Amazon’s main money-spinner has a new boss.
Ex-Tableau Software CEO Adam Selipsky returned to his old stomping grounds at Amazon Web Services this month — this time at its helm.
Selipsky, 54, who worked for 11 years overseeing marketing, sales, business development and customer support at Amazon’s cloud-computing division before heading to Tableau, is taking over from Andy Jassy. The latter is replacing Jeff Bezos as Amazon CEO in July.
AWS has grown rapidly in the five years that Selipsky has been gone. The division’s annual revenue has jumped nearly fourfold, from $12.2 billion in 2016 to $45 billion last year. AWS propels Amazon’s bottom line, making up 63% of the company’s operating profit last year.
Nevertheless, Selipsky is facing a roster of challenges in his new role. Big-name firms like Google and Microsoft are eating away at AWS’ market share and poaching AWS talent. Across Amazon, leaders are facing a rising tide of employee activism around issues like climate change, corporate diversity and surveillance.
Amazon declined to make Selipsky available for an interview.
Former colleagues and associates say Selipsky is well-prepared to pilot AWS through the years ahead, describing him as meticulous, broad-minded and skilled at customer relations. At data-visualization firm Tableau, Selipsky led that company through a transition away from pay-upfront licensing to a cloud-based subscription model — a radical rethinking of Tableau’s product.
Tableau had a roughly $3 billion market capitalization when Selipsky took over in 2016; three years later, Salesforce acquired the Fremont-based company for $15.7 billion in one of the Pacific Northwest’s largest acquisitions. By 2019, 84% of Tableau’s revenue came from subscriptions.
“Changing your entire business model is really risky, to put it lightly,” said Tableau chief product officer Francois Ajenstat, laughing. He chalked up Tableau’s successful subscription rollout, in part, to Selipsky’s “customer empathy.”
“He listens intently,” Ajenstat said. “Customers really trust him.”
Describing how Tableau responded to the dramatic upheaval of the pandemic at the Technology Alliance’s annual luncheon Wednesday, Selipsky hinted that his priorities at AWS will be similarly customer-centric — no surprise, given that one of Amazon’s 14 leadership principles is “Customer Obsession.”
“If you take a long-term view — which I always do and it’s one of the great things about Amazon — how do we think about where we’re going to be with these customers in three, five, 10 years from now?” Selipsky said. “What do we do now to really deepen those bonds of partnership?”
Selipsky also oversaw a reimagining of Tableau’s internal processes, pushing for changes that sped hiring and cut operational costs, said Tableau’s former senior vice president of marketing Adriana Gil Miner. In addition, Gil Miner said, he instituted policies he’d learned at Amazon, like asking for six-page memos and draft news releases outlining new proposals.
Selipsky’s experience at Tableau could serve him well in another way, said cloud-computing consultant Corey Quinn, of the Duckbill Group. AWS could recapture market share from competitors by investing in products that, like Tableau, appeal to a customer base beyond the highly trained software developers who currently use AWS, Quinn said.
“Amazon does not have any upscale software that people use that solves problems that is any good,” Quinn said. “It’s all plumbing under the hood. It’s the pipes. It’s not the porcelain.” Meanwhile, Tableau’s ease of use has garnered the software a devoted fan base among academics, business analysts, journalists and government agencies.
Selipsky is seen by Tableau associates and acquaintances in the Seattle business community as even-keeled and diligent, and somewhat more reserved than Jassy, a gregarious leader fond of giving colleagues joking nicknames, and who launched the world’s largest hot-wing-eating contest.
Both executives, though, are known for their keen business acumen.
“It seemed like no detail was too small for him to tackle,” Gil Miner said. “Most executives read the executive summary. Adam will actually read the entire document and mark it up,” including making notes on grammar.
His personal life revolves around his family, acquaintances said: his wife, Laura, and two children, one of whom also works for AWS. (An Amazon spokesperson noted that Selipsky’s daughter started at AWS nine months before her father returned.) His chief passions, water skiing and wine — on Twitter, he describes himself as “water skier, wine guy” — were inherited from his father, Herb, a former periodontist who brags that he’s one of the oldest guys on the lake who can get up on one ski, said Selipsky’s boyhood friend Gordon Stephenson. Herb also boasts a wine cellar so impressive that he’s known as “The Legend” to a wine-tasting group of which Selipsky is a member, according to the group’s founder, Michael Dix, the CEO of Seattle consulting firm Intentional Futures.
Selipsky’s grandparents fled antisemitism in Europe in the early 20th century; the family ended up in South Africa, where Selipsky was born. His parents immigrated to the United States when Selipsky was a child and settled in Lake Forest Park, where they still live.
Selipsky invoked his family’s history when denouncing, in 2017, a U.S. ban on immigration from seven predominantly Muslim countries imposed by former President Donald Trump.
“Had my grandparents not been allowed to flee Eastern Europe between the First and Second World Wars, I might well not be here today,” Selipsky wrote in an email to Tableau employees. “We are strongest when we embrace and embody our national values of tolerance, collaboration, inclusion, and respect.”
Selipsky attended the private Lakeside School in Seattle. (Selipsky’s children also attended Lakeside, where they were schoolmates with the children of Bezos, Microsoft founder Bill Gates and Zillow CEO Rich Barton.) He went on to study government at Harvard, then attended Harvard Business School, graduating in 1993, four years before Jassy.
Selipsky approaches his private passions with a similar diligence he gives his work, friends say. During boating season, he rises at dawn many days each week, taking out the boat docked at his Laurelhurst home to ski on Lake Washington before going to the office, cutting at angles so steep that his shoulder nearly touches the water. His tennis game has seen drastic improvement in recent years, partners say, the result of methodical, disciplined practice.
When it comes to wine, Selipsky “has a broad palate” but tends to favor French wines, particularly from the Bordeaux region, said fellow oenophile Dix, the Seattle consultancy CEO. (An Amazon spokesperson said that Selipsky “also loves other wines from around the world.”) Selipsky has an “uncanny ability” to identify and describe wines, even when he hasn’t seen the label on the bottle, Dix said.
Selipsky’s business interests outside of Amazon mirror his hobbies. He’s a minor investor in electric-powered boat startup Pure Watercraft, where his son worked for nearly a year, according to LinkedIn. (An Amazon spokesperson said his son worked for minimum wage during his first year in college.) And he formerly served on the board of Woodinville’s Silver Lake Winery, which is partially owned by his father.
In his personal life, as in his business dealings, Selipsky is “a real straight-shooter,” driven by curiosity, said Barton, who got to know Selipsky on the sidelines of their children’s soccer games, where he said Selipsky “wasn’t a screamer.” (Zillow is a client both of Tableau and AWS.)
“There’s not a lot of yelling and arm-waving. That’s an important part of leadership — to bring temperatures down, not raise temperatures,” Barton said.