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Salesforce executive exits help push stock to its lowest point since March 2020

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Marc Benioff, co-founder and chief executive officer of Inc., speaks during the WSJDLive Global Technology Conference in Laguna Beach, California, U.S., on Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2016. The conference brings together an unmatched group of top CEOs, founders, pioneers, investors and luminaries to explore tech opportunities emerging around the world.

Patrick T. Fallon | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Turbulence in the upper ranks at Salesforce isn’t sitting well with Wall Street.

On Monday, the company announced the departure of Slack CEO Stewart Butterfield, who joined Salesforce last year as part of its biggest acquisition ever. Last Wednesday, Salesforce co-CEO Bret Taylor, who orchestrated the Slack deal, said he was leaving —exactly a year after getting promoted to share the top job with Marc Benioff.

In the three trading days since the Taylor news landed alongside Salesforce’s third-quarter earnings report, the stock has had two of its three worst days of the year, plunging 8.3% and 7.4%, respectively. Salesforce has now lost 47% of its value for the year, compared to the Nasdaq’s 28% drop, and is trading at its lowest since March 2020, the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Taylor, who joined Salesforce in 2016 through the acquisition of his startup Quip, said he’d “decided to return to my entrepreneurial roots.” Benioff said on the earnings call, “We have to let him be free, let him go, and I understand, but I don’t like it.”

Butterfield made it clear that he’s leaving for different reasons.

“I’m not going to do anything entrepreneurial,” Butterfield wrote in a Slack message that was viewed by CNBC. “As hackneyed as it might sound, I really am going to spend more time with my family (as well as work on some personal projects, focus on health and generally put time into those things which [are] harder to do when one is leading a large organization).”

While Taylor and Butterfield are the highest-profile exits, they’re far from alone among Salesforce’s executive ranks.

Last month, Salesforce said Gavin Patterson, the president and strategy chief, would be leaving in January, and on Thursday Mark Nelson, president and CEO of Salesforce’s Tableau product, tweeted that it was his last day.

Along with Butterfield, Slack is losing product chief Tamar Yehoshua and Jonathan Prince, senior vice president in charge of marketing, brand and communications, people familiar with the matter previously told CNBC. Noah Weiss, senior vice president of product at Slack, will succeed Yehoshua, Butterfield said in a Slack message. Butterfield is being succeeded by Lidiane Jones, an executive vice president at Salesforce who joined in 2019.

Salesforce’s three-day plunge


‘Two elephants in the room’

Slack was a pandemic-inspired acquisition. With workers forced to communicate remotely, Slack’s popular chat app blew up. In a series of tweets on March 25, 2020, Butterfield said the company had experienced “early signs of a surge in teams created and new paid customers unlike anything we had ever seen,” adding that the shift from email to chat channels, “which we believed to be inevitable over 5-7 years just got fast-forwarded by 18 months.”

Salesforce was so jazzed about Slack’s expansion that it paid over $27 billion for the company at a forward price-to-sales ratio of 24, one of the highest multiples ever in software. Taylor’s name was all over the deal, even though he wasn’t yet co-CEO. Taylor reached out to Butterfield multiple times in August and September 2020 about a possible acquisition, and the two negotiated throughout the process, which culminated in an agreement announced on Dec. 1 of that year, according to a filing with the SEC.

Salesforce’s purchase of Slack closed in July 2021, and its stock peaked four months later at almost $310. Since then, it’s lost 57% of its value, closing on Monday at $133.93.

Like its high-valued tech peers, Salesforce has been hurt this year by soaring inflation and rising interest rates, which have pushed investors into parts of the market deemed safer in a slowdown. Salesforce’s results haven’t helped. Last week, the company reported third-quarter revenue growth of 14%, the slowest expansion for any period since the company’s IPO in 2004. Its forecast for the fourth quarter is for growth of 8% to 10%.

In a break from third-quarter tradition, Salesforce neglected to provide guidance for its next fiscal year.

Analysts at Guggenheim wrote in a report that there were “two elephants in the room.” The first was omitting guidance for the coming year.

“The second elephant in the room is why Bret Taylor decided to give up his high-profile co-CEO and vice chair position after only a year,” wrote the Guggenheim analysts, who have the equivalent of a hold rating on the stock. The analysts reminded clients that three years ago, Keith Block resigned as co-CEO after 18 months on the job and wrote that “the company seems to have struggled since.”

Salesforce co-CEO Marc Benioff on Bret Taylor's departure from the company

After Taylor’s announcement last week, Wedbush analysts wrote that, “the Street will view this as a shocker with Taylor one of the mainstays in the CRM strategy.”

A Salesforce spokesperson declined to comment beyond reiterating a statement the company sent earlier regarding Butterfield’s departure.

