Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff has a secret mental weapon when it comes to staying focused and grounded in the fast-moving tech sector. The technique may have helped Benioff remain calm recently as reports that the cloud computing company might buy Twitter sent shares tumbling. But it's much bigger: the Salesforce CEO is placing his faith in an ancient zen practice as a way to protect and grow the $46 billion empire he has built.
Salesforce.com's annual gathering at Dreamforce brings hundreds of thousands of people to San Francisco each fall, but the most notable attendees aren't Fortune 500 CEOs or "rock star" developers — it's a group of monks.
They're from France, and they're attending Dreamforce to lead "on-demand meditation" at two mindfulness zones. About two-dozen sessions on the topic are scheduled, and more than 800 people have signed up.
"We have come over as a community to share the practice of mindfulness with all the participants of Dreamforce who are interested in calming themselves, coming back to their breath, just being aware of what is happening in the moment, because this is a way of coming back to life, to be alive," said Brother Phap Luu.
The monastic theme is a subject near and dear to Benioff. As the CEO touts Salesforce's path to becoming the fastest software company to reach $10 billion in annual revenue, he's also trying to create a model for keeping 19,000 employees happy and healthy. This helps explain his latest obsession: mindfulness.
Last year some 30 of these monks stayed at his house in San Francisco and joined Benioff at executive team events around the Bay Area. They even served as design consultants for the cloud giant.
Now every floor in the new Salesforce tower in San Francisco is being drawn up to include a mindfulness zone, where employees can meditate in secluded, curtained-off areas where technology will not be allowed. Classes are even being offered to employees on mindfulness, meditation and general wellness.
The monks said they agreed to come to Dreamforce, in part, to express their gratitude to Benioff.
"Our teacher is a well-known Zen master. He had a stroke two years ago. He was in care in Bordeaux, which is near where we live. And Marc offered to let us use his house, which is close to the hospital, so that our teacher could live there and get world-class stroke treatment," Brother Phap Luu said. "So coming here is a way to thank him for his generosity."
The monks are not paid for their work at Dreamforce. Instead, they say what they're doing at the conference this year is, in their words, simply what one friend would do for another.