Tableau’s new CEO Mark Nelson on life inside Salesforce, and the company’s future in Seattle

Mark Nelson was named CEO of Tableau Software in March and leads the Seattle-based company as part of Salesforce. (Tableau and GeekWire photos)

Seattle-based Tableau Software is no longer an independent public company, but is back under the watchful eye of Wall Street for a different reason.

Foreclosure bought the data visualization company for more than $ 15 billion in 2019, the largest acquisition at the time. Now that Salesforce is poised to close its $ 27.7 billion acquisition of workplace collaboration company Slack, investors are looking for clues to Slack’s fate in the performance of Tableau in Salesforce.

they found some encouraging news in Salesforce’s latest earnings report: Tableau had revenue of $ 394 million for the fiscal quarter, up 38%, and was involved in eight of Salesforce’s top ten customer deals for the quarter.

“I can’t speak about all of the acquisitions (but) this works very well for us,” Tableau CEO Mark Nelson said in a podcast interview with GeekWire this week. “And we are in a very good position, as these numbers show.”

“Part of that is certainly good execution on our part – good products we bring to market,” he added. “But make no mistake, the economy is also buzzing again, which is a great thing across the board. There are a number of things that look very positive, especially here in the US when we are through the pandemic. “

Taken together, the Slack and Tableau acquisitions position Salesforce as an even stronger competitor to Microsoft in enterprise technology, with Slack competing directly with Microsoft Teams and Tableau directly competing with Microsoft’s Power BI data visualization technology.

Nelson acknowledged that Tableau could be a bigger target for competitors as part of Salesforce, but said the combination also “gives us more room” to develop solutions for customers.

“Because this is such an urgent problem in the universe, there are many people in this field, from large competitors to smaller people, trying to solve this problem,” he said. However, Tableau will continue to have “a fundamentally different view of what it means to work with data,” he added.

Nelson is new to the role of CEO, but not at Tableau or the Seattle area.

He grew up in the Chicago area and graduated from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign with a bachelor’s degree in engineering and a master’s in computer science. Prior to joining, he held technical leadership positions at companies such as Oracle and Concur in the Seattle area Tableau in 2018 as Executive Vice President of Product Development.

Nelson was named President and CEO of Tableau in March. He filled a position that was created when his predecessor Adam Selipsky has been named CEO of Amazon Web Services, is taking over Andy Jassy, ​​who succeeds Jeff Bezos as CEO of Amazon.

Former Tableau CEO Adam Selipsky (left) and Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff (right) at the Tableau conference in Las Vegas in 2019. (GeekWire File Photo / Todd Bishop)

We meet Nelson in this episode of the GeekWire podcast and talk about his background, life at Salesforce, his goals as the new head of Tableau, and the company’s future in the Seattle area. We also encourage him to share his advice to Slack CEO Stewart Butterfield about working with Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff, based on his own experience.

Listen above, subscribe to any podcast app, and read on to see the highlights.

Is Seattle Really Salesforce HQ2? Salesforce announced the acquisition of Tableau this week two years ago. Back then, Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff declared that Seattle was becoming Seattle the “HQ2” of the San Francisco-based company Based on the expression that Amazon used when looking for a second headquarters.

At the time, Salesforce had approximately 1,000 employees in the Seattle area alone. Tableau employed around 2,100 people in the region, around half of the global workforce at the time, and together there were around 3,100 people between the two companies at the time.

Two years later, Salesforce, including the Tableau staff, has around 3,800 employees in the region, according to the company’s latest figures.

“After the pandemic, we will check where to hire. I think there will be a lot more freedom to hire in remote locations. But Seattle is our home and we will continue to grow in Seattle, ”said Nelson.

Nelson is no stranger to complex organizations and difficult technical challenges. Not long after joining Concur as Chief Technology Officer, the expense management company was hit by what former engineers know as the “Great Outage of August 2014”.

The technical glitches exposed a number of major organizational challenges that Nelson had inherited.

Darren Bauer Kahan. (Watermark photo)

People who were on his team at the time still remember how he dealt with the situation. Nelson didn’t avoid the problems or swept them under the rug, but neither did he point his fingers or single out the blame on individuals, they recall.

Instead, he used the incident in a constructive way to “show the distance between our location and what we needed to achieve,” said Darren Bauer Kahan, who was then with Concur and is now chief product and technology officer of Education technology company Watermark.

When faced with difficult challenges, Farmer Kahan says he often thinks, “WWhat would Mark Nelson do in this situation? “

One of the most important principles in engineering is using data to learn, Nelson said. Then you have the courage to use the empirical evidence to make tough decisions.

Michelle Grover. (Twilio photo)

Michelle Grover, who is now CIO of the cloud communications platform Twilio, was also on Nelson’s team at the time and led the TripIt team after it was acquired by Concur in 2011. She credits Nelson for listening to her and her team as Concur switched to the cloud.

He directed his technical leaders, who had ignored input from their smaller team, to include them in the discussions, consider their needs and learn from their experiences.

As a black woman in a technical leadership role, Grover said she appreciated Nelson always recognized the value of experience and expertise, regardless of race or gender.

“You always have to prove yourself, but I’m usually in a place where I have to prove myself three times. Someone always thinks I don’t belong there, ”she said. “He didn’t do that. He would never have thought that. He said, ‘Hey, you’re good’ and then looked for every opportunity to make sure I was in the right place. “

Tips for Stewart Butterfield from Slack? To round off our podcast interview, we asked Nelson if he had any tips for the Slack CEO on working with Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff.

“Make sure you understand your business and put it in the context of Marc’s vision, that would be my greatest advice,” he said. “Make sure you know what you are doing in your business and then listen to Marc for the vision and then marry those two things together.”

Podcast edited by Curt Milton; Music by Daniel LK Caldwell.

Leave a Comment