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Who is Andy Jassy, the new CEO of Amazon?

Incoming boss has long led Amazon’s important cloud business

Josh Marcus
San Francisco
Wednesday 03 February 2021 00:39 GMT
Jeff Bezos in 1999 on the future of the internet
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Amazon rocked the business world on Tuesday and announced that Jeff Bezos was stepping down as CEO. Taking over for one of the world’s richest and most powerful executives is Andy Jassy, who has since its founding led Amazon’s cloud computing division, one of the company’s major profit centres.

“I intend to focus my energies and attention on new products and early initiatives,” Mr Bezos said in a letter to employees. 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.”

Andy Jassy, CEO Amazon Web Services, speaks at the WSJD Live conference in Laguna Beach, California (REUTERS)

Mr Jassy joined the retail giant in 1997, three years after it was founded, and went on to help beef up its technical offerings, rising through the ranks until he was a member of Mr Bezos’s elite inner circle of executives, known internally as the “S-team.”

The future executive grew up in Scarsdale, New York, just north of New York City, and graduated cum laude from Harvard University, where he also got an MBA degree.

Mr Jassy, the part owner of Seattle’s new professional hockey franchise, the Kraken, spent most of his career at Amazon, previously working as a “shadow” to Mr Bezos, akin to a chief of staff, before taking the reins of the cloud program, Amazon Web Services, which lets companies rent server space in the cloud, rather than running their own servers.

The Financial Times named Mr Jassy the Person of the Year in 2016, and he told the paper that the early ideas for AWS came as Amazon was developing massive tech across the company to undergird its own retail operations, and engineers grew frustrated each time they had to develop new infrastructure for their work, rather than draw from a standardised platform.

“They were all reinventing the wheel on the infrastructure pieces and nothing they were building scaled beyond their own projects,” Mr Jassy recalled.

Since those early days, AWS has come to function like the power utility for the rest of the internet, hosting as much as a third of the global cloud infrastructure, for clients ranging from big-name tech companies like Lyft and Pinterest to government agencies like the CIA.

And they’ve been rewarded handsomely for it, with the division racking up $12.7 billion in revenue according to recent disclosures, making up more than half of Amazon’s total operating income.

In the corner office, Mr Jassy will face down a number of challenges, presiding over a company that looks more and more like a nation state, has more than one million employees, and whose technology touches delicate areas like home surveillance and law enforcement.

Last year, Mr Jassy faced criticism over comments he made in a PBS documentary about Amazon and Mr Bezos defending the company’s sales of facial recognition technology to law enforcement, despite concerns over racial bias and misuse.

“I think a lot of societal good is already being done with facial recognition technology,” Mr Jassy said.  “Let’s see if somehow they abuse the technology.”

In June, the company suspended sales of the software to police for a year.

He’ll also have to contend with the unexpected development of a union drive among warehouse its workers, who count for a large part of Amazon’s total workforce, putting a renewed spotlight on the company’s labour practices.

In the past, Amazon workers have said they were retaliated against for pushing for better conditions, and VICE’s Motherboard reported in November that the company hired detectives and made fake social media accounts to spy on warehouse workers and monitored labour and environmental activists online.  The same day as the CEO switch was announced, the Federal Trade Commission and Amazon agreed to a $61.7 million settlement after allegations the company failed to pay delivery drivers the full amount of tips they received from customers.  

On the more macro-level, the company faces growing calls for anti-trust regulation from authorities in the US and EU, plus competition from other major cloud players like Oracle, Google, and Microsoft. And it’ll have to prove whether it can follow through on big sustainability promises, such as going zero-carbon by 2040, even as it continues working with fossil fuel companies.

But even in a pandemic, the Amazon juggernaut rolls along, almost doubling net income over last year to a staggering $7.2 billion, beating Wall Street expectations, according to recent disclosures.

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