Amazon founder Jeff Bezos is stepping down as CEO of the company he founded a quarter of a century ago, a monumental change atop one of America’s most iconic and powerful companies.
Amazon made the announcement on Tuesday that its CEO — who has led the company since he founded it — would become its executive chair, and that day-to-day operations beginning later this year would be overseen by the head of Amazon Web Services, Andy Jassy.
Bezos, until recently the world’s richest man, said he would remain involved in Amazon leadership but would now have more time to pursue his other passions outside of the company.
“In the Exec Chair role, I intend to focus my energies and attention on new products and early initiatives,” Bezos said in a letter to employees on Tuesday afternoon. “As Exec Chair I will stay engaged in important Amazon initiatives but also have the time and energy I need to focus on the Day 1 Fund, the Bezos Earth Fund, Blue Origin, The Washington Post, and my other passions. I’ve never had more energy, and this isn’t about retiring. I’m super passionate about the impact I think these organizations can have.”
Bezos founded Amazon in 1994 as an online bookstore, but over two decades would expand it into America’s foremost digital retailer, turning the scrappy company into a tech giant that makes Hollywood blockbusters, has created its own apparel, and powers corporate America with its Amazon Web Services (AWS). Amazon now is America’s second-largest private employer, has a market cap of over $1 trillion, and has become mired in antitrust scrutiny and questions about its market dominance.
Alongside the company’s rise, Bezos himself became one of America’s most prominent CEOs and an icon of sorts for a data-obsessed management style, which is memorialized in a series of leadership principles he called the Amazon Way. And in the runup to becoming the world’s richest man, Bezos developed a public profile that went far beyond his Amazon activities: He went on to buy the Washington Post; he poured his fortune into Blue Origin, a private spacecraft company; and he even was the target of a hack believed to be perpetrated by the government of Saudi Arabia.
Amazon has long dominated online shopping, but over the course of the coronavirus pandemic, it became an essential way for many Americans to shop. In 2020, Amazon shattered records when it came to sales and profits, and its stock continued its five-year soar as investors bet on Bezos’s vision for the future — an especially attractive one given the newfound reliance on services like Amazon Prime.
The company’s success amid the economic calamity has also brought new scrutiny of the Seattle giant. Amazon has been dogged by concerns from activists about how it treats its workers, and that scrutiny intensified at the start of the pandemic as its employees kept fulfilling orders in its warehouses. Meanwhile, its growing market power has made it a target in Washington, where some legislators want to break the company up entirely.
Those are now Jassy’s problems.
Jassy joined Amazon in 1997 and once worked as Bezos’s technical adviser, a chief of staff role that is highly coveted inside Amazon, where it is known colloquially as the “shadow position.” In 2003, Jassy and a team of Amazon employees created Amazon Web Services, now the company’s most profitable division, which would usher in a new era for internet companies that could now lease computing power and data storage space rather than have to set up their own computer server farms. Amazon Web Services recorded $45 billion in revenue in 2020 and $13.5 billion in operating profits.
For years, Amazon insiders and former executives speculated whether it would be Jassy or longtime Amazon consumer chief Jeff Wilke to succeed Bezos should he step down from the CEO role. Wilke announced his retirement from Amazon last summer, which hinted that either Bezos would stay put as chief executive for a long time or that Wilke would not be his successor. We now have the answer.