Jeff Bezos to leave Amazon CEO post after 27 years, become executive chair

By | February 2, 2021
Jeff Bezos bows to a crowd
Enlarge / Jeff Bezos greets a crowd at Amazon’s Smbhav event in New Delhi on January 15, 2020.
Getty Images

Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon and Elon Musk’s perpetual rival in the seesaw “world’s richest man” contest, today announced he is leaving the CEO post of the Internet giant he has led since 1994.

Bezos will switch from the CEO spot to Amazon’s executive chairmanship in Q3 of this year, he told his “fellow Amazonians” in a staff email posted on Amazon’s website. Bezos’ replacement as CEO will be Andy Jassy, a key player in Amazon Web Services, the company’s cloud-computing division.

“This journey began some 27 years ago,” Bezos wrote. “Amazon was only an idea, and it had no name. The question I was asked most frequently at that time was, ‘What’s the Internet?’ Blessedly, I haven’t had to explain that in a long while.”

Bezos, 57, plans to stay involved in product development. “In the Exec Chair role, I intend to focus my energies and attention on new products and early initiatives,” he wrote. “Andy is well known inside the company and has been at Amazon almost as long as I have. He will be an outstanding leader, and he has my full confidence.”

Amazon now has 1.3 million employees and “serve[s] hundreds of millions of customers and businesses,” Bezos noted.

“How did that happen? Invention. Invention is the root of our success,” he wrote. “We’ve done crazy things together, and then made 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. If you get it right, a few years after a surprising invention, the new thing has become normal. People yawn. And that yawn is the greatest compliment an inventor can receive.”

Bezos wrote that he’s proud of Amazon’s “$15 minimum wage and the Climate Pledge,” and that “I find my work meaningful and fun. I get to work with the smartest, most talented, most ingenious teammates.”

Bezos not “retiring,” will focus on “other passions”

Moving from the CEO to executive chairman role will give Bezos time to focus on specific projects, he wrote. “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. 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.”

Amazon announced Q4 2020 earnings today, reporting net sales of $125.6 billion, up 44 percent year over year. Net income in the quarter was $7.2 billion, up from $3.3 billion in the previous year’s fourth quarter. Net sales for full-year 2020 were $386.1 billion, up 38 percent from 2019. Net income was $21.3 billion in full-year 2020, up from $11.6 billion the previous year.

Jassy built AWS into big business

Jassy worked closely with Bezos before starting AWS, according to a 2015 profile of Jassy by CRN, a trade publication:

Prior to being appointed head of AWS, Jassy had been in what’s known at Amazon as a “Technical Assistant” role, working with Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos.

“At the time, we called it a ’shadow role.’ And it really was like being Jeff’s shadow—I participated in all of his meetings, including his one-on-ones,” said Jassy, who spent 18 months in the position.

Amazon Web Services became commercially available in 2006, offering infrastructure-as-a-service and other cloud computing capabilities. AWS has become of Amazon’s key businesses and in full-year 2020 it earned $45.4 billion in net sales and $13.5 billion in operating income.

Jassy started the AWS team within Amazon in 2003, the CRN article said. Three early AWS engineers “described Jassy as an extraordinarily detail-focused manager with a photographic memory and a penchant for asking difficult and insightful technical questions,” the article said.