Amazon founder Jeff Bezos announced on Tuesday that he will step down as CEO later this year and become executive chairman of the company’s board. He described the move in a letter to employees as an opportunity for him to focus on “new products and early initiatives” and his various pet projects like his spaceflight company Blue Origin and the Washington Post. In Bezos’ stead, longtime Amazon executive Andy Jassy will become the new CEO. So, who exactly is that guy?
Jassy joined Amazon in 1997, three years after its founding. He worked on expanding the bookseller’s business at the time by adding CDs to its offerings and then was Bezos’ technical assistant, which was similar to a chief of staff position. Until he was tapped to become the next CEO, Jassy was best known for heading Amazon Web Services, the cloud computing service that accounts for more than half the company’s operating revenue. According to the Wall Street Journal, he helped to come up with the business model during a 2003 brainstorming session in Bezos’ living room. The idea was to allow other companies to develop code and store data using the data center infrastructure that Amazon had built to run its retail operations.
AWS launched three years later. The Post reported that Jassy has run the platform without much interference from Bezos, who tends to micromanage most every other division of Amazon. Under Jassy’s watch, AWS has grown into a multibillion-dollar business that captured a 34 percent market share in the most recent quarter. Its closest rival, Microsoft, only accounts for about half as much. AWS provides cloud computing services to multinational corporations like Capital One and government entities like the CIA.* Jassy has recently led AWS through some high-profile trials, such as losing a $10 billion contract to build the Pentagon’s Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure, or JEDI, to Microsoft in 2019—an episode that was seen as stemming from former President Donald Trump’s antipathy toward Bezos for owning the Post. Amazon has filed a legal challenge against the decision, alleging that Trump inappropriately interfered in the selection process; a federal judge will decide in the coming weeks whether the suit will go forward. “We have a sitting president who is willing to share openly his disdain for a company and the leader of that company,” Jassy said a couple of months after Microsoft’s bid won. “It makes it really difficult for government agencies including the DoD to make an objective decision without a fear of reprisal.”
In terms of temperament and leadership style, employees have described Jassy as a Bezos loyalist who is similarly laser-focused on the customer experience. Like Bezos, Jassy is highly involved in every aspect of AWS, to the point where he reviews every press release and approves most every branding decision. According to Business Insider, one of his most well-known management techniques is to hold high-intensity meetings in a conference room called the Chop. AWS teams revise presentations for Chop meetings for weeks because Jassy has been known to call out people who show up unprepared and has high expectations for his employees’ attention to detail. The Chop was initially a single room that featured a poster of Jassy’s favorite band, Dave Matthews Band, but it has grown to encompass two conference rooms over the past year. It was in a January Chop meeting following the U.S. Capitol riot that Jassy made the call to deplatform Parler, a Twitter competitor with lax moderation policies that is popular among the far-right, and which used AWS for hosting its data.
Following the news of his appointment as Amazon’s CEO, Jassy’s role in some of the company’s more controversial business practices has come into the spotlight. Under Jassy, AWS helped host the technology that Immigration and Customs Enforcement uses to track down undocumented immigrants, something it has continued to do in the face of criticisms from employees. AWS activities also include selling its facial recognition tool, Rekognition, to police departments. Rekognition has come under fire for being biased against people of color and women, as studies have found, and Amazon eventually put a one-year moratorium on use of the software by law enforcement in June 2020. Jassy had defended Rekognition in a 2019 interview with Recode, arguing, “Just because tech could be misused doesn’t mean we should ban it and condemn it.” AWS has also allegedly engaged in anti-competitive behavior by reportedly copying pieces of open-source software that other companies created and integrating them into its own services. The company has denied such allegations, claiming, “AWS has not copied anybody’s software or services.”
Correction, Feb. 3, 2021: This piece originally misspelled Capital One.