Once you get the hang of it, it's pretty easy to dissect balance sheets, income, and cash flow statements. This is the first step in getting your feet wet in the investment world.
But it doesn't stop there. If we were to base investing decisions solely on what we read in these statements, that would be akin to picking a significant other based solely on their Facebook profile --to many, it just doesn't make sense to avoid real-life interaction.
Investigating these "soft" aspects of a company are important for investors. And although we can't capture all of the intangibles of a company in one article, Glassdoor.com -- a website that collects employee sentiment for companies across the world -- recently came out with a list that could help: the Top CEOs of 2013.
Over the past few days, I've covered CEOs 25 through 11. Today, I'm going to introduce you to the company with the 10th highest-rated CEO, give you some background on the company, and at the end, I'll offer up access to a special free report on a stock Warren Buffett wishes he could buy.
This company has proven to be one of the most nimble of the information age. Long before "cloud computing" entered our lexicon, Marc Benioff, Salesforce's chairman, CEO, and founder, already knew what a game changer the cloud would be.
If you aren't familiar with cloud computing, don't fret: I thought it had something to do with those puffy things in the sky when I first heard the term years ago. Fellow Fool Alex Planes put together a great piece breaking down "the cloud" for dummies. The long and short is this: The cloud allows information and software systems to be stored and accessed remotely -- making it easier to save, share, aggregate information, and offer products to scale than by having information only stored on an individual's hard drive.
Back in 1999, Benioff saw the end of enterprise software, and began Salesforce.com from a rented apartment in San Francisco. Instead of a company buying thousands of copies of a software system for each individual employee, it could instead pay a much smaller fee to allow employees to tap into a software system available remotely.
In 2004, Benioff was convinced he was on to something. "If I'm right -- and I'm convinced I am -- this on-demand model will totally change the way technology is bought and sold,"he said. "In other words, it's the end of software as we know it."
Playing against the big boys
It was just that type of brashness and foresight that helped Salesforce get the crucial first-mover position in the cloud. Competing against much larger rivals such as IBM and Oracle (NYSE:ORCL), the only way that Salesforce could ever survive was by jumping out front.
Back in the beginning, Oracle CEO Larry Ellison gave Beinoff -- who used to work at Oracle -- $2 million in seed money to start Salesforce. Apparently, Ellison didn't realize that Salesforce was going to replace the type of complex enterprise software Oracle was famous for.
Since then, both of these heavyweights -- and many more like them -- have joined in the cloud business. IBM right now is more of an outside threat, as it hasn't focused nearly as much on Software-as-a-Service (SaaS), which is Salesforce's bread and butter.
But even when larger companies make big moves, like Oracle's recent purchase of Acme Packet, that doesn't necessarily mean Salesforce is in trouble.
Indeed, Oracle recently came out with disappointing earnings and blamed it (partially) on "lack of urgency" on the part of its sales force, especially those who were newly hired.
You won't find Salesforce making those kinds of excuses: Revenues have increased by 84% in just the last two years. And on top of being named one of the top CEOs of 2013, Benioff's employees have also rated Salesforce as the 22nd best company to work for in America.
Surely, at today's prices, investors might want to take weighty expectations into consideration. But one thing they don't have to worry about is a CEO who isn't focused or an employee base that isn't motivated.
Be ahead of the curve