Adam Selipsky returns to AWS as CEO. Now what?

The Tableau CEO and Salesforce executive is returning to Amazon Web Services after six years away to take over the cloud division when Andy Jassy moves on to the top Amazon job later this year.

hand holding paper cloud for amazon web services logo

It's official: Tableau CEO Adam Selipsky is returning to AWS to take over as CEO when Andy Jassy takes the top job at Amazon later this year.

This is a surprising outcome, as many observers expected an internal hire to be made to replace Jassy, with the likes of AWS sales and marketing chief Matt Garman or senior vice president Charlie Bell the frontrunners.

Selipsky left AWS to take over as CEO of the analytics vendor Tableau in 2016, which he helped grow into a $1 billion revenue company before navigating a blockbuster $15 billion acquisition by Salesforce in 2019.

He will leave Salesforce to return to the cloud vendor in May 2021 to start his transition into the CEO role under fellow Harvard Business School grad Jassy, under whom he worked closely from 2005 to 2016 as COO at AWS.

"Adam brings strong judgment, customer obsession, team building, demand generation, and CEO experience to an already very strong AWS leadership team. And, having been in such a senior role at AWS for 11 years, he knows our culture and business well," Jassy wrote in an email to staff.

AWS is a $12 billion oil tanker within another oil tanker of, and as a Jassy acolyte, it’s safe to assume Selipsky won’t be looking to shift course too drastically in his new role.

“Adam Selipsky knows AWS—and his new boss—well, having been there for years before leaving to take the CEO position at Tableau. Culturally, there’s a good fit to help AWS keep doing what it’s been doing,” said Forrester analyst Paul Miller.

“While he has had immense success in running Tableau and he will be super hungry for a new challenge following his induction into Salesforce, running AWS is a different kettle of fish entirely and he will be tested early given the enormous change on the horizon in the cloud computing space,” said CCS Insights analyst Nick McQuire.

However, there are some areas he could focus on, such as improving AWS penetration with the enterprise market amid fierce competition from Microsoft and Google Cloud, something he successfully executed on a far smaller scale at Tableau, which he grew from a much-loved data visualization tool into a billion-dollar subscription enterprise analytics business.

“His experience at Tableau and especially Salesforce, gives him a fresh perspective on the business leaders that AWS is keen to cultivate. Recent experience running both a public company and a big cloud business unit within a larger parent is a plus, and will no doubt feed into any planning around whether or not AWS should separate from Amazon in some way,” Miller said.

There will also be more open source spats to come and a continued drive to improve the developer experience through more managed services, but a marketer through and through, Selipsky may see his biggest challenge as better aligning the AWS value proposition with those of top enterprise decision makers.

“It will be interesting to see AWS get more prescriptive with customers on technology decisions and focus on not only responding to customer needs as the primary focus of its product strategy, but also anticipating their demands as well in offering more forward-looking products to help customers with technology direction,” McQuire said. “These areas haven’t really been a priority but we are seeing its competitors double down in these areas with customers.”

Microsoft has already proved itself adroit at converting more traditional businesses to its Azure cloud platform thanks to its deep roots with those buyers, and Google Cloud is investing heavily to catch up, while Jassy himself has been courting top CEOs for the last few years via its Re:Invent conferences.

In Jassy’s own words from his memo to the staff, “It’s easy to forget that AWS is still in the very early stages of what’s possible. Less than 5% of the global IT spend is in the cloud at this point. That’s going to substantially change in the coming years. We have a lot more to invent for customers, and we have a very strong leadership team and group of builders to go make it happen. Am excited for what lies ahead.”

Copyright © 2021 IDG Communications, Inc.

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