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Pivotal moments can make the leader

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in Best-Practices Leadership,Leaders & Managers

At 6 feet 5 inches, 46-year-old CEO Marc Benioff is a bear of a man at the helm of a $20 billion company, which is leading a market he created from scratch.

Behind his chutzpa is a cadre of leaders who have inspired Benioff—founder, chairman and chief executive of Salesforce.com—during pivotal mo­­ments of his life. Where he found inspiration and guidance:

• From Steve Jobs, while working as a programmer for him. Benioff learned how to “be mindful and project the future.” Today, Benioff is one of the technology industry’s supreme pitchmen. His mastery of the art of the sales pitch comes from his ability to project the future to clients.

• From Oracle CEO Larry Ellison, who took Benioff under his wings and redirected him toward marketing and business. Within four years, Benioff became a vice president at Oracle, the company’s youngest ever at that point.

Benioff’s quick rise came in part be­­cause Ellison saw something in him. Says Benioff, “My strength has always been showing customers where they need to be in two to five years.”

Without Ellison’s sponsorship, Benioff might have followed a different path.

• From Colin Powell. While attending a conference, he was personally inspired by the event’s chairman, Colin Powell.

Powell awakened him to the idea of greater corporate involvement in philanthropy, which is one reason Benioff now devotes 1% of Salesforce.com’s profits and equity to worthy causes.

— Adapted from “Salesman with many masters,” Richard Waters, Financial Times.

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