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Amazon sees new CEO after 27 years with Bezos at the helm

John Marshall
July 5, 2021

From working out of his garage to becoming the world's richest man, Jeff Bezos's departure as Amazon's CEO is a milestone for one of the world's most influential companies. Andy Jassy will have big shoes to fill.

Indien Jeff Bezos
Amazon founder Jeff Bezos is handing over the role of CEO 27 years after the company was foundedImage: Sajjad Hussain/AFP/Getty Images

July 5 is the date that Jeff Bezos has picked to hand over his title as CEO of Amazon. "We chose that date because it is sentimental to me," Bezos said in a shareholder meeting. The timing marks the 27-year anniversary of Amazon's incorporation in 1994.

"Right now I see Amazon at its most inventive ever, making it an optimal time for this transition," the billionaire said in a press release. 

The CEO crown will now be placed on Andy Jassy's head. Jassy founded and currently runs the company's cloud-computing business, Amazon Web Services (AWS). 

A different kind of CEO

Steve Anderson is an expert in strategic risk and business growth and the author of The Bezos Letters. He told DW that that the fact that Bezos is a contrarian is what sets him apart from other CEOs. 

"Typical business, he doesn't do that, he looks at things very differently," Anderson said.

There is a fascination around the culture that exists at Amazon, so much so that it ranked No. 2 on Fortune's 2021 list of the world's most admired companies. You could call it a culture of customer obsession.

"Amazon has three customer pillars: wide selection, low prices and fast delivery," Anderson said.

In 2004, Anderson continued, he banned using PowerPoint at any presentation given at Amazon. Instead, Bezos insisted on printing out several pages of each meeting, which would be read, discussed and debated. Bezos believed that writing and reading these documents provided more clarity.

An Amazon fulfillment warehouse in the UK
Amazon is known for a quick turnaround on deliveriesImage: Jane Barlow/PA Wire/picture-alliance

Humble beginning

To put it subtly, Amazon has come a long way from its beginnings in Bezos's garage in Seattle, Washington. Amazon was the fastest company in history to make $100 billion in sales, achieving this feat in just under 15 years. 

At 30, Bezos left New York on a road trip for Seattle 一 a city with up-and-coming startup tech talent. His then wife MacKenzie Scott drove while Bezos drafted his business plans for an online platform.

With the advent of the internet, Bezos saw an opportunity to take advantage of this new platform by selling books on it, something he thought would resonate with consumers. 

After convincing friends and family to invest in his idea, Bezos put his garage to use and, with Scott's help, began operating out of it. Amazon.com was born.

Before long, the website was selling more than books. One of Amazon's first mottos, "Get big fast," was put into action.

Once Bezos realized that he could successfully sell books online, he started offering everything he could on the platform, from toys to power tools and more. Amazon offered a platform to retailers selling anything, too.  As more and more people ordered  from the website, retailers quickly felt they had to sell their products there, too.

An Amazon employee in Germany participates in a strike
Some Amazon employees have attempted to unionizeImage: Reuters/Lisi Niesner

Amazon now

Today Amazon is an e-commerce juggernaut, raking in over $367 billion (€310 billion) in US online sales thus far in 2021, according to the research firm eMarketer. 

But getting "big fast" has not left the company with the cleanest reputation. Amazon has been criticized for everything from violating workers' rights to bullying publishing companies to abusing user data privacy. And warehouse workers, who's every movement is tracked, have complained of being pushed to their limits. A handful of the 175 global fulfillment facilities have considered unionizing.

In his last shareholder letter in 2020, Bezos addressed the criticism: "Our employees are sometimes accused of being desperate souls and treated as robots. That's not accurate. They're sophisticated and thoughtful people who have options for where to work."

"Early on, his focus and his demand for high standards made working there challenging," Anderson said.  "I feel that, over the years, his own realization that it was not working as well has softened that view."

Sellers on the platform have also had their fair share of complaints, including Amazon's increased selling fees, access to their own valuable data or suspensions of seller accounts.

Jeff Bezos stands near a rocket built by his space company Blue Origin
Bezos plans to fly to space in July on a craft built by his space flight company, Blue OriginImage: Blue Origin/ZumaPress/picture alliance

The handover

A graduate of Harvard Business School, Jassy joined Amazon in 1997. He held multiple leadership roles within the company before founding AWS, which provides on demand cloud-computing platforms. In recent years he has shadowed Bezos. 

"I think Andy is a natural person to step into that full CEO role," Anderson said. 

The new CEO of Amazon, Andy Jassy
Andy Jassy has shadowed Bezos for years in preparation for his new role as CEOImage: Patrick Fallon/ZUMA Wire/picture alliance

He'll be taking over Amazon at a precarious time. Like most businesses, Amazon has felt the effects of the pandemic. Instead of being able to focus more on his space adventures, Bezos was dragged back into day-to-day work. 

Bezos "was extremely uncomfortable testifying in front of Congress, addressing antitrust laws," Anderson said, adding that the CEO wants to focus on things beyond Amazon.  

The change will mark the end of an era with Bezos as CEO. But, as the company's biggest shareholder and richest man in the world, with a personal fortune of $167 billion, his broad influence will remain.