Bret Taylor steps down as co-chair and CEO of Salesforce

It’s been quite a roller coaster ride for Bret Taylor over the last year. In one week last December, he was named board chair at Twitter and co-CEO at Salesforce. One year later, he doesn’t have either job.

Taylor lost the job as Twitter board chair when Elon Musk took over last month and dissolved the Twitter board immediately. Today, he stepped down as co-CEO at Salesforce in a stunning announcement that appeared to come out of the blue.

“After a lot of reflection, I’ve decided to return to my entrepreneurial roots. Salesforce has never been more relevant to customers, and with its best-in-class management team and the company executing on all cylinders, now is the right time for me to step away,” Taylor said in a statement announcing his resignation.

Taylor, who helped guide the $27 billion Slack acquisition in 2020, appeared to be in line to take over whenever company founder and CEO Marc Benioff decided to step down. Now he has stepped away, and it’s not clear what has changed.

Benioff called his co-CEO’s resignation “a bittersweet moment” in a statement, and said he would always be his biggest champion. He repeated Taylor’s words about him returning to his entrepreneurial roots. Perhaps Taylor really had enough of running a big company, but it does seem strange timing, right after he appeared onstage with Benioff at Dreamforce in September.

He joined the company in 2016 when Salesforce acquired his previous company Quip for $750 million. He quickly rose through the ranks and was most recently president and chief operating officer prior to the promotion last year. Prior to launching Quip and joining Salesforce, he was CEO at FriendFeed, an early social network, and later served as CTO at Facebook from 2009-2012.

While Taylor alluded to the fact the company was in good shape, the company stock price is down 34% over the last year (a year to be fair in which SaaS stocks in general have taken a huge hit). The company is also dealing with activist investor Starboard Value, which bought an undisclosed stake in the company last month. It’s unclear if this had anything to do with the resignation or if there had been friction between the two over roles or timing of the switch.

Holger Mueller, an analyst at Constellation Research, wondered if the time taking over as sole CEO was simply too long for Taylor to wait, and perhaps he lined up another job elsewhere. “It’s likely that Taylor has a sole CEO position planned for 2023. It raises questions on Benioff’s [succession] plans. Apparently the co-CEO model has a too long a horizon for the junior partner,” Mueller told TechCrunch.

It’s worth noting that this is not the first time that Salesforce has had a co-CEO, and the junior partner has chosen to leave the company. In 2018, Benioff named Keith Block co-CEO and he remained in the position until he stepped down in 2020.

Mueller said that with the co-CEO role, however it ensures that when one partner leaves, the company is able to continue without missing a beat. “But it shows once again the power of the two CEO model, as Salesforce is unlikely to miss a beat similar to when Keith Block stepped down [in 2020].”

Salesforce stock is down almost 7% after hours on the news.