Tale of two tech titans

Our November 2012 profile of Ron Conway was entitled The Plutocrat, an apt description the system he's promoted.

San Francisco Magazine just published an intriguing interview with Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff, and Benioff’s attitude and approach to San Francisco seems to be a striking contrast to the city’s other top tech titan, venture capitalist Ron Conway, who we profiled over a year ago.

While Conway burst onto the political scene a few years ago with a pledge to destroy the progressive movement in San Francisco, sponsoring Mayor Ed Lee and his allies as the main vehicle for those ambitions, Benioff is a San Francisco native who seems to understand this city’s values and accept the responsibilities that come with great wealth and power.

“I say, if you want to be in this city and take advantage of all this great infrastructure—our mass transit, our schools, our hospitals, the safety and stability that we have—then also give back. These are the table stakes for doing business here. This is not a new idea,” Benioff told San Francisco Magazine Editor Jon Steinberg in this extended Q&A.

The news peg for the article was a new Benioff initiative in which he’s asking local tech companies to contribute $500,000 each to Tipping Point Community, which funds local community service programs, an effort that Benioff calls SF Gives.

“The first person I called was Ron Conway. I said, ‘Ron, what we’re going to do is get companies to give $500,000, and I’m going to raise $10 million, and we are going to give back to S.F. en masse with money from organizations, not just individuals.’ He said, ‘This is never gonna work. I run sf.citi [a political advocacy group for 500 local tech companies], and people won’t even pay their dues. You’re not going to raise millions of dollars,’” Benioff told the magazine.

The difference is that Conway is pushing an aggressive political agenda, seeking business tax breaks and special treatment from City Hall for the companies he’s invested in while being tone-deaf to the political backlash it’s causing in San Francisco, one that Benioff acknowledges and says the industry must address.

“Because this is not about any political agenda. It’s not. It’s about pure-play philanthropy: giving back to nonprofits and NGOs that can make a difference in S.F,” was how Benioff answered the question about why companies are more willing to donate to SF Gives than sf.citi.

As we documented in our profile of Conway, this guy is a old school conservative with a history of right-wing politics who conveniently dropped his Republican Party affiliation when he arrived in San Francisco pushing an aggressive pro-business agenda.

As we wrote in our article about an event seven years ago when Conway burst onto the scene and declared his intentions: "’This guy stood up and said that we have to take the city back from the progressives,’ [former Mayor Art] Agnos told us. ‘I barely knew who he was. I've been in San Francisco since 1966, and here he comes telling us what to do.;"

To understand this tale of two tech titans, contrast that approach with this comment from Benioff: “It’s a city of innovation, of flamboyance, of transformation, and during boom times, S.F. always changes and evolves. But tied into that has always been generosity: the Haas family, the Hellmans, the Fishers, the Shorensteins. During every one of these boom times, the people who benefited the most were also giving back the most. But this time around, we haven’t been able to talk about a broad philanthropic effort to couple with the growth. So this seemed like a great opportunity.”


may be worthy of redemption, but only after extensive political reeducation. But I doubt it.

To the barricades brother!!

Posted by Guest on Apr. 17, 2014 @ 4:43 pm
Posted by Guest on Apr. 17, 2014 @ 5:26 pm

It could be that the two tech titans are so different. On the other hand, it could be because San Francisco Magazine profiled the one tech titan (in this time of heightened sensitivity by the way), while the SFBG profiled the other, naturally using its usual purpose-driven, us-vs-them prism.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 17, 2014 @ 6:30 pm

"’This guy stood up and said that we have to take the city back from the progressives,’ [former Mayor Art] Agnos told us. ‘I barely knew who he was. I've been in San Francisco since 1966, and here he comes telling us what to do.;"

If we substitute "moderates" for "progressives", that sentence applies to most progressives including Campos, Avalos, Mirkarimi, Daly, Matt Gonzalez, and Gerardo Sandoval.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 17, 2014 @ 8:07 pm

Not much more to it than that. No reason to attach infantile politics to it...

