In 2021’s biggest tech-industry news so far, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos has announced that he’s stepping back from day-to-day management of the company. He will retain the executive chairman title but is handing CEO duties over to Andy Jassy, the CEO of Amazon Web Services, starting in Q3. Even after you’ve read Bezos’s letter to Amazon employees, you may have questions about the move. Along with “Why?” and “Why now?” one of them is probably, “Who is Andy Jassy?”
Here are six fast facts about the man stepping into one of the most high-profile jobs in business.
1. He was the heir apparent
Though Jeff Bezos’s decision to step down as CEO is a stunner, the fact that Jassy is his replacement is not. After Jeff Wilke, the CEO of Amazon’s consumer business, announced that he’d be leaving the company in the first quarter of this year, Jassy had a clear path to the top in the event that Bezos chose to give up his job. It would have been a far bigger surprise if Amazon had hired someone outside the company.
2. He’s as Amazonian as they get
Even more than most tech giants, Amazon loves its corporate mantras, which focus on matters such as the importance of being customer-obsessed, staying humble, and trying ambitious new things that might fail. Jassy, who joined the company in 1997, is as on-message as Bezos when it comes to crediting successes to following the Amazon way.
“One of the important cultural parts inside of Amazon and inside AWS is that we want people to experiment,” he told me in 2017. “We want to have as high a rate of experimentation per unit of time as possible while not wasting time on things that we think have no chance. We want it to be informed by a combination of customers telling us what matters to them and trying to invent on behalf of customers. And then if things don’t work, nobody gets fired because of it.”
3. He’s already responsible for a huge chunk of Amazon
AWS, which provides a bevy of web services to businesses of all sizes, is an enormous revenue driver for Amazon, having brought in $12.7 billion in the most recent quarter. More important, it’s a profit machine, responsible for 52% of overall profits last quarter. (A year earlier, that figure was closer to 75%.) All those Amazon experiments that the company is proud to have tried even when they fail? They’re being subsidized by Jassy’s AWS coffers.
4. He has a low profile
While Bezos is among the most familiar business faces of the past quarter-century, you may never have been exposed to Jassy unless you’ve attended AWS’s gigantic annual Re:Invent conference. That might not be solely because selling web services isn’t the world’s most glamorous business. A 2019 Jassy profile by The Information’s Kevin McLaughlin reported that Jassy is not a natural-born salesman; in years past, he was even reticent to take meetings with big spenders such as the CEOs of Fortune 500 companies.
5. He believes in sweating the details
In 2017, Jassy told me that groups within AWS have plenty of independence. But he also stressed that effective management is in part about knowing what’s going on at every level of the organization. “One of the mistakes that leaders make sometimes is that they get too far away from the details of the business,” he told me. “And the reality is that every business is always going to have things that work and things that are not working. And that’s okay. You can fix the things that aren’t working, as long as you have visibility to them. And you can course-correct relatively quickly. But if you get so far away from the details and you don’t have the right mechanisms to inspect what’s happening, finding out about issues that are 6 to 12 months in the making makes it much harder to correct them, because the hole is deeper.”
6. Once upon a time, he was a merchant
Since 2003, Jassy has devoted his full attention to web services. That might seem far afield from Amazon’s iconic success as a storefront for physical goods of every imaginable sort. But early in his Amazon career, Jassy was responsible for selling stuff to consumers. Back in 2001, when he was the company’s product director for music, he spoke with Billboard about a special promotion tied into a Ken Burns PBS series about the history of jazz. “There are few people who are uniquely positioned to sell the CDs, the video and DVD boxed sets, and the book as well as us,” he said. Once again, he will be responsible for selling media—even if it’s more likely to be streamed than shipped in boