Jeff Bezos, the CEO and founder of Amazon, announced today that he plans to step down as CEO this year. In Q3 he’ll transition to the role of Executive Chair of the Amazon board, at which point Andy Jassy will take over as CEO. Jassy has been the CEO of Amazon Web Services since April 2016 and founded the business in 2003.
“In the Exec Chair role, I intend to focus my energies and attention on new products and early initiatives,” Bezos wrote in a letter to Amazon employees. “Andy is well known inside the company and has been at Amazon almost as long as I have.” From the letter, it sounds like Bezos intends to use the time he has outside of running Amazon’s day-to-day operations to focus on other initiatives, including the “Day 1 Fund, the Bezos Earth Fund, Blue Origin, The Washington Post, and my other passions.” Despite stepping down from the top role at Amazon, Bezos says “this isn’t about retiring,” so it seems we can expect him to remain involved at the top of the company.
Amazon’s incoming CEO Andy Jassy isn’t exactly a household name like Bezos has become, but as the leader of AWS, he’s already in charge of what is arguable the most important piece of Amazon’s business. Indeed, the earnings statement the company released alongside news of the CEO transition showed that AWS earned the company $13.5 billion in profits in 2020, up 47 percent over 2019. That $13.5 billion accounted for more than half of Amazon’s $21.3 billion in total profits in 2020.
Bezos has been an increasingly controversial figure in recent years, as his company came under fire on a variety of fronts. Chief among those are treatment of Amazon workers at the company’s distribution centers, something that’s been exacerbated during the COVID-19 pandemic. There have also been numerous antitrust concerns, not surprising with a massive company that’s a dominant force in so many different parts of the market. User privacy, particularly around Amazon’s Ring security products, has also been under scrutiny. And the company put a pause on police use of it facial recognition software in mid-2020 after a number of controversies.
But Amazon has also become one of the world’s most successful companies under Bezos’ leadership, growing from an online bookseller to the most dominant internet retailer. Amazon’s video service overcame a slow start and now has a slate of significant original content — it’s not as dominant as Netflix, but it’s still one of the top online video destinations. Many of Amazon’s hardware products have also made major impacts; the Kindle quickly became the de-factor digital book reader of choice, and the company basically started the smart speaker marketplace with the Echo and Alexa digital assistant.
Andy Jassy will inherit both these successes and challenges. Probably chief among his concerns will be the ongoing antitrust investigations in to Amazon both in the US and abroad. Another that’ll likely command a lot of attention is how the company deals with its impact on the environment. In 2019, Amazon faced significant pressure from its employees over its climate change inaction, though in 2020 it started working towards more environmentally-friendly policies.