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Jassy's job: keeping the Amazon empire intact

Peter Griffin, Contributor. 04 February 2021, 10:04 am

Amazon - it is arguably the most powerful of the 'four horsemen of the apocalypse' - Google, Facebook and Apple being its riding mates.

Now the e-commerce behemoth will be led into a new era not by its founder and chief executive of nearly 30 years, Jeff Bezos, but the company's web services boss, Andy Jassy, who will take over in the coming months.

The move frees Bezos up to devote more time to his Blue Origin rocket company, the Washington Post, other business endeavours and his philanthropic efforts which have gathered pace in recent years as his net worth has skyrocketed (US$194 billion at the latest estimate).

Bezos remains executive chairman of the company and president, so it isn't exactly a changing of the guard. He still has ultimate power over the company and its board of directors and with a shareholding of around 10% of Amazon, has huge sway when it comes to having the final say on contentious issues.

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Amazon's new CEO, Andy Jassy

Of those, there will be many on Jassy's watch. Indeed, you could argue that Bezos has taken the cowardly way out in retreating from the spotlight just as the going gets tough for Amazon, with regulatory scrutiny quite likely to turn into anti-trust action in the next couple of years.

It will now be Jassy who has to front to be grilled by lawmakers on Capitol Hill, to defend the company's track record on workers' rights and navigate the impacts of Covid-19, which to date have been fantastic for Amazon's business.

The biggest challenge will be keeping Amazon's sprawling and tightly integrated business intact against regulator's efforts to break it up or restrict its ability to act as a platform for third-party merchants while competing with them at the same time with its own products. 

Regardless, Jassy certainly seems like a good choice for the job. He joined the company in 1997, so is a veteran of the business, and has overseen the massive growth of AWS, Amazon's cloud computing and storage business, which has the largest global market share of the public cloud business.

AWS has been a major profit centre for Amazon as its low-margin, high turnover e-commerce business has matured. Bezos has always been a true innovator, revolutionising books with the Kindle and Amazon book store, mainstreaming digital assistants and creating one of the smartest shopping experiences on the web.

Moving out of the CEO role will potentially free him up to focus on further big picture innovations. Sergei Brin and Larry Page made a similar move at Alphabet/Google as did Bill Gates, many years ago when he took a back seat to Steve Ballmer. The transition of founder into supporting wing-man role has had mixed success in Silicon Valley.

Jassy will have his work cut out for him living up to the expectations of investors, who are sitting on shares that have more than doubled in value in less than a year. This week, Amazon reported its best-ever financial quarter -  $125.6 billion in sales.

But that sort of growth can't last. The pandemic will end and buying patterns will return to normal. With questions increasingly being asked about the Zon's market power, further expansion into existing and new markets to satisfy the hunger for growth will be fraught with problems. 


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