Tech

Amazon’s pick for its new cloud CEO comes as a shock to insiders

Amazon’s cloud business is bringing back Adam Selipsky, its former de facto chief operating officer who left in 2016 after 11 years at the company to run Tableau. Selipsky will return to Amazon on May 17 and transition into the AWS CEO role in the third quarter.

The reaction to the news from over half a dozen company insiders who spoke to Insider was largely positive, but it also came as a shock: Many expected AWS to promote an internal candidate after it announced in February that longtime CEO Andy Jassy would succeed founder Jeff Bezos later this year. 

Amazon declined to comment for this report.

Selipsky took over as Tableau CEO when cofounder Christian Chabot stepped down in 2016. The company’s stock at the time had taken a beating but Selipsky managed to boost it significantly before ultimately pulling off a $15.7 billion sale of the company to Salesforce in 2019.

While Selipsky’s name came up as a potential successor, the most likely candidates to replace Jassy were widely considered to be Matt Garman, AWS’s VP of sales and marketing, Peter DeSantis, SVP of AWS infrastructure and support, and Charlie Bell, head of utility computing services. All three executives sit on Amazon’s “S-team,” a group of about two dozen leaders from across the company who work closely together on key business decisions. Speculation around Garman, DeSantis, or Bell getting the CEO title gained steam given Amazon’s history of hiring senior officials from within.

Still, there were rumors of AWS potentially looking at external candidates. And in some ways, Selipsky isn’t entirely an external hire: He was essentially AWS’s chief operating officer before he left for Tableau. His official title at the time was vice president of marketing, sales, and support for Amazon Web Services and he managed teams including business development, technical support, product management, and customer service. 

“Adam brings strong judgment, customer obsession, team building, demand generation, and CEO experience to an already very strong AWS leadership team,” Jassy wrote in an email to employees on Tuesday announcing Selipsky’s hiring. “And, having been in such a senior role at AWS for 11 years, he knows our culture and business well.”

Some insiders, however, previously cast doubt on whether Selipsky would return. One person told Insider in February that Selipsky originally left AWS in 2016 because he “hit a dead end” and would be unlikely to return to replace Jassy. Another insider said Selipsky viewed AWS CEO as a lateral move because he would have no shot at the Amazon CEO role in the same way that he had little chance to replace Marc Benioff as the CEO of Salesforce. (It’s widely expected that chief operating officer Bret Taylor will eventually take over.

Still, one former senior-level employee told Insider that Selipsky remained close with Jassy even after he left, and it’s not entirely unprecedented for Amazon to fill a senior executive role with someone from outside the company. Amazon named Jay Carney, formerly President Barack Obama’s press secretary, as its top press and policy executive in 2015. Last year, it brought in Mike Hopkins from Sony to lead its video production and streaming services.

The AWS business Selipsky will inherit has a decidedly different profile compared to the one he had left in 2016.

AWS surpassed $45 billion in annual revenue last year, nearly quadrupling the $12.2 billion it generated in 2016. The unit is still by far the cloud market leader with over 30% of market share, but it’s also facing much slower growth than it used to, having expanded 30% last year versus 55% five years ago.

Are you an Amazon Web Services employee? Contact reporter Ashley Stewart via encrypted messaging app Signal (+1-425-344-8242) or email ([email protected]).

Do you work at Amazon? Contact reporter Eugene Kim via encrypted messaging apps Signal/Telegram (+1-415-926 -2066) or email ([email protected]).

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