On Thursday, Wolfe Research downgraded Salesforce stock to the equivalent of hold from a buy. They wrote that the company is moving into “a new and difficult chapter” after execution errors, big-name departures and slowing revenue growth.

The only day in 2022 that Salesforce’s stock has been hit harder than it was Thursday or Monday was at the very beginning of the year. On Jan. 5, UBS downgraded Salesforce and Adobe, telling clients that enterprise tech spending was pulled forward by the pandemic, leading to slower continued growth for the two companies.

WATCH: Salesforce shares under pressure after co-CEO Bret Taylor steps down

Salesforce shares under pressure after co-CEO Bret Taylor steps down


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Two children and two adults survive after Tesla plunges 250 feet off California cliff

View from the helicopter during a rescue operation after a vehicle carrying two adults and two children went over a cliff in Devil’s Slide, San Mateo county, California, U.S., January 2, 2023, plunging hundreds of feet, according to the Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, in this still image obtained from social media video.

CHP – Golden Gate Division | Reuters

Two adults and two children were rescued from a Tesla that plunged 250 feet off a cliff Monday morning in San Mateo County, California, officials said. 

The car was traveling southbound on the Pacific Coast Highway when it went over the cliff at Devil’s Slide, south of the Tom Lantos tunnel, and landed near the water’s edge below, the Cal Fire San Mateo-Santa Cruz Unit said. 

The car flipped and landed on its wheels in the fall, CAL FIRE/Coastside Fire Incident Commander Brian Pottenger said. Witnesses saw the accident and called 911. 

As crews were lowered down, they were able to see movement in the front seat, through their binoculars, meaning someone was alive.

“We were actually very shocked when we found survivable victims in the vehicle. So, that actually was a really hopeful moment for us,” Pottenger said. 

Fire officials called for helicopters to help hoist the survivors to safety. As they waited, firefighters rappelled to the scene and rescued the two children.

Rescue teams are seen at the scene as a Tesla with four occupants plunged over a cliff on Pacific Coast Highway 1 at Devils Slide on January 2, 2022 in San Mateo County, California, United States.

Tayfun Coskun | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

The California Highway Patrol shared video on social media showing helicopters lower first responders to the scene to extricate and rescue two adults inside. 

All four were hospitalized. The San Mateo Sheriff’s Office said the two adults suffered non-life-threatening injuries and the two children were unharmed.

It’s not clear what caused the car to go over the cliff. CHP is handling the investigation. 

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Tesla shares tumble more than 10% following deliveries report

Tesla vehicles are shown at a sales and service center in Vista, California, June 3, 2022.

Mike Blake | Reuters

Shares of Tesla dropped 13% on Tuesday morning, a day after the electric auto maker reported fourth-quarter vehicle production and delivery numbers for 2022.

Deliveries are the closest approximation of sales disclosed by Tesla. The company reported 405,278 total deliveries for the quarter and 1.31 million total deliveries for the year. These numbers represented a record for the Elon Musk-led automaker and growth of 40% in deliveries year over year, but they fell shy of analysts’ expectations.

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Some analysts see a buying opportunity in Tesla for 2023 despite persistent demand pressures


According to a consensus of analysts’ estimates compiled by FactSet, as of Dec. 31, 2022, Wall Street was expecting Tesla to report around 427,000 deliveries for the final quarter of the year. Estimates updated in December, and included in the FactSet consensus, ranged from 409,000 to 433,000.

Those more recent estimates were in line with a company-compiled consensus distributed by Tesla investor relations Vice President Martin Viecha. 

Some Wall Street analysts think Tesla’s deliveries miss spells trouble for the electric vehicle maker, but others see a buying opportunity for the company in 2023.

Baird analyst Ben Kallo, who recently named Tesla a top pick for 2023, maintained an outperform rating and said he would remain a buyer of the stock ahead of the company’s earnings report, which is scheduled for Jan. 25.

“Q4 deliveries missed consensus but beat our estimates,” he said in a Tuesday note. “Importantly, production increased ~20% q/q which we expect to continue into 2023 as gigafactories in Berlin and Austin continue to ramp.”

Analysts at Goldman Sachs said they consider the delivery report to be an “incremental negative,” and view Tesla as a company that is “well positioned for long-term growth.” Goldman reiterated its buy rating on the stock in a Monday note and said that making vehicles more affordable in a challenging macroeconomic environment will be a “key driver of growth.”

“We believe key debates from here will be on whether vehicle deliveries can reaccelerate, margins and Tesla’s brand,” the analysts said.

Shares of Tesla suffered an extreme yearlong sell-off in 2022, prompting CEO Musk to tell employees in late December not to be “too bothered by stock market craziness.”

