend.”

He even dedicated a small section called “The Larry Ellison Playbook” where he lists the 7 lessons he’s learned from Ellison.

“Many of the lessons I learned from Larry still guide me today,” he wrote.

Benioff was only 23 years old when he won the Rookie of the Year award at Oracle. By 26, Benioff was a star executive at Oracle making over $300,000 a year. CEO Marc Benioff

Benioff became close friends with Ellison during his 13 years at Oracle. So close that some people even wondered if Benioff was Ellison's nephew.

Kimberly White / Getty

Ellison was a strong supporter of Benioff when Salesforce first launched in 1999. He was one of the first seed investors and even let Benioff work at Oracle until Salesforce really started to take off.


But the two had a fall out when Benioff discovered Ellison had secretly started his own CRM product that directly competed against Salesforce. Benioff eventually made Ellison resign from Salesforce's board.

Michael Bradley/Getty Images)

For years, the two formed a fierce rivalry, often trash talking each other publicly. But they largely remained mutually respectful to each other, with Benioff calling Ellison his mentor. Here are the 7 most important lessons Benioff says he's learned from Ellison:

Mike Nudelman/Business Insider

3. 'Act confident, even when you're not': Ellison's self-confidence is almost legendary. Benioff is equally confident all the time, and they're both not afraid to trash-talk their competitors in public. '(Ellison) taught me that accomplishments are fuelled by faith,' Benioff writes.

Daniel Goodman / Business Insider

4. 'Think of it as you want it, not as it is': Benioff famously moved his 10-person team to a new, 8,000 sq. ft. office in 1999. One of his cofounders, Parker Harris, was upset that Benioff got such a big place, but Benioff simply told him, 'We'll be out of here before you know it.' One year later, they ran out of space and moved to a bigger place.


6. 'See things in the present, even if they are in the future': Benioff says people used to joke that Ellison got his tenses confused because he was always thinking about the future. 'A successful leader is one who is always thinking about the future, not just the present,' Benioff writes.

Back to the Future: Part 2

7. 'Don't give others your power. Ever': This partly explains why both Ellison and Benioff continue to keep a tight grip on each of their company, even after all these years. Also, one reason why it's unlikely Benioff will sell Salesforce anytime soon.

YouTube screenshot
A scene from 'The Godfather.'

Business Insider Emails & Alerts

Site highlights each day to your inbox.

Follow Business Insider Australia on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.