Talk about burying the lede. Well into Amazon’s latest earnings press release, once you get beyond the many, many, many billions the company made last year (snore), there’s an almost comic understatement: “Amazon is also announcing today that Jeff Bezos will transition to the role of Executive Chair in the third quarter of 2021 and Andy Jassy will become Chief Executive Officer at that time.”
This is “also” in the way that a teenager slips in a bit about detention or a girlfriend before scurrying off to their room. Before moving on to more 2020 recapping, though, Amazon let the reveal linger for a moment longer in its Tuesday announcement. In a statement from Bezos, the founder who built an e-commerce giant out of his Seattle-area garage touts the company’s inventions—Prime, Kindle, and Alexa among them—before alluding to the boredom that can accompany continued success. “If you do it right, a few years after a surprising invention, the new thing has become normal. People yawn. That yawn is the greatest compliment an inventor can receive,” Bezos says. “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.”
An “email” to the company’s employees (republished on the company’s website) includes that reflection as well as some more telling information. “Being the CEO of Amazon is a deep responsibility, and it’s consuming. When you have a responsibility like that, it’s hard to put attention on anything else,” Bezos writes. “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.”
Earlier in the memo, Bezos stresses that he’s “excited about this transition,” even though he still “tap dance[s] into the office” (now there’s an image). In the first paragraph, he backs his successor. “Andy is well known inside the company and has been at Amazon almost as long as I have,” Bezos says. “He will be an outstanding leader, and he has my full confidence.”
Jassy is the current CEO of Amazon Web Services, the cloud platform that might not be name-checked on anyone’s gift list but is a major driver of the company’s profitability and its competition with Microsoft and Google. Unless you’re really into tech stuff, it’s the boring part of Amazon.
Which is why, perhaps, the entire internet has since scrambled to figure out just who Andy Jassy is. Within an hour of Tuesday’s announcement, click-y headlines highlighted a $250 donation made by Jassy’s wife, Elana, to Amazon foe Bernie Sanders during the 2016 presidential race (she gave to Hillary later on). Local reporters quipped about the incongruity of Jassy’s Capitol Hill residence, which makes him a constituent of “Tax Amazon” proponent Kshama Sawant. And a Business Insider piece detailed that a conference room outside Jassy’s office known as “Chop” is, shockingly, not a reference to last summer’s Capitol Hill Occupied Protest zone but to a 19th-century novel. The room initially had a Dave Matthews Band poster, Insider reported, because of course it did.
The press may have fixated on personal proclivities because Jassy's professional background is rather ho-hum: After graduating from Harvard Business School, he joined Amazon in 1997, the same year it went public.
The company looked a lot different in those early days. Look no further than a New York Times writeup on Jassy's 1997 wedding for proof. After listing the bona fides of Elana Rochelle Caplan, a Philadelphia College of Textiles and Science graduate set to become a fashion designer at Eddie Bauer in Seattle, the announcement moves on to Amazon’s future CEO. “Mr. Jassy, also 29, is a marketing manager at Amazon.com, the Internet book retailer based in Seattle.” Ah, yes, that little internet book retailer.
Jassy will still be able to lean on the man most responsible for the company's growth from startup to a giant of capitalism, with all the good and bad that continues to entail. Though the specifics of Bezos’s new role haven’t been outlined, you can bet he’ll still have a major say in Amazon’s future, like Bill Gates at Microsoft after he stepped down as CEO in 2000.
But Gates’s focus ultimately shifted to work with his foundation, and Bezos’s email suggests his other projects will occupy much of his attention moving forward. Will he completely uproot from Washington? He already spends much of his time in that other Washington, and his $165 million Beverly Hills mansion is quite an investment, even for a man worth billions upon billions. Washington state is also weighing a billionaire tax that Bezos would have to pay even if he only lived here one month out of the year.
Still, Blue Origin, his burgeoning aerospace company, is based in Kent. And until further notice, Amazon’s headquarters remains here. So this probably isn't the last of Jeff Bezos we'll be seeing around Seattle, even if some people might wish otherwise.