The enterprise software industry is filled with fierce and often entertaining rivalries. For over a decade one big rivalry was between cloud computing champion Salesforce.com and traditional software champion Microsoft (who has since seen the cloud light and become a serious competitor there).
That relationship changed in May, a few months after Satya Nadella took over as CEO and set about creating a kinder, more collaborative Microsoft.
That’s when the two companies shocked the world and announced a partnership that will allow Microsoft’s Office software to work with Salesforce.com’s products.
Before that, they were nothing but sworn enemies. Microsoft sells a popular alternative to Salesforce.com’s bread-and-butter customer relationship management (CRM) products and the two companies compete for the same customers.
Even after the partnership was announced, Salesforce.com rising star Jody Kohner was preaching the anti-Microsoft mantra to new sales recruits. As we previously reported, she told them: “This is literally a killer partnership … We’re gonna wrap our arms around Microsoft. We’re gonna pretend like we’re a boa constrictor. And we’re gonna suck the life out of them.” (By the way, Salesforce.com PR disavowed that sentiment and told us Microsoft was a cherished partner now, not an enemy.)
What caused the CEO of Salesforce.com, Marc Benioff, to bury the hatchet? Not something you hear everyday: Nadella agreed to let Benioff steal an employee, Benioff told Fortune editor Adam Lashinsky:
I was at a dinner with Satya Nadella down at the Rosewood hotel in Menlo Park. And Satya was talking about what he is trying to achieve with the company and how he wants to be more collaborative. So I decided to test him. I told him I wanted to hire one of his technologists as head of our infrastructure. What would be in it for Microsoft is the foundation of a partnership that would give us more kinds of ideas of things that we can do together. And he said ok. Now we’re learning about things that we could do with Microsoft’s file-management technologies and Office that we would never have known on our own.
Creating a partnership by poaching an employee could not have happened with Ballmer. When asked about that, Benioff replied:
“The other guy [former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer] did not care about having a relationship with Salesforce. In fact, he kind of did everything he could to not have a relationship with Salesforce.”
We’re guessing the poached employee in question is Salesforce.com’s EVP Infrastructure Engineering, Randy Kern. (We’ve reached out to him and asked.)
He joined Salesforce.com at about the time this partnership deal was going down, according to his LinkedIn profile. He was a long-time Microsoftie who had worked on lots of Microsoft’s products including Office and Bing.
He wasn’t the first poached Microsoftie by Salesforce.com, there are lots of other examples. Simon Weaver, Salesforce.com’s vice president of Infrastructure Product Strategy, came to the company about a year earlier than Kern. He had been working on a bunch of Microsoft’s cloud products too.
But, given the talent war going on in the tech industry, it’s not every day that a stolen employee leads to a partnership. And it says a lot about how different “the new Microsoft” has been under it’s first year under Nadella.