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Tableau CEO Mark Nelson steps down, no successor to be named

Nelson ascended to the leadership role in March 2021 after the departure of Adam Selipsky. Salesforce, which acquired the analytics vendor in 2019, will now take on its leadership.

Tableau president and CEO Mark Nelson has resigned after 20 months, and parent company Salesforce will not appoint a successor, signaling the end of Tableau's relative independence.

Nelson, who took over as CEO of the analytics vendor in March 2021 when longtime CEO Adam Selipsky left to become CEO of AWS, revealed the news on Twitter on Dec. 1.

"Today marks my last day [at Tableau] after an amazing 4 1/2 years," he posted. "It has been an honor to work with everyone who serves the mission of helping people see and understand data. I can't wait to see what the [Tableau data family] brings to the world next!"

Nelson did not disclose whether he has another job lined up.

Tableau, founded in 2003 and based in Seattle, was acquired by Salesforce for $15.7 billion in 2019.

According to a source with knowledge about the situation, the CRM giant has known of Nelson's plan to step down for a while and does not plan to appoint a new CEO of Tableau.

Instead, the source, who asked not to be identified, said the product and engineering teams at Tableau that previously reported to Nelson will now be brought more closely into Salesforce and report to Salesforce personnel.

Tableau's diminished independence

Tableau operated fully independently of Salesforce for nearly six months following the acquisition while the deal awaited regulatory approval. After it gained regulatory approval, the analytics vendor continued to operate with relative independence under the continued leadership of Selipsky and then Nelson.

Now, however, without its own CEO, Tableau is being merged more closely into Salesforce. Salesforce, meanwhile, on Wednesday lost one of its own top leaders when co-CEO Bret Taylor announced his resignation, making Marc Benioff once again the CRM giant's sole CEO.

I am a little surprised at the timing of this move. In the long run, it makes sense as Tableau becomes more and more integrated into the Salesforce organization and technology stack. However, I did not think this process was so far along that Tableau would be entirely absorbed so quickly.
Donald FarmerFounder and principal, TreeHive Strategy

Tableau's eventual loss of independence is not a surprise, according to Donald Farmer, founder and principal of TreeHive Strategy, but the speed with which it is happening is.

"I am a little surprised at the timing of this move," Farmer said. "In the long run, it makes sense as Tableau becomes more and more integrated into the Salesforce organization and technology stack. However, I did not think this process was so far along that Tableau would be entirely absorbed so quickly. So I am surprised, but not shocked."

Beyond expressing surprise, Farmer noted that Nelson's resignation and Salesforce's decision not to appoint a new Tableau CEO could affect how customers and partners view Tableau.

Salesforce's acquisition of Tableau came just days after Google acquired Looker for $2.6 billion. Since then, though Google has maintained the Looker platform and recently unveiled plans to consolidate its analytics tools under the Looker name, Looker clearly has become a subsidiary of Google.

Similarly, past acquisitions such as IBM's 2007 purchase of Cognos and Tibco's acquisition of Spotfire that same year resulted in the acquired companies becoming tools within their parent companies' larger suites rather than independent subsidiaries.

Now, Tableau partners and customers have reason to fear that Tableau might suffer the same fate, according to Farmer.

"The implication of this for the market is that customers and partners will have less confidence in Tableau as a standalone analytics product," he said. "They will likely be less committed as a result. We are certainly seeing Tableau becoming just another Salesforce product, disappearing even more than Cognos and Spotfire."

Opportunity for competitors

And that could benefit Tableau's competitors, Farmer continued.

"Good news for other vendors -- Qlik, Pyramid, ThoughtSpot -- who can spread this message and hope to pick up unsteady or dissatisfied customers," he said. "It also means that new customers are less likely to consider Tableau on its own."

Nelson first joined Tableau in 2018 as executive vice president of product development before ascending to president and CEO upon Selipsky's departure. Before Tableau, Nelson was chief technology officer at SAP Concur for five years. Before that, he spent nearly 17 years at Oracle.

Former Tableau president and CEO Mark Nelson.
Tableau president and CEO Mark Nelson, pictured during a virtual press conference in 2021, resigned on Dec. 1.

Tableau's revenues grew under Nelson's leadership.

Salesforce released its fiscal third-quarter 2023 earnings report on Nov. 30 -- the day before Nelson's resignation and the same day Taylor stepped down. Tableau's performance is combined with that of data integration platform MuleSoft and listed as Data in Salesforce's earnings report.

Salesforce acquired MuleSoft in 2018.

Subscription revenue from Data was $1.02 billion during the third quarter of 2022, up from $900 million in the third quarter of 2021, and year-to-date subscription revenue from Data through the first nine months of the fiscal year was $2.99 billion, up from $2.65 billion a year ago.

"Mark made tremendous contributions since joining Tableau in 2018, first leading the global Tableau product and engineering teams then taking on the role as CEO for the past 20 months," Salesforce said in a statement. "We wish him the best in his next chapter and look forward to Tableau's continued momentum and customer success."

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