Craig Cuffie of Salesforce: A Year Later Empathy Continues to Turn Action into a Movement

craig cuffie salesforce

Almost a year ago I had an opportunity to talk with Craig Cuffie, EVP and Chief Procurement Officer for Salesforce.  It was just a few months after George Floyd was murdered, and about 4 months into the pandemic-induced shutdown.  It was a heavy time.  It still is a heavy time.  Which is why I was so glad to speak with Craig again to see hear how the plans Salesforce had begun in response to the social unrest inspired by the George Floyd situation.

Below is an edited transcript of a portion of our conversation.  But I encourage you to watch the video replay of our complete discussion, or to click on the embedded SoundCloud player.


The Four Ps – One Year Later

Brent Leary:  It’s been a long year, but in some ways it hasn’t felt like a year.  Tell us how the things you were putting into place at Salesforce a year ago have progressed.

Craig Cuffie: Four P’s. The four pillars. People, purchasing, philanthropy, and policy. So there are four senior executives who are the chairs, three, along with myself. We have sub leads, the part of our businesses, they have to be part of our businesses, and about 50 other folks across the company maniacally focused on this and moving this forward. 


On the people front, 50% increase in VP plus Black leaders. And what is that? It has to do with focus. Now, against a 60,000 person company, it’s still a small number, but it’s  growing, so we’re really pleased about that.

Our underrepresented minority hiring is up 40% year on year. What is that? That’s focus, right, Brent, that is focusing on it. Partnering with the Executive Leadership Council. I’ve been an ELC member for 13, 14 years and we’ve over the last couple of years have begun to partner with them to help our year ends rise up in through … From middle management to senior leadership and the skillset required, and a very unique experience as minority leaders. So we’re in our second year of that and have doubled down on it.

Inclusive promotion training. Universal across all of the industry. We say, “Go get a diverse slate,” and they go to get a diverse slate, but those diverse folks don’t make it past round one, right. Forget getting past round one and round two, they don’t make it into round one. Why not? We’ve done a lot of work to understand that, and have trained our managers in inclusive hiring. What does it mean to be an inclusive leader? And those things permeate our leadership training programs. We did a quality ally training. 7,000 Salesforce employees have gone through ally training. So we put our money where our mouth is, our exploratory mouth as well.

We have established an equality recruiting team with a singular focus on minority talent. That’s huge. We have a warmline. We didn’t invent the warmline, it came from another company, the concept, but it’s so that folks can have a confidential conversation about belonging, or why they don’t feel like they belong, and what’s happening inside their space. So it’s not ER where you call the ER and say, “This is really, really bad, something’s happening,” and an investigation starts. This is I need some help. It doesn’t mean those other things couldn’t happen, but that’s a first start of, I’m not a part of the franchise. I believe I should be part of the franchise. And how do we … How do you help the company get there?


We committed $200 million and a million hours of VTO (voluntary time off) over the next five years. That’s a big commitment, and we’re moving out and very focused on high-impact organizations that focus on racial equality. And my dear friend, Ebony Beckwith runs the Salesforce Foundation and heads all our philanthropic efforts. She’s just awesome. And we want to close that gap with your institutes. And you’ve heard this when people say, “Is this a moment or is it a movement?” Right. We can turn a moment into a movement by not giving up the focus, by keeping it unbelievably present.

I did a leadership training, I was one of the faculty, and I had a whole bunch of stuff going on, right. During that week it was real. Four days of solid out faculty stuff for Zoom. On Zoom and other things going on. And I said, “You know what?” I said, “My learning this week, my personal learning, is I need to be more present. I need to stop doing a zillion things at a time because I’m not good at that many things.” We all find out we’re not built to multitask. We think we are but we don’t. But being focused, and being present, and keeping this top of mind, right, is what will help from the moment to movement. And that’s really, really important that companies like Salesforce keep that focus.


We talked about and I’ve been saying it – from counting spend, to counting impact. The folks who have my job, how much … How many billions of spend did you have under management? And that’s all well and good, but what is the impact of the dollars you spend? Who are you helping?

I was with a team of folks who do what I do, and we were talking… They talk about addressable spend and non-addressable spend, right, because of the goals. What happens if we spend through our daily and quarterly yearly spend. And there are things that are sacrosanct in the business like oh, what happens in the financial side. The bankers, the treasury people, and so on. And in some cases, very high-end consults, we do M&A, those are all specialties. And it’s all addressable. It’s all addressable.

You do what my dear friend Robin Washington says is when someone comes there when she was still CFO, she’s retired now, and pick a bank. When a big bank comes in and says, “You want to do business?” And she says, “Well, tell me, what does your portfolio look like of diverse companies that do business with you? And I want to see when you call on me, I want to see some diversity because I know there’s some Black bankers out there.” Right. So having those conversations are really, really important, right.