Musk has blamed Tesla’s declining share price in part on rising interest rates. But critics point to his rocky $44 billion Twitter takeover as a bigger culprit for the slide.

Morgan Stanley analysts said they think the company’s share price weakness is a “window of opportunity to buy.”

“Between a worsening macro backdrop, record high unaffordability, and increasing competition, there are hurdles for all auto companies to overcome in the year ahead,” they said in a note Tuesday. “However, within this backdrop we believe TSLA has the potential to widen its lead in the EV race, as it leverages its cost and scale advantages to further itself from the competition.”

CNBC’s Lora Kolodny and Michael Bloom contributed to this report.

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Tesla makes China boss Tom Zhu its highest-profile executive after Elon Musk

Tom Zhu Xiaotong, Tesla’s current executive in charge of China, speaks as a new Tesla experience store opens on Aug. 18, 2015 in Hangzhou, China.

Visual China Group | Getty Images

Tesla’s China chief Tom Zhu has been promoted to take direct oversight of the electric carmaker’s U.S. assembly plants as well as sales operations in North America and Europe, according to an internal posting of reporting lines reviewed by Reuters.

The Tesla posting showed that Zhu’s title of vice president for Greater China had not changed and that he also retained his responsibilities as Tesla’s most senior executive for sales in the rest of Asia as of Tuesday.

The move makes Zhu the highest-profile executive at Tesla after Chief Executive Elon Musk, with direct oversight for deliveries in all of its major markets and operations of its key production hubs.

The reporting lines for Zhu would keep Tesla’s vehicle design and development — both areas where Musk has been heavily involved — separate while creating an apparent deputy to Musk on the more near-term challenges of managing global sales and output.

Tesla did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment.

Reuters reviewed the organizational chart that had been posted internally by Tesla and confirmed the change with two people who had seen it. They asked not to be named because they were not authorized to discuss the matter.

Elon Musk needs to go back to Tesla and have others run Twitter, says Jim Cramer

Zhu and a team of his reports were brought in by Tesla late last year to troubleshoot production issues in the United States, driving an expectation among his colleagues then that he was being groomed for a bigger role.

Zhu’s appointment to a global role comes at a time when Musk has been distracted by his acquisition of Twitter and Tesla analysts and investors have urged action that would deepen the senior executive bench and allow him to focus on Tesla.

Under Zhu, Tesla’s Shanghai plant rebounded strongly from Covid lockdowns in China.

Tesla said on Monday that it had delivered 405,278 vehicles in the fourth quarter, short of Wall Street estimates, according to data compiled by Refinitiv.

The company had delivered 308,600 vehicles in the same period a year earlier.

The Tesla managers reporting to Zhu include: Jason Shawhan, director of manufacturing at the Gigafactory in Texas; Hrushikesh Sagar, senior director of manufacturing at Tesla’s Fremont factory; Joe Ward, vice president in charge of Europe, the Middle East and Africa; and Troy Jones, vice president of North America sales and service, according to the Tesla notice on reporting lines reviewed by Reuters.

Tesla country managers in China, Japan, Australia and New Zealand continued to report to Zhu, the notice showed.

Zhu does not have a direct report at Tesla’s still-ramping Berlin plant, but a person with knowledge of the matter said responsibility for that operation would come with the reporting line for Amsterdam-based Ward. Ward could not be immediately reached for comment.

Zhu, who was born in China but now holds a New Zealand passport, joined Tesla in 2014. Before that he was a project manager at a company established by his MBA classmates at Duke University, advising Chinese contractors working on infrastructure projects in Africa.

During Shanghai’s two-month Covid lockdown, Zhu was among the first batch of employees sleeping in the factory as they sought to keep it running, people who work with him have said.

Zhu, a no-fuss manager who sports a buzz cut, favors Tesla-branded fleece jackets and has lived in a government-subsidized apartment that is a 10-minute drive from the Shanghai Gigafactory. It was not immediately clear whether he would move after his promotion.

He takes charge of Tesla’s main production hubs at a time when the company is readying the launch of Cybertruck and a revamped version of its Model 3 sedan. Tesla has also said it is developing a cheaper electric vehicle but has not provided details on that plan.

When Tesla posted a picture on Twitter last month to celebrate its Austin, Texas, plant hitting a production milestone for its Model Y, Zhu was among hundreds of workers smiling on the factory floor.

Why China is beating the U.S. in electric vehicles

Allan Wang, who was promoted to vice president in charge of sales in China in July, was listed as the legal representative for the operation in registration papers filed with Chinese regulators in a change by the company last month.

Tesla board member James Murdoch said in November the company had recently identified a potential successor to Musk without naming the person. Murdoch did not respond to a request for comment.

Electrek previously reported that Zhu would take responsibility for U.S. sales, delivery and service.

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