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Tesla Motors Inc (TSLA), salesforce.com, inc. (CRM): When Picking Growth Stocks, Look at the CEO

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While some CEOs seem to avoid the spotlight, others appear to actively cultivate it. These managers go out of their way to get their names in print, staging PR stunts and speaking out on political issues. Tesla Motors Inc (NASDAQ:TSLA)’s Elon Musk, salesforce.com, inc. (NYSE:CRM)’s Marc Benioff and Whole Foods Market, Inc. (NASDAQ:WFM)’s John Mackey are all CEOs who run companies many would consider to be growth stories. All have used personal flamboyance to great success.

Elon Musk: The real life Tony Stark

The director of the first two Iron Man movies, Jon Favreau, credits Elon Musk as the inspiration for his take on the character of Tony Stark. Musk is a modern renaissance man, maintaining leadership roles in three companies.

Investors likely know him most as the CEO of Tesla Motors Inc (NASDAQ:TSLA). In this role, he has used his larger-than-life image to push the company forward. He’s no stranger to social media — his tweets generate headlines in the financial press.

In early February, Musk used his twitter to attack The New York Times Company (NYSE:NYT) for the paper’s review of his company’s car, the Model S. Following the tweet, Musk appeared on financial TV to back up his claim, denouncing the reviewer as a liar.

Most recently, Musk used his twitter to generate buzz for an announcement Tesla Motors Inc (NASDAQ:TSLA) made Tuesday. The announcement — that Tesla would start offering a hybrid lease/ownership financing plan — was moderately significant, but hardly seemed worth the excessive degree of hype.

In the days before the announcement, Tesla Motors Inc (NASDAQ:TSLA) shares traded to a new all-time high as traders and media pundits anxiously contemplated what Musk could be planning to announce. Here, Musk’s charisma benefited him — if he wasn’t such a lively character, it’s likely that the announcement would have generated less than half the buzz it got.

Marc Benioff sells his company more than his product

I’m not sure how much time Benioff spends selling his company’s products to customers, but it’s likely less than the amount of time he spends selling salesforce.com, inc. (NYSE:CRM) to the world.

In general, Benioff is no stranger to media interviews. Benioff is a frequent guest on Jim Cramer’s Mad Money — appearing on the show nearly every quarter.

Like Musk, Benioff is a regular tweeter, and also like Musk, he isn’t afraid to use his twitter account to criticize other companies. Benioff attended Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL)’s iPad 3 launch event last year, and while the event was unfolding, Benioff was active on his twitter.

Among other things, Benioff attacked Apple’s presentation style, characterizing it as “boring.” He went after Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) CEO Tim Cook, lamenting the fact that Cook didn’t give thanks to Steve Jobs for the iPad.

But perhaps most incendiary of all, Benioff suggested that Apple’s management might be both racist and sexist, remarking that Apple has “all white men on stage. No women or racial diversity so far.” Ironically, as Business Insider points out, salesforce.com, inc. (NYSE:CRM)’s own board is composed of eight white men and a single Asian woman.

But to Benioff, hypocrisy is irrelevant. At an event when all eyes were focused on Apple, he was able to steal some of the spotlight for both himself and salesforce.com, inc. (NYSE:CRM).

John Mackey is a harsh critic of Obamacare

Whole Foods’ John Mackey is a diehard libertarian. (While many people might be inclined to equate organic food with liberal politics, there is strong opposition to big agribusiness among libertarians.)

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