Ex-European Commissioner Neelie Kroes joins the board of Salesforce

One of the most powerful regulators in European tech in the last decade has found a landing place outside of the halls of Brussels. Today, CRM giant Salesforce announced that Neelie Kroes — a former vice president of the European Commission, European Commissioner for Competition, and European Commissioner for Digital Agenda — is joining its board of directors. She is the second high-profile ex-government figure to join the board in as many years, following the appointment of General Colin Powell almost exactly two years ago — a sign of how the company continues to eye up the public sector for lucrative service contracts.

“We are delighted to have Neelie Kroes join our Board of Directors,” said Marc Benioff, chairman and CEO, Salesforce, in a statement. “She is an amazing and respected leader who has done extraordinary work at the highest levels of government, technology policy and business inEurope. Salesforce will benefit greatly from her broad experience across both the public and private sectors.”

“Salesforce is one of the world’s most admired companies and a leader in digital transformation for business,” said Neelie Kroes. “It’s an honor for me to serve on the Salesforce Board of Directors.”

The appointment becomes effective on May 1, and brings the total number of people on Salesforce’s board to 12 (General Powell was number 11). She will join a number of other high-profile people on the board, including Maynard Webb, chairman of Yahoo! Inc.; and Susan Wojcicki, CEO of YouTube. Kroes will become the third woman on Salesforce’s board.

Adding Kroes to Salesforce’s board is interesting for a few reasons.

First, the company is gaining a sharp mind and strong operative in the area of regulation, which could help shape how a company like Salesforce can exist within that framework. Kroes’ final role in the European Commission was as its vice president, and her previous roles as Commissioners Competition and Digital Agenda, means that she was often sparring with large tech companies over antitrust issues; but at the same time she was also enlisting them in the bigger efforts that she was leading to bring down the digital divide across Europe, and foster more tech development as a route to economic growth.

Salesforce has mostly remained outside investigations at the EC level when it comes to antitrust issues (see: Google and Microsoft), or issues of privacy (see: Google and Facebook), but as one of the larger tech companies in the world, it may not always escape that scrutiny.

Before her roles at the EC level, Kroes was a longtime politician in her native Netherlands.

Second, Salesforce has been ramping up its presence in Europe over the last several years both in terms of direct business and also expanding its ecosystem, and so Kroes’ appointment also underscores Salesforce’s focus on this market.

Among its activities: the company last September announced a $100 million fund to invest in European cloud startups, and separately to that, Salesforce Ventures has been making direct investments in a number of more mature tech startups like NewVoiceMedia and Qubit.

Third, this is also one more sign of how Salesforce continues to eye up more lucrative contracts in the public sector. This is something that we pointed out was already a large business area for the company in 2014 when General Powell joined the board. Having someone like Kroes at the company also helps to extend Salesforce’s credibility in this area.

As more businesses — and specifically government and public sector organizations — update their IT assets and move their operations into the cloud, Salesforce is not the only big U.S. tech company eyeing up how to expand its CRM business with them.

Last week, IBM acquired a UK company called Optevia that focuses on CRM integrations for groups in this vertical. Optevia’s track record to date has been mainly focused on Microsoft software and UK organizations — but IBM told me it plans to expand Optevia’s reach to cover other vendors and other geographies.

Kroes in the past has been on the boards of AB Volvo, Ballast Nedam, McDonald’s Netherlands, Lucent Netherlands, P&O Nedlloyd and Nederlandse Spoorwegen and was chairperson of Nyenrode University. Kroes is also a member of the financial committee of the Rijksmuseum, Salesforce says, and she also serves as Special Envoy for StartupDelta, a public/private partnership to establish a thriving ecosystem of startup companies in the Netherlands.

The full board at Salesforce, in addition to Kroes after May 1, includes Marc Benioff, Salesforce chairman and CEO; Keith Block, Salesforce vice chairman, president and COO; Craig Conway, former CEO of PeopleSoft; Alan Hassenfeld, former chairman and CEO of Hasbro; General Colin Powell, retired four star general in the U.S. Army and former U.S. Secretary of State, U.S. National Security Advisor and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; Sanford Robertson, principal of Francisco Partners; John Roos, former U.S. Ambassador to Japan; Lawrence Tomlinson, former senior vice president and treasurer of Hewlett-Packard; Robin Washington, CFO of Gilead Sciences; Maynard Webb, chairman of Yahoo! Inc.; Susan Wojcicki, CEO of YouTube.