‘Mother of all midlife crises’? What Bezos’ departure means for Amazon

Amazon’s billionaire founder Jeff Bezos is handing over the reins at the tech giant to long-term team member Andy Jassy as his empire focuses on the cloud and looks to space.

As Amazon has grown from the online book seller Mr Bezos started in 1994 to the $US1.7 trillion ($2.23 trillion) market juggernaut it is today, Mr Jassy has been there for much of the journey, having started with the company in 1997 straight out of university.

Mr Jassy, 52, has risen to prominence within the company running Amazon Web Services, its cloud computing arm, since its inception in 2003. The division is vital because of its role in running much of the world’s internet economy, powering everything from Netflix’s streaming service to Atlassian’s enterprise software .

Amazon’s new chief executive, company veteran Andy Jassy.
Amazon’s new chief executive, company veteran Andy Jassy. Credit:Nate Cochrane

AWS’ revenues grew to $US12.7 billion ($16.8 billion) during the fourth quarter of 2020, and the unit is by far the largest source of profits for Amazon.


Former AWS Australia boss Paul Migliorini said Mr Bezos stepping down was “not super surprising” after the billionaire had appointed Jeff Wilke as head of Amazon’s consumer business a few years ago and placed Mr Jassy in the other chief executive role.

“I think Jeff signalled a number of years ago through that decision he was thinking about what life would look like beyond his role as the operating CEO of the business,” he said.

Mr Bezos will continue at Amazon in the role of executive chair and Mr Migliorini said he still expected him to be heavily involved in the business.

“I think what it does is it enables Jeff to free up capacity to focus on the next big bets for the company and think about the more visionary aspects of what Amazon is doing, which is entirely positive,” he said.

Giving up Amazon’s day to day management will free Bezos for other passions including his space venture Blue Origin.
Giving up Amazon’s day to day management will free Bezos for other passions including his space venture Blue Origin.Credit:Bloomberg

Space ambitions

Self-described “student of Amazon” and Zip non-executive director John Batistich believes there could be a space race of sorts between Mr Bezos and semi-rival billionaire Elon Musk following the chief executive’s departure, with both businessmen touting plans to settle on Mars and the Moon.

“There’s no question Bezos will be doubling down on [his space venture] Blue Origin as it’s fair to say that Elon’s work is probably ahead of the curve there,” he said. “Jeff will go big on Blue Origin, as he’s got a lot of catching up to do on Elon” Musk, whose company SpaceX kicked off regular NASA crew flights to the International Space Station in November.

Mr Batistich also expects the Amazon founder to make his mark on politics, given his already significant political influence and lobbying power, though he deemed a run at the US presidency unlikely.

“Jeff Bezos could have a role to play in advising and potential impacting [US president Joe Biden] and his administration,” he said. “He’s fiercely patriotic, so he could certainly play a bigger role in the political environment.”

‘Product guy at heart’

Former AWS executive Migliorini said Mr Jassy was an “exceptional” chief executive who “really empowers his people to take a lot of ownership”.

“I’ve never seen anyone sort of more operationally excellent than Andy, in terms of running a day to day business he’s remarkably good,” he said.

“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.”

Jeff Bezos

Airtree venture capital partner James Cameron said Mr Jassy was “a real product guy at heart”, comparing him to Microsoft chief executive Satya Nadella in terms of his product and customer focus.

“He’s customer obsessed, he moves quickly, he’s really got similar DNA to Jeff, but he’s probably a little bit more open and less idiosyncratic than Jeff Bezos,” he said. “Andy is a lot more affable and brings a more open style, which I think is important when you’re moving on from such an enigmatic founder.”

Amazon’s Australian operations total just over a billion dollars and form a tiny, but growing, part of the tech giant’s broader empire. Its retail operations posted $562 million in revenue for 2019 and a loss of $4.7 million. AWS reported similar revenues here, but $8.6 million in profit.

‘Exciting activities’

Mr Cameron said AWS was the “growth engine” for Amazon, generating more than half of the business’ operating profit.

“I think that is a big, big limb of Amazon’s future so they’re betting down hard on that,” he said. “The alternative reading of this is that it is the mother of all midlife crises, and Bezos was annoyed that Elon Musk passed him in the world’s richest person list a few weeks ago and wants to go and focus on similar exciting activities.”

In his email to Amazon employees announcing that he was stepping down as chief executive, Mr Bezos said he wanted to be able to devote proper time and attention to his philanthropic Day 1 Fund, his climate change non-profit Bezos Earth Fund, his space travel venture Blue Origin, his ownership of The Washington Post, and “other passions”.

“Andy is well known inside the company and has been at Amazon almost as long as I have,” Mr Bezos said. “He will be an outstanding leader, and he has my full confidence.”

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