Amazon’s Bezos To Hand Over The CEO Reins To Andy Jassy

Jeff Bezos is stepping down as CEO of Amazon — the company he founded 27 years ago. This summer he will transition to executive chairman to focus on new products and early initiatives.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Jeff Bezos is stepping back. Twenty-seven years ago, he founded a company called Amazon, which proposed then to become a bookstore on the Internet. The then-wild idea was that you would shop for books without actually going somewhere to look for them. It was so new that news articles had to explain how this giant bookstore would even work. Of course, Amazon sells just about everything now. And this summer Bezos will transition to executive chairman to focus on the long term.

Amazon is an NPR sponsor, which we cover like any other company, and NPR business correspondent Alina Selyukh is here to do just that. Good morning.

ALINA SELYUKH, BYLINE: Good morning.

INSKEEP: Were you surprised by this decision?

SELYUKH: I was. We’re in the middle of a pandemic. It’s kind of not a thing you expect to hear in this moment. Bezos loves to say how it’s always Day 1 at Amazon. It’s his line meaning, always act like a startup. And we were joking yesterday with a colleague, like, can we say now it’s Day 2 at Amazon? Have we gotten there?

INSKEEP: (Laughter) Yeah, I think so after 27 years. Yeah.

SELYUKH: In many ways, Bezos has already been acting kind of like an executive chairman, kind of less running shop day to day, more thinking big visionary thoughts years into the future. He says he wants to do more with all his other major investments, like the space company Blue Origin, which is his huge obsession, plus The Washington Post, which he owns – some philanthropy. All that said, it is definitely an end of an era. He is the avatar for one of the most powerful corporations of our generation. It’s worth nearly $2 trillion. But, you know, founders tend to eventually move on. Microsoft, Google – it happened to them. I guess now that leaves Mark Zuckerberg as the elder statesman of big tech at age 36.

INSKEEP: (Laughter) And then there’s Andy Jassy, who takes over as CEO. Where does he fit in?

SELYUKH: He is one of Bezos’ longest-serving and trusted lieutenants. He was the person who shaped and shepherded Amazon’s sprawling cloud computing business. It’s a group that I saw one analyst call Amazon’s cash-printing division because it is Amazon’s biggest profit center. Another thing about Jassy is that he’s actually known to be really outspoken. He’s weighed in on Black Lives Matter, for example. He’s a pretty freewheeling public speaker. Bezos over the years has become more elusive as a public speaker. So it will be interesting to see if Jassy’s style changes as he becomes CEO, especially as he faces scrutiny over Amazon’s treatment of workers, new labor organizing efforts, federal antitrust investigations.

INSKEEP: Any clues as to where Jassy wants to take the company?

SELYUKH: Not yet. Lots of reading of tea leaves happening as we speak. He’s been there for a long time. But he is the Internet infrastructure guy, cloud computing guy. What will this mean for the retail side of the business? How will he approach it? But remember that Bezos is still the biggest shareholder in Amazon. That’s big power. Yesterday, Chief Financial Officer Brian Olsavsky told reporters Bezos will stay pretty involved.

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BRIAN OLSAVSKY: Jeff is really not going anywhere. It’s more restructuring of who’s doing what.

SELYUKH: I’m imagining this a bit like, you know, a principal stepping in the back of the classroom saying, proceed as you are. Look at your teacher. I’m not really here. But, you know, their presence looms pretty large.

INSKEEP: (Laughter) So he’ll still be a big force in the company. Any idea what else he might do?

SELYUKH: Well, my biggest question is actually whether we’ll hear more from him in the coming days. Will he become more outspoken outside of the CO corporate role? I’m thinking like former Google CEO Eric Schmidt or Microsoft founder Bill Gates. Bezos mentions his charity funds. So far, he’s not been seen as a major philanthropist, so we’ll see if that changes. What he is known for is interest in Hollywood circles. Is he going to show up in a movie? You know, I joke, but he is one of the world’s wealthiest people, and it is hard to imagine Jeff Bezos fading into the ether.

INSKEEP: Yeah, when you have billions of dollars, people do get interested in what you have to say.

SELYUKH: Indeed.

INSKEEP: Alina, thanks so much.

SELYUKH: Thank you.

INSKEEP: NPR’s Alina Selyukh.

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