Kudos to Mr. Benioff.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 17, 2014 @ 10:18 pm

Time for SF to get rid of the Social leeches, otherwise known as Progressives, who don't want to work, yet want everyone else to pay for their free life, and subsidized rent, even while preventing all building and development. Progressives won't be happy until everyone is equally poor and all of us homeless.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 18, 2014 @ 4:46 am
Posted by Guest on Apr. 18, 2014 @ 7:02 am

Did Benioff even need to be asked, did he share his wealth in order to fend off attacks from the left or did he do it because he thought that it was the best thing to do?

That's the difference, Benioff has roots in San Francisco while Conway is an opportunistic right wing interloper.

I've got friends who work at Salesforce who love it, say it is the best job they've ever had. Note how Conway has not viewed as someone you'd like to work with, as someone you'd never want to work for.

Posted by marcos on Apr. 18, 2014 @ 5:34 am

Nobody is talking about you.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 18, 2014 @ 6:56 am

You are talking about and to me.

I command your attentions.

You are pathetic.

Posted by marcos on Apr. 19, 2014 @ 7:20 am

when progressives who are all from some other place complain about people showing up and changing things.

Agnos is pals with all sorts of nutty carpet baggers including Fairfield Daly.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 18, 2014 @ 7:41 am

...but his firm, SV Angel, is one of the dozen-odd tech companies that's joined with Benioff in this SFGives campaign. So pitting Benioff as a magnanimous mogul versus Conway as a self-interested villain is a little unfair. But in any case, I appreciate the thoughtful response to my interview, Steven.

Posted by Jon Steinberg on Apr. 18, 2014 @ 11:31 am

is even more generous than which other tech boss.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 18, 2014 @ 12:09 pm

Hey! The interviewer thought that Steven was just a 'little' unfair.

So what do you trolls have to say now?

This is a marked improvement for Steven!

Posted by Guest on Apr. 18, 2014 @ 6:35 pm

Steve, I always respect your writing, but you need to come off this evil Ron Conway narrative. It's just flat-out false.

Did you listen to his speech at the Crunchies? He declared that our goal as a tech community over the next two years is to ensure that the rest of the city participates in the good fortune that the industry is experiencing. His entire 20 minute speech was on creating a meaningful difference in the city. He was far more fiery on the subject than Benioff ever has.

A not so well-known secret behind the scenes is that he absolutely spanked Google management for not giving enough to the city.

He's also come out very vocally for Ellis Act reform to stop evictions, and is taking individual companies to task for not also joining in.

The idea that he's a conservative Republican is effectively based on hearsay. He's long been a Democratic fundraiser who is known for being socially liberal.

I know this may not play along with the us vs them mentality that you'd like to promote, but please find something a bit more real to go after.

Posted by Dizzy on Apr. 21, 2014 @ 5:50 pm

Steven hates Conway because Conway's connected to Ed Lee and Steven REALLY hates Ed Lee. There are just certain things where Steven loses all perspective (Ed Lee and AirBnb being his two biggest ones).

Steven likes the money that tech brings to the city. He just wants more of it. He also doesn't want the companies and the people that they employ (I hate using the term techies) to actually be here.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 21, 2014 @ 6:16 pm

"Charity is bourgeois." -- Steven T. Jones

Posted by Chromefields on Apr. 22, 2014 @ 7:49 am

Conway was until he moved to SF a lifelong registered Republican. He has chosen to support the conservative Democrats that run SF. Socially liberal because not being so would be a deal breaker but remaining Republican to the core: pro-business over pro-worker, anti-union, pro-corporate tax breaks. He is also running a conservative (sorry you guys like the term moderate) candidate to run against Congressman Honda.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 24, 2014 @ 9:54 am

I think it's a good thing either way, if they are doing it to make themselves look better or if it's actually a concern of theirs, either way i'm glad it is being brought to light. I'm glad there are companies and individuals that are attempting to give back, if it actually happens is a different story. I don't care who the evil one is, i just care about the outcome.

Posted by SFnative on Apr. 24, 2014 @ 10:22 am

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