Jan 14, 2022 - Economy

How Marc Benioff is transforming Time magazine

Photo illustration of Marc Benioff.

Photo illustration: Annelise Capossela. Photo: Jamie McCarthy/WireImage

When Salesforce.com founder Marc Benioff and his wife Lynne bought Time magazine from Meredith Corp. in 2018, it read to many as a vanity purchase. A billionaire buying a legendary media brand, to impress friends and influence people, without doing too much legwork.

Why it matters: But the carve-out is proving transformative for Time, as Benioff seems to have actively brought a lot of his tech ethos to the company Henry Luce founded nearly 100 years ago.

  • Benioff tells me that Time projects 30% revenue growth this year to over $200 million, with CEO and editor-in-chief Edward Felsenthal saying that around one-quarter of that will come from a studios unit that's just two years old.
  • More broadly, the company used to be internally organized by function (editorial, marketing, tech, etc.), whereas now it's restructured around product (a la Salesforce).

Driving the news: "He's kept pushing us to get out of the boxes we were in," says Felsenthal, who averages at least one Benioff meeting per month (plus meetings with the board, on which both Marc and Lynne serve).

  • "For example, our Time 100 event always used to be a gala. One of the first things we talked about after he came in was about if we could turn it into a summit. I said that we could the following year, since we were just two months out, but he suggested we try to make it work immediately. And it did. We ended up with a very successful event with people like Hillary Clinton and Jared Kushner and Tim Cook."
  • Felsenthal, adds that the Benioffs aren't involved in any editorial decisions.

Benioff says he doesn't view the success or failure of his Time investment in dollar terms, although he does repeatedly mention his interest in becoming profitable, hitting $1 billion in revenue and becoming the world's "number one media brand."

  • Instead, he says he views all business endeavors as change catalysts, which is a reason why Time will launch a large sustainability initiative that will "provide all the content, solutions, applications and tech to help our customers enter the net zero world."

The biggest post-acquisition challenge, he explains, was “individualization” from both Meredith and the businesses' former home within Time Inc.

  • Some of that was getting office space and setting up systems, but some was also realizing that Time had much more editorial freedom now that it was separate from former Time Inc. mates like Fortune and People.

What he's saying: “I think innovation has to come organically and inorganically, just like it has at Salesforce when you look at things like the Slack deal," says Benioff, who says he's paid much more attention to the NYT/Athletic tie-up than to the BuzzFeed stock sag.

  • "We’ve looked at acquisitions with Time, but haven’t done any yet I think because the first three years were really about stabilization … One thing I’ve learned from buying Time is that it’s a lot easier to buy a company and bring it in than it is to buy a company out of another company.”
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