There are very few CEOs who are household names, and fewer still whose actions, ethics and business acumen are discussed as widely as Jeff Bezos. Jeff Bezos and Amazon are almost interchangeable – he basically is the company which he has worked so hard to build.
This week though, the founder and CEO of Amazon announced that he would be stepping down as CEO and passing the reins to Andy Jassy – the current CEO of AWS, a jewel in Amazon’s crown. But how do you follow in the footsteps of a man famous for reshaping how society and business functions?
A new CEO for any company can herald a new era, new leadership styles, and a fresh take on best practice – something which Amazon could use given its PR battles surrounding work conditions, environmental issues and anti-competition rules. But does Jassy’s appointment herald change?
Andy Jassy has ‘grown up’ within Amazon. He joined in 1997 and has been touted as the future successor for many years. He’s essentially been Bezos’ right-hand man for decades, accompanying him to most meetings and immersing himself in Bezos’ world as media scrutiny increasing turned to Bezos’ personal life.
With that in mind, it begs the question – how does Jassy position himself as a leader in his own right, and one who can embrace and grow the good in Amazon, while moving away from the bad? How can he prove that this new era is one which will bring distinct and positive transformation?
A quick look back at recent public statements hint at what is to come when it comes of Jassy’s big ambitions. In December, at the AWS re:Invent 2020 conference, Jassy said that he had “thought a lot about what it takes to do reinvention well” and that “you want to be reinventing all the time. Some of it is building the right reinvention culture.”
Last year was a tumultuous one for Amazon’s ‘culture’. For every good piece of press, from 175,000 new jobs to the ongoing dedication of the company’s Climate Pledge and Amazon Web Services’ work with the White House’s COVID-19 High Performance Computing Consortium, there were just as many negative mentions.
Many employees complained of the conditions at Amazon facilities, there are murmurings of workers unionising, antitrust charges were brought against the company by the European Union and the company had to pay $62 million in charges related to withholding tips from drivers.
Amazon, like many other business ‘superpowers’, is never far from controversy, and therefore the ‘reinvention’ of which Jassy speaks is key in taking the company to this next stage in its evolution. Jassy has been hugely successful in developing Amazon Web Services (although that itself is not without scandal, given the division’s facial recognition technology), and he has spoken publicly about important societal issues such as LGBTQ+ rights, as well as police brutality.
He is seen internally as a dynamic visionary and has long been one to watch, but even for someone in Amazon’s inner circle, the level of public scrutiny around his actions and personal life will likely ratchet up in intensity. The coming months will no doubt see Jassy undertaking media appearances and press interviews as he works to establish himself as a leader in his own right, however he will have to work hard to ensure that his voice is authentic, forward-thinking and actually his – not just an extension of Bezos’ from behind the scenes.
Bezos has acknowledged that one of his main focuses going forward will be the Bezos Earth Fund, aimed at solving the climate crisis, and Amazon as a company has pledged to reach net zero carbon by 2040, a decade ahead of the Paris Agreement. Despite Bezos taking an active board role – it falls to Jassy to ensure that these pledges become action – not hollow corporate communication pledges.
Jassy has clearly long been a driving force in Amazon. Now the challenge is to ensure the company stands on the right side of fierce debates around technology, data, works’ rights and the environment, and given Bezos’ is (for good and bad reasons) a household name, perhaps Jassy is the fresh external voice to lead this charge.