Salesforce's Benioff to Buy Time Magazine, Boosting Influence

(Bloomberg) -- Marc Benioff, the billionaire co-founder of software maker Salesforce.com Inc., is making a play to project his influence far beyond Silicon Valley with the purchase of Time magazine.

The 53-year-old entrepreneur and his wife, Lynne, agreed to pay $190 million in cash to Meredith Corp. for the venerable but struggling print publication, stoking comparisons to Amazon.com Inc.’s Jeff Bezos. Benioff, who’s long sought to burnish his image as a civic leader and is well-known in his company’s home city of San Francisco, may gain a higher level of national visibility in his new role of media baron.

The transaction is reminiscent of Bezos’s $250 million acquisition of the Washington Post in 2013. That purchase brought Bezos a Pulitzer Prize-winning, 140-year-old newspaper but also put him in the cross hairs of U.S. President Donald Trump, who has called the Post an “expensive lobbyist” for Amazon.

The Benioffs said they won’t be involved in day-to-day operations or journalistic decisions at the magazine and plan to keep its current leadership team in charge. Still, at a time when Trump counts mainstream American media as his personal enemy, Marc Benioff’s national profile is bound to grow with the deal. Time has featured Trump on its cover almost two dozen times since he announced his bid for the presidency -- often accompanying critical stories. Benioff himself has been an outspoken critic of Trump in public appearances and through his Twitter account, where he often shares his progressive opinions.

“We are honored to be the caretakers of one of the world’s most important media companies and iconic brands,” the Benioffs said in a statement Sunday. “Time has always been a trusted reflection of the state of the world, and reminds us that business is one of the greatest platforms for change.”

Benioff, who has a net worth of $6.5 billion, serves as the co-chief executive officer of Salesforce, but the deal is unrelated to the tech company, according to the statement. The Benioffs are buying the media brand personally. Benioff has expanded his influence through personal philanthropy and corporate sponsorship of public projects in San Francisco, and his company in May officially opened up Salesforce Tower, the tallest office building west of the Mississippi River, which has transformed the city’s skyline. His company is the largest private employer in San Francisco.

Meredith, known for publications such as Better Homes & Gardens, acquired Time as part of its $1.8 billion takeover of Time Inc. in January. But it soon put some of the business’s biggest titles up for sale, including Sports Illustrated, Fortune and Time itself.

Meredith said on Sunday that deals for the other titles are expected in “the near future.”

The Wall Street Journal previously reported on the Time deal, which is slated to close in the next 30 days. Time, founded in 1923, has contended with a decline in print advertising in recent years. But it continues to reach a total of more than 100 million readers in print and online. Its special editions, including Person of the Year, also remain closely watched releases.

Meredith management has said that it’s selling some of the acquired titles because they have different audiences and advertisers than most of its other magazines -- a collection that focuses on entertainment, food, lifestyle, home, parenting, beauty and fashion.

“Time has been at the forefront of the most significant events and impactful stories that shape our global conversation,” Meredith CEO Tom Harty said. “We know Time will continue to succeed and is in good hands with the Benioffs.”

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.