USC Trustee Marc Benioff ’86 and his wife, Lynne, have given $20 million toward construction of the Lawrence J. Ellison Institute for Transformative Medicine of USC, a new center in Los Angeles that will combine interdisciplinary research with the holistic prevention and treatment of cancer. In recognition of the gift, the lobby of the Ellison Institute will be named in honor of Marc Benioff’s late father, Russell Benioff.
A pioneer of cloud computing and chairman and CEO of Salesforce, Marc Benioff has served as a member of the USC Board of Trustees since 2010. Widely recognized for his visionary leadership, he is noted for integrating philanthropy into the core of his business with the creation of the 1-1-1 model of philanthropy, donating 1 percent of Salesforce’s equity, employee time and product to nonprofits and educational institutions to improve communities around the world. Today, more than 1,000 companies around the world have adapted this model through Pledge 1%.
The Benioffs have focused their extensive personal philanthropy on children’s health, public education, homelessness and other social issues.
Under his leadership, Salesforce has grown from a groundbreaking idea into a Fortune 500 company and the fastest-growing top-10 software company in the world. Prior to launching Salesforce, Benioff spent 13 years at Oracle Corp., which was founded by Larry Ellison, the Ellison Institute’s primary benefactor. Benioff founded his first company, Liberty Software, which created video games, at age 15, and also worked at Apple Computer’s Macintosh division as a teenager. He has a bachelor’s in business administration from the USC Marshall School of Business.
Lynne Benioff is an independent marketing consultant and philanthropist. In 2011, she co-founded Star Community Home, a short-term residential community for homeless families in San Francisco. She is a member of the board for several organizations, including the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) Foundation, UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital Oakland and Common Sense Media. In 2015, President Barack Obama appointed her to the board of directors of the Presidio Trust. She earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Washington. The Benioffs live in the Bay Area.
“Marc and Lynne Benioff stand among our nation’s most visionary philanthropists, and their extraordinary gift invests in USC’s commitment to new technologies and research that fight cancer,” USC President C. L. Max Nikias said. “Their gift also ensures that our university will remain at the fore of this field, and continue to bring hope and resolve to the fight. We should all applaud the Benioffs’ dedication to our collective fight against cancer.”
Ellison Institute cancer research labs
Announced in May, the Ellison Institute in West Los Angeles will house interdisciplinary cancer research laboratories that will harness proteomics, molecular biology, genetics and nanotechnology to seek new ways of ending cancer. The institute’s collaborative environment will include patient care clinics, a think tank, education and outreach, and a wellness program.
David B. Agus, a professor at the Keck School of Medicine of USC and the USC Viterbi School of Engineering, will lead the institute, which will draw collaborators from many disciplines to study cancer and potential ways to prevent, detect and treat the disease. The institute will complement and integrate cancer research being conducted by faculty physicians and scientists across the university.
“Cancer has deeply impacted our family and too many other families around the world,” Benioff said. “We truly believe that by empowering and funding institutions doing important cancer research we will be able to change the course of this disease.”
Russell Benioff passed away in 2012 from prostate cancer. Marc Benioff has attributed his work ethic and entrepreneurialism to his father, a retail store executive who got his start at his parents’ San Francisco department store and later became president of a chain of apparel stores in the Bay Area.
“It is such an honor and privilege to work alongside my close friends Lynne and Marc Benioff in trying to make a difference against cancer and in honoring Marc’s father, Russell,” Agus said. “We have to do things differently to try and make an impact against this horrible disease.”
Marc Benioff’s dedication to the Trojan Family as a trustee and alumnus was recognized in 2014, when he was awarded an honorary degree of Doctor of Humane Letters. He also delivered that year’s commencement address, during which he talked about how his philanthropy has been key to his own happiness.
“The real joy in life comes from giving. It comes from service. It comes from doing things for other people,” he told the audience. “Nothing will make you happier than giving.”
— Lynn Lipinski