I didn’t see this coming and neither, it appears, did anyone else outside of Amazon’s inner circle.
Were you to ask me what major tech CEO might step down in the near futire, I’d have guessed Arvind Krishna at IBM could walk away this year — making room for heir-apparent James Whitehurst. Or maybe at long last Larry Ellison would decide to spend more time on his Hawaiian island, Lanai.
But Jeff Bezos, walking away from the CEO job at Amazon? No way!
In a shocking move, after Amazon reported its Q4 2020 revenue — even better results than expected — the company also announced that Bezos, its founder and CEO, would become Executive Chair in the third quarter of 2021.
The top spot will go to Amazon Web Services (AWS) leader Andy Jassy.
At what company does the founder and CEO’s decision to leave take second-billing in the statement announcing his departure? Well, Amazon, obviously.
In a statement, Bezos detailed how Amazon upended both online and brick-and-mortar retail: “Amazon is what it is because of invention. We do crazy things together and then make them normal. We pioneered customer reviews, 1-Click, personalized recommendations, Prime’s insanely-fast shipping, Just Walk Out shopping, the Climate Pledge, Kindle, Alexa, marketplace, infrastructure cloud computing, Career Choice, and much more.”
That’s certainly all true. When Bezos founded Amazon in 1994, e-commerce was still a sketchy idea. Sure, maybe he could sell books. But, honestly, at the time most people thought Amazon was just another dot-com financial fantasy. Its fate would be to get gobbled up by brick-and-mortar powers such as Barnes and Noble or Borders.
Boy, were they wrong. And boy, did they not see how Amazon would first totally transform the book market and then all of e-commerce.
“If you do it right, a few years after a surprising invention, the new thing has become normal,” Bezos continued. “People yawn. That yawn is the greatest compliment an inventor can receive. When you look at our financial results, what you’re actually seeing are the long-run cumulative results of invention. Right now, I see Amazon at its most inventive ever, making it an optimal time for this transition.”
There’s something to that. Even a decade ago, when Amazon was defining how retailing would work in the 21st century, no one would have looked at AWS and said, “This is going to change the world just as much as e-commerce has.”
Today, we live in a cloud world — and AWS is the undisputable monarch of the public cloud. So, it is no surprise that Bezos is turning over the reins of Amazon to someone other than a retail maven or even a supply chain expert. Instead, the top job goes to Jassy.
He started as a mere marketing manager but quickly became a major player when he and his team started working on improving Amazon’s internal IT system in the early 2000s. By 2003, they’d come up with a little plan they liked to call Amazon Web Services (AWS).
Since then, Jassy has guided that business to the pinnacle of the public cloud.
If you think about Amazon and Bezos, perhaps this move isn’t as surprising as it first looks. Until COVID-19 hit, Bezos was spending less time in the office and more time on his own life. Once the pandemic had changed the world, however, Bezos once more became involved in day-to-day management.
Having to handle work in the days of coronavirus, as we all know, isn’t easy. Now, with the vaccines in place and the eventual end of the pandemic in sight, perhaps Bezos has decided it’s time to step back and enjoy life. Even for one of the world’s richest people, as the late Apple CEO Steve Jobs discovered, money and hard work can’t buy you another day (and the virus has certainly forced many of us rethink our lives).
As for Amazon? It will do just fine. Love or hate how it does what it does, no one’s better at retail, supply-chain management, and cloud technology. The name at the top will change, but Amazon will continue to dominate the market for years still to come.