How Adam Selipsky Could Make Amazon's Cloud Business Even Bigger

David Paul Morris | Bloomberg | Getty Images
  • Adam Selipsky will see some familiar faces when he returns to Amazon to lead its cloud division, but there are many people he doesn't know who joined in the four years he's been away.
  • Selipsky can refine Amazon's cloud application approach, address individual industries and focus more on other continents.

Amazon Web Services chief Andy Jassy will take the CEO reins from Jeff Bezos later this year. So Jassy picked a person he trusts to replace him as the head of the Amazon unit providing cloud tools for hosting websites and applications.

Now it will be up to Adam Selipsky, who was Jassy's right-hand man up until a few years ago when he left to become CEO of Tableau Software, to build on Amazon's already impressive lead.

AWS controlled 47% of the cloud infrastructure market in the first half of 2020, according to estimates from industry observer IDC, more than the next four providers put together: Microsoft, Alibaba, Google and IBM.

Like Jassy, Selipsky saw AWS grow up and immerses himself in the details across many topics. As recently as 2016, when he gave up his position of vice president for sales, marketing and support, Selipsky sat in on Jassy's back-to-back "chop" meetings to discuss proposals.

While Jassy was the last person to comment, Selipsky was second to last, said Jay Wampold, marketing chief of cloud-development start-up Pulumi and a former AWS product marketing director.

Amazon workers for decades have leaned on 14 leadership principles such as "customer obsession" and "bias for action." People who know him said Selipsky embodied those principles, like Jassy. He's also well acquainted with Amazon's practice of coming up with fake press releases and frequently-asked-questions documents for potential products. It probably won't take long for Selipsky to remember the rhythm of working at Amazon.

But one thing that distinguishes Selipsky from other candidates is that he ran analytics software company Tableau, both as a publicly traded company and as a part of Salesforce. Under Selipsky, Tableau's stock rose as revenue growth accelerated and he led a shift from selling one-time software licenses to subscriptions. He then helped sell it to Salesforce in 2019 for $15.7 billion, which was the company's biggest acquisition ever at the time.

"More and more, organizations are demanding subscription purchasing options for all of their software, and data analytics is no different. It's no surprise why, as with subscription, our customers get the full power and simplicity of Tableau with lower risk, lower upfront investment and more flexibility," Selipsky told analysts on a 2017 conference call. The push succeeded: By 2019 84% of Tableau's revenue came from subscriptions.

'Make it easy'

Leading Tableau gave Selipsky greater exposure to the complexities of selling software for non-technical users, said Jay Heglar, chief business officer of Tableau competitor Domo and formerly an AWS sales leader who worked with Selipsky. Now, Heglar said, Selipsky can go back and try to boost adoption of the cloud applications offered by AWS, which historically have not been as popular as its low-level computing, storage and database products.

For example, being at Tableau meant allying with resellers that can get software into large accounts, Heglar said. Selipsky could call for Amazon to refine its approach there to promote applications such as the Amazon Chime video-calling service -- which is far from a household name like Zoom, or even Skype.

Working at Salesforce might have given Selipsky some new perspective on how to make AWS even bigger. Salesforce spent four times as much on sales and marketing as on research and development in its last fiscal year, showing its emphasis on selling.

"Make it easy to do business. Make it easy to buy a platform," said Manny Medina, CEO of sales software start-up Outreach and member of the Amazon team that started what became AWS. "Sell me a vision. Good old salesmanship -- you need a little bit of Keith Block in that organization." Block joined Salesforce from Oracle in 2013 and was elevated to co-CEO alongside Marc Benioff before he resigned in February 2020.

Medina said it would be helpful if AWS could sell customers technology even if it's not quite available yet -- a sales tactic that Oracle has employed in the past. "If you want to grow, you have to make promises for things that you don't yet have," one former Oracle employee was quoted as saying.

Medina also said Selipsky could make a difference if he can make AWS simpler for users. This week a small cloud-infrastructure provider called DigitalOcean, which touts the simplicity of its services and billing practices, debuted on the New York Stock Exchange.

Contending with Microsoft

Selipsky will have to contend with a resurgent Microsoft.

When Selipsky left Amazon, Microsoft was still bolstering its portfolio with Azure services to match what Amazon could deliver, and Microsoft was still rolling out data centers around the world to boost capacity. Those are not big issues anymore. Microsoft has become more successful at convincing longtime Windows and Office customers to try Azure, in part by encouraging its salespeople to focus on getting customers to use it, instead of just pay for it.

Since 2016, Microsoft has also begun using Amazon's own behavior against it. Microsoft executives regularly say that companies don't want to do business with a IT services company that competes with them in other arenas -- a jab at Amazon's continuous expansion from e-commerce into shipping, pharmacy, grocery stores and more.

Selipsky will have to respond to that line of inquiry, just as Jassy has. (Amazon has said that "for customers who've built meaningful offerings with significant functionality, we've yet to see these companies struggle to keep growing simply because AWS offers something in that area, too.")

Whatever Microsoft is doing, it's working. Azure now appears to be close to eclipsing Office as Microsoft's largest business by revenue. IDC estimates indicate that AWS lost market share in the first half of 2021 compared with the first half of 2020, while Microsoft gained share. Alibaba and Google took share as well.

Microsoft has been assembling bundles of products and coming up with enhancements designed for individual industries, such as health care, manufacturing and retail. Amazon has not pursued a vertical-specific strategy to date. AWS has won some business in slow-moving areas, such as financial services and health care.

"I do think there's an opportunity for Adam to break through on some of that as part of a vertical strategy," said Ed Anderson, a distinguished analyst at technology research company Gartner. For example, AWS could stand to capture more dollars from industries that have been slow to adopt the public cloud, such as financial services and health care.

His history at Salesforce will help here, too, as the company went deeper on its own industry push while Selipsky was there.

International expansion is another opportunity. Selipsky will be stepping into an Amazon that still isn't always the go-to cloud outside the Americas. Alibaba remains dominant in China, and across Europe AWS has yet to become a big hit.

"European companies tend to be a little more conservative and less open to disruption and change," Anderson said. Europe has many smaller organizations that work with channel partners and like to continue to use products they're familiar with, Anderson said.

A bigger company

There is also the matter of building up new relationships inside an ever-widening Amazon.

Since Selipsky left, Amazon's headcount has more than doubled to about 1.3 million.

At least Selipsky will find familiar faces when he rejoins AWS in May. He was involved in many key business wins, including arrangements with Capital One and the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, Heglar said. He was talented at growing leaders inside AWS and was willing to step in to defend his people in meetings when others were pushing back on their ideas, Heglar said. His daughter, Nina Selipsky, works at AWS as an executive content and program specialist.

Most importantly, Jassy trusts Selipsky.

"He will let Adam do his thing," Heglar said.

WATCH: Amazon names next AWS CEO as Adam Selipsky

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