whyframeshot - stock.adobe.com
Tableau has a new CEO.
Ryan Aytay, who has been with Salesforce -- Tableau's parent company -- for more than 16 years, was recently named Tableau's third CEO in just over two years after serving as the analytics vendor's president and chief revenue officer starting in February 2022.
Salesforce did not make a formal public announcement. But Tableau made the news public on Twitter Tuesday night, and Aytay's LinkedIn profile now lists him as CEO.
Possibly altered plans
Aytay, who maintains his position as president, fills a CEO role that had been vacant since Mark Nelson resigned in December 2022. Nelson, meanwhile, had been on the job less than two years, taking over in March 2021 when Adam Selipsky left Tableau to become CEO of AWS.
At the time of Nelson's resignation, TechTarget was told that Salesforce, the San Francisco-based CRM giant, had no plans to appoint a new CEO of Tableau, a Seattle-based analytics vendor. Instead the plan was to bring the product and engineering teams that previously reported to Nelson more closely into Salesforce, with those employees reporting to Salesforce personnel.
That, however, was not realistic, according to Constellation Research founder and analyst R. "Ray" Wang.
The prominent individual divisions of Salesforce -- including the large, formerly independent vendors such as Tableau and MuleSoft, Salesforce's software integration unit -- all need their own leaders, he said.
"It's something that needed to happen," Wang said. "Ryan had been driving sales, and there's a huge market for Tableau. They need a leader. You can't run it without a CEO."
Donald Farmer, founder and analyst at TreeHive Strategy, said the lag time between Nelson's resignation and the appointment of Aytay is curious.
Perhaps it's evidence that Salesforce -- which, shortly after Nelson's resignation, laid off a significant number of staff at Tableau as part of widespread organizational layoffs -- initially did not intend to hire a replacement for Nelson but eventually deviated from that plan.
"Possibilities [include that] they did not intend to have a Tableau CEO at all, but the pushback from teams and the community of customers and investors was hugely negative," Farmer said.
The new CEO
Aytay first joined Salesforce in 2007 after spending more than eight years as a management consultant with Deloitte Consulting.
His first role at Salesforce was vice president of corporate development and Salesforce Ventures, which he held for nearly six years. Later, after a working in another role overseeing alliances and strategy at Salesforce, he was named senior vice president of product management.
Following two other roles, Aytay became Salesforce's chief business officer in June 2020. He finally moved over to Tableau in February 2022, just under three years after Salesforce's $15.7 billion acquisition of the analytics vendor, taking over as president and chief revenue officer.
R. Founder and analyst, Constellation Research
His roles as chief business officer and chief revenue officer combined with his experience in product management, in particular, make him a logical choice to take over as the new CEO of Tableau, according to Wang.
"[Aytay] gets what's going on with Tableau," he said. "He's been along the journey, and there's a lot of trust in him. He comes from the product side, so he not only understands how products get developed, but he also understands what's required from the business development side. And he's also had sales experience. That's the kind of leader you're looking for at this point."
Meanwhile, leadership within the rest of the Salesforce ecosystem has been engulfed in turbulence in recent months, coinciding with the layoffs that were executed just after the start of 2023.
Just days before Nelson's resignation, Salesforce co-CEO Bret Taylor resigned, leaving longtime Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff once again the CRM giant's sole leader. Only days after Nelson's resignation, Slack CEO Stewart Butterfield left his position (Slack was acquired by Salesforce for $27.7 billion in 2020). Lidiane Jones was named Butterfield's successor.
Unlike Nelson, whose history is in product development, Aytay's experience -- despite a brief role as SVP of product management -- is largely related to revenue generation. That may be revealing with respect to Salesforce's primary concern, according to Farmer.
"Ryan has a good reputation within Tableau," Farmer said. "I note that it's the CRO who now leads the team, not someone from products. That tells you Salesforce's priorities, I guess."
The challenge ahead
Aytay takes over as CEO at a time when analytics is evolving away from a reliance on data visualization and on-premises data to emphasizing the cloud, augmented intelligence features and embedded business intelligence.
Tableau was a pioneer of data visualization, and its graphics remain among the most vibrant of all analytics vendors.
But the evolution of analytics has meant increased competition from vendors such as Domo that were cloud native from the start and emphasized embedded analytics as well as those like ThoughtSpot that recognized the value of AI before some others.
Tableau, however, has adapted. It integrated with Salesforce tools to add data science and machine learning capabilities, developed a cloud-native version of its platform, and built tools that added AI functionality and enabled embedded BI.
As a result, as Aytay takes over as CEO of Tableau, the vendor's platform still is well respected, and its revenues are on the rise, according to Salesforce's most recent earnings report.
"Tableau's toughest challenge is competing with Microsoft's Power BI [analytics platform] on the low end. And then on the high end, it's really convincing customers that it's part of the value that Salesforce brings to the table, which is bringing offline data and online data together," Wang said. "As long as they keep to that, they'll be okay. It's when they deviate from that when customers get upset."
Eric Avidon is a senior news writer for TechTarget Editorial and a journalist with more than 25 years of experience. He covers analytics and data management.