And so I’ve said to my head of supplier diversity and sustainability, fantastic executive named Madison Gunter, I said, “I want to be a member of the Billion Dollar Roundtable,” right. So if you go find that, and my dear friend, Shelley Steward is the chair of that, the Billion Dollar Roundtable is a number of companies that spend collectively $83 billion with diverse suppliers. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. And I said, “I want to be in”. And trust me, there’s no vacation, there’s no jet, there’s no pride with it. There’s nothing but bragging rights, right, to be in the Billion Dollar Roundtable. But what it says is that you’re doing your job right, and that you’re being unbelievably inclusive, when it comes to the focus on diverse suppliers. And I take that a step forward from counting spend to truly counting impact. So lots of good work.


I have to mention the policy work we’re doing. Advocating for police reform. We’re out front, in the halls of legislatures advocating for police reform, advocating for civic engagement, advocating for policies that drive empowerment, looking at laws and regulations that protect against racism. I mean, right now all of the conversation around voter rights, right, it’s huge. So again, working aggressively on all those things.

Brent Leary: Right.

Craig Cuffie: We said, “All this stuff is going to cost,” right. And then so making sure that these multi-year programs could get funded and have people to do it right so it’s not just lip service and it gets plugged into the chief diversity officer’s office or somewhere inside of human resources or somewhere inside … Pick a department. It doesn’t matter what it’s linked to, it matters that it is funded, right, in the right way so it’s effective. And so those are the things that we’ve done, right, over time, right in this last year.

Challenges of the past year

Brent Leary: Give me some of the things that have been the most surprising challenges you’ve faced and this team has gone through this last year?

Craig Cuffie: I don’t know if I had any surprises, right. I don’t sleep so I don’t scream in the middle of the night. This is a long format problem and a long format solution, right. So if any of us thinks that through any one action, including up through the President of the United States, right, and executive orders and potential legislation, that this is going to change overnight, it’s not. It will not change in my life.

And I don’t know if you’re familiar with this study that McKinsey did. It came on a couple of months ago and they talked about economic parity, in that Black America it will take, left to its own devices with the current forces at play, 95 years before the Black community would see economic parity. And this study you find it, It breaks it down by industry, by geography, it gives you a little history lesson most Black folks lived down. They still live down south. They don’t live necessarily where all the most money is made. I mean … It made me sad. And our CEO sent it out. He sent it out to me and a handful of others to take a look at and I just said, “This makes me sad.”

And if I think about it as if I put this in terms of my life and the life of my family, I said, “95 years,” my granddaughter is four. So I said, “If you think about 95 years from now when she is almost 100 when she’s 99, her great-grandchildren will have the opportunity that we have dreamed about.” So we take in some 500 years for Blacks in this country, on this continent to see economic parity.

Empathy Leading to Action

Brent Leary: I like how you’ve talked about  “going from empathy to action” because I think I’ve seen a lot of emphasis on being empathetic … I guess that is the start of where hopefully that bleeds right into some action. I’m thinking about just this past year, actually this past month, we had the 100-year acknowledgment, or memorial, or however you want to phrase it, for what happened in Tulsa. And we also had Juneteenth become a Federal Holiday. Are these signs of action from a whole bunch of empathy that took place after seeing what happened a little over a year ago?

Craig Cuffie: I’ve known about Tulsa for a long, long time, right. And the head of commercial legal, who handles my team from a legal standpoint, asked a question. He said, “Craig, I didn’t learn about any of this,”. He said, “I didn’t learn about any of this in college or high school.” And I said, “History is written by the victors,  right, because you wipe out the vanquished. So then you get to write the history. History is written by the victors number one.”

Brent Leary: Right.

Craig Cuffie: And then number two, you have to be curious, right. You have to say, “Why is the world the way it is and help me understand?” So you have to become a little bit of a personal historian yourself and a researcher to go find out about these things. Juneteenth has been around since Juneteenth has been around, right. And is it happenstance that we have the acknowledgment of the 100 anniversary of what happened in Tulsa, just essentially a mass murder. 

Brent Leary: No other way to say it. Before they were calling it a riot, now I think they’re finally calling it a massacre.

Craig Cuffie: So these two events in this last month were in acknowledgment and recognition, because very few people have survived that long to tell that story. And there are very few causes that have taken up the story. And this is an unbelievable time where we are now, where things have coalesced such that the story can be told in a meaningful way and social media helps a great deal. But it’s an acknowledgment of an unbelievable wrong. 

Juneteenth. I don’t believe the whole community understands the importance of what it’s like to be an enslaved people and the lives of those individuals, and what it meant to be free. 

And in most cases, not in all cases, in most cases, if you’re a Black or an African-American, choose which term you want, we’re descendants of slaves unless you came to this country from another country. So it’s that legacy that lives with you always. And it’s great to see in society the triumphs that this community has had despite systemic racism that’s played out in this community.

This is part of the One-on-One Interview series with thought leaders. The transcript has been edited for publication. If it's an audio or video interview, click on the embedded player above, or subscribe via iTunes or via Stitcher.

Brent Leary Brent Leary is the host of the Small Business Trends One-on-One interview series and co-founder of CRM Essentials LLC, an Atlanta-based CRM advisory firm covering tools and strategies for improving business relationships. Brent is a CRM industry analyst, advisor, author, speaker and award-winning blogger.