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Salesforce's Hu Turns Offices Into Social Networks

Editor's note: This story was part of TheStreet's 10-part Top Business Leaders of Tomorrow series.

SAN FRANCISCO ( TheStreet) -- The worst economic downturn since the Great Depression opened doors for savvy executives with ideas that help businesses grow. Few took advantage of that opportunity more than the leaders of cloud-computing pioneer Salesforce.com (CRM).

"We're in the right place at the right time," said George Hu, Salesforce's executive vice president of marketing and alliances. He oversees the company's marketing and recently became the head of its Force.com application-development product. "There's no better place to be right now."

Salesforce started out as a product for managing sales and customers, but has quickly become a leader in cloud computing, services that enable companies to store information online. In recent years, the company has set itself apart from larger competitors by adding social-networking tools and services that help people build applications for Apple's (AAPL) iPhone and other smartphones.

George Hu
George Hu, Salesforce's executive vice president of marketing and alliances.

Like many tech startups of its day, Salesforce was founded by four programmers in a San Francisco apartment in 1999. Hu joined Salesforce in 2002 at age 28 after earning a master's of business administration at Stanford. He has helped the firm ramp up from 150 employees to almost 5,000.

"You can usually tell within the first couple of meetings, whether you're a cultural fit for a company," said Hu, now 36, thinking back on his early interviews at Salesforce. "I was impressed with how passionate and smart everyone was."

That energy has helped Salesforce increase revenue every quarter since it went public in 2004. This year has been especially successful for the company, which has boosted the number of customers it serves by 30% to 82,400 as of July 31.

The company's shares have returned 43% this year, making Salesforce the No. 7 stock in the 76-member S&P 500 Information Technology Index, which has gained 2.2% during the period.

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