Jeff Bezos Built Amazon 27 Years Ago. He Now Steps Down As CEO At Critical Time
Bezos is handing day-to-day duties to his longtime deputy Andy Jassy but will continue to hold considerable sway as executive chairman.
AILSA CHANG, HOST:
Jeff Bezos stepped down today as CEO of Amazon. Bezos will stay on as executive chairman of the company, but his longtime deputy, Andy Jassy, will handle day-to-day responsibilities at Amazon. NPR tech reporter Bobby Allyn joins us now to explain the significance of this transition. And we should note that Amazon is among NPR's financial supporters. Hi, Bobby.
BOBBY ALLYN, BYLINE: Hey. What's up, Ailsa?
CHANG: Hey. So remind us; why is Jeff Bezos stepping away now as CEO?
ALLYN: Bezos founded Amazon 27 years ago in a garage in Bellevue, Wash. And this was a time, remember, when e-commerce was in its infancy. And frankly, many people back then were even afraid to buy things online with credit cards. Obviously, a lot has changed since then, and Amazon is now the largest online retailer, right? And Bezos, as we know, is the richest man on the planet. But, yeah, Bezos says he now wants to take a back seat.
So he's still going to have pretty sizable power at the company as executive chairman. But now he's going to focus on side projects like climate change philanthropy and his rocket company, Blue Origin. Speaking of, in two weeks, Bezos and his brother Mark will be blasting off to the edge of space...
ALLYN: ...In one of the very rockets. Yeah. I talked to Bloomberg journalist Brad Stone about this Bezos transition. He's written two books on Amazon.
BRAD STONE: And so look. I mean, this is someone who is obviously out to pursue his passions, have adventures and enjoy the extravagant wealth without compunction that he has accumulated. So I do think he'll be drifting further and further away from Amazon.
CHANG: Literally into space. Well, what do we know about Bezos' replacement, Andy Jassy? Tell us more about him.
ALLYN: Yeah. Jassy has long been Bezos' protege. He joined the company in 1997. And until today, Jesse was the top executive of Amazon Web Services. It's the company's very, very profitable cloud computing arm. But he's very different than Bezos. I mean, Bezos is described as being hotheaded. He has angry outbursts in meetings. Jassy is more calm. He's mild-mannered. He's soft-spoken. He's been described, Ailsa, as just much more approachable and easygoing than Bezos.
And you know what? He's really unknown in Silicon Valley, unlike Bezos, who, as we know, is the constant target of criticism and controversy. And, you know, when the pandemic brought record profits for Amazon, scrutiny of the company intensified. Regulators here in the U.S. and in Europe are investigating Amazon's business practices. We have heard many stories about workers who say they've been mistreated at Amazon. Author Stone told me, you know, moving Jassy to CEO is perhaps aimed at improving Amazon's image in the world right now when so many are questioning the company's growth-at-all-costs strategy.
STONE: We're wondering what the cost is not just to those workers but to society. So I think, yeah, Jassy has to kind of make Amazon a more empathetic company, a friendlier company. He has to find Amazon's heart.
CHANG: Finding Amazon's heart. Well, I don't know how much lawmakers right now care about how empathetic Amazon is. Many of them think the company's anti-competitive. They're pushing through legislation to address that. Tell us; how is that going?
ALLYN: Yeah, right. So there is a package of bipartisan bills moving through Congress that's aimed at Big Tech's power. And if passed, they really would remake how Amazon operates. I mean, one of the proposals would force Amazon to spin off its private label from its online marketplace. You know, Ailsa, critics have long said that Amazon gives its own products a leg up. Lawmakers are just really, really homing in on whether Amazon's business practices are anti-competitive. And we'll see what happens with this group of bills. But it's really just one group of proposals...
ALLYN: ...That are aimed at, you know, Amazon's troubles. There's a lot more regulatory and legal challenges ahead, and now it will be up to Jassy to call the shots on how Amazon will respond.
CHANG: That is NPR's Bobby Allyn. Thank you, Bobby.
ALLYN: Thanks, Ailsa. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.