- Salesforce co-CEO Keith Block is leaving the company, after just a year and half after ascending to the role.
- Analysts at RBC Capital Markets think Workday, Oracle or Amazon Web Services could be logical places for Block to end up — though they say that he’s unlikely to make any such move for the next year or so.
- Oracle might be an unlikely choice: Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff gave Block a warm send-off — the kind of fond farewell he would be unlikely to give, were Block headed to Oracle, Salesforce’s eternal archrival.
- Workday and AWS could be more likely choices, given Block’s expertise in enterprise software sales.
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Salesforce co-CEO Keith Block surprised many by leaving the role Tuesday, after just a year and half on the job.
The question on every Salesforce-watcher’s mind is: Where will Block head to next? While he hasn’t said anything just yet, analysts at RBC Capital Markets think Workday, Oracle or Amazon Web Services could be the logical places for Block to end up.
Since joining Salesforce in 2013 as head of sales, getting promoted to COO, and then moving on to the co-CEO role, Block played a crucial role in building out Salesforce’s sales strategy — particularly in building traction in selling to specific industries like healthcare and government.
That expertise could come in handy at any of those companies, RBC suggests.
Oracle: a complicated history
Block’s long and sometimes contentious history with Oracle makes it unlikely, but not impossible, that the exec would return.
Prior to joining joining Salesforce in 2013 as head of sales, Block was at Oracle for over 26 years, where he first met Benioff. Block held a critical sales role at Oracle as the head of Oracle’s North America sales organization. He came to Salesforce after a feud with the late Mark Hurd, who was then co-president of Oracle with Safra Catz.
It was considered a huge coup for Salesforce when Block came on board after leaving Oracle. Benioff was known for his public feuds with his former mentor, Oracle founder Larry Ellison, and the companies have been archrivals since Salesforce first came into existence.
That history makes it unlikely that Block would go back to Oracle — especially since Benioff gave Block a warm goodbye, telling Wall Street analysts on Salesforce’s earnings call that he supported Block leaving the company and his “next chapter.” It’s hard to believe that Block would have gotten such a fond farewell if a return to Oracle was on the agenda.
However, Alex Zukin, an analyst at RBC, argues that the areas Oracle is focusing on right now are its cloud ERP and autonomous database businesses — both areas where Salesforce doesn’t directly compete. Zukin says that in the wake of the recent death of co-CEO Mark Hurd, Oracle is ripe for transformation under the auspices of a leader like Block as it struggles to keep pace with rivals like Amazon in the cloud.
“The opportunity to re-position Oracle as a cloud infrastructure and application software leader would potentially put Keith in the same conversation as [Microsoft CEO] Satya Nadella in terms of corporate turnaround master-strokes,” Zukin said. “While we view this scenario as exceedingly less likely, given the tragic passing of Mark Hurd we believe that there is a rare opportunity to heal old wounds.”
Workday could use Block
A more likely place for Block to end up could be Workday, which makes cloud software for human resources and other business needs.
Zukin points out that Workday doesn’t have any competing products to Salesforce and its software is in fact complementary to what Salesforce offers. Joining the company could preserve Block’s relationship with Salesforce, and even present potential opportunities to partner.
He highlights that Block’s experience in enterprise software sales strategy could be exactly what Workday needs right now as the company tries to grow new product lines and develop a sales strategy focused on specific industries.
“In our view, Keith Block’s history of selling to CSuite executives (and his history with ERP and Cloud application selling at ORCL and CRM) would be a significant positive and possibly an accelerant to the company’s push in Cloud Financials. In addition, we believe that his expertise running vertical go-to-market motions could dramatically improve Workday’s nascent efforts,” Zukin said.
Another selling point — Zukin feels that Block’s expertise and personality would be a good fit with Workday CEO Aneel Bhusri. He added that he wouldn’t be surprised if Bhusri would be willing to give up running some of the day to day operations to someone with Block’s experience.
Amazon Web Services: taking on competitors
Another place Block could end up, Zukin and his team speculated, could be AWS. Amazon has been seeing increased competition from Microsoft Azure, especially since Microsoft won the key JEDI deal to provide cloud computing services to the Pentagon.
Zukin thinks AWS could be looking to develop a more strategic sales strategy, an area where Block has a lot of expertise. Salesforce and AWS also have a long-standing partnership that would, again, allow Block to maintain his relationship with Benioff and company in the wake of his departure.
“With Microsoft Azure competing more aggressively and taking share in the IaaS market, we think Amazon Web Services could be well served in adopting both an increasingly verticalized and application strategy that is more familiar to Fortune 500 enterprises,” he said.
He added that AWS CEO Andy Jassy and Block would make a great product and sales executive duo. He also thinks that AWS will be adding more offerings for its customers besides just cloud computing, and Block could be helpful there as well.
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