About two weeks ago my smartphone dinged. It was a meme — you know the sort — on WhatsApp, wryly noting that if the United Kingdom really wanted to vaccinate all of its 66 million people, it should simply use Amazon. The online retailer would have the doses delivered the next day.
How true in some respects.
The company funded in 1994 by Jeff Bezos initially only sold books over the infancy of the internet — yes, there was such a time. On Tuesday afternoon it reported bumper sales of $100 billion (Dh367 billion) in the fourth quarter of last year, and its shares have increased by 85 per cent since lockdowns took effect around the world meaning most could only engage in meaningful retail therapy online.
The company is now worth $1.7 trillion and sadly Bezos is only the second richest man in the world. He also announced on Tuesday in a letter to his 1.3 million staff — about the size of the population of Estonia but with a GDP equivalent to that of Italy — that he was stepping aside of sorts, being its executive chairman and allowing him to focus on the Day 1 Fund, the Bezos Earth Fund, Blue Origin, The Washington Post, and his “other passions”. I guess if you’re the second richest man in the world — Tesla’s Elon Musk knocked him from the top spot a couple of months ago, you can pretty much do what you want.
The changing of the guard is set to ripple out beyond Amazon, which Mr. Bezos has personified for more than two decades. His impact on corporate America and his remaking of the way that goods are sold turned him into one of the world’s most influential technology and business leaders, as well known as the founders of Apple and Microsoft, Steve Jobs and Bill Gates.
Bezos’ personal wealth also soared to $188 billion — a tidy sum for a man who had to explain to people what the internet was when he started flogging books online.
Bezos also said he will be replaced by 53-year-old Andy Jassy, the current CEO of the Amazon empire cloud business Amazon Web Services (AWS) and the man behind the move to cancel Parler back in January.
Jassy has been with the company for 24 years and built AWS into the $40 billion, internet-dominating machine it now is.
The changes take effect in the third quarter of this year and while Bezos didn’t give the reasons behind the changes, the retail giant has been plagued by antitrust investigations, calls for stricter sanctions and cutting questions over its treatment of its workforce amid the pandemic.
In recent years, Bezos had stepped back from much of Amazon’s day-to-day business, delegating those responsibilities to two main deputies, including Jassy. I guess there was little chance of anyone calling Bezos a slacker.
Jassy is a married father-of-two and Harvard graduate, was recently hailed by Amazon employees as a decisive “shark”, according to Business Insider. “He has a tremendous amount of trust in his team, but you have to be at the highest levels of diligence and preparation for any meeting with him,” the unnamed employee said. “He’s a shark who will smell a drop of blood from 100 miles away if you’re not ready.”
“AWS and Jassy — they’re the gatekeepers. Jassy’s one of the most powerful leaders not just within the cloud and the tech sector but in the world of business,” Dan Ives, an analyst at Wedbush Securities, said.
Jassy joined Amazon in 1997 after Harvard Business School. “I took my last final exam at HBS, the first Friday of May in 1997, and I started Amazon next Monday,” Jassy said in a Harvard Business School podcast in September. “No, I didn’t know what my job was going to be, or what my title was going to be.”
He went on to set up Amazon Web Services, according to the company’s website, a cloud hosting product that creates the infrastructure used by millions of companies, schools, and governments to run websites and apps.
If his career is firmly on the West Coast of American now, he grew up in Scarsdale, a commute down just northeast of New York City where his father was a senior partner in the corporate law firm Dewey Ballentine and chairman of its management committee. His wife Elana Rochelle Caplan was a fashion designer for Eddie Bauer and graduate of the Philadelphia College of Textiles and Science and they married also in 1997. Her father was also a partner at Dewey Ballentine.
Under Jassy’s leadership, AWS has grown into a cloud platform used by millions that dominates legacy players like Oracle and Microsoft, and it now owns almost half the world’s public cloud infrastructure market.
His promotion underscored the importance of web services to Amazon’s future, said Tom Johnson, chief transformation officer at Mindshare Worldwide.
“Jassy’s background in steering AWS shows just how top-of-mind those services are to Amazon’s business strategy,” Johnson said. “It will be interesting to see how that affects their strategy and balancing that priority with a growing ad business and the commerce behemoth.”
Jassy has also an interest in the Seattle Kracken, a new expansion franchise in the National Hockey League set to take to the ice in 2022. Pro hockey is a sport known for its toughness and taking no prisoners. There seems little reason to expect that taking over his new role at Amazon, Jassy would have it any other way either.
— With inputs from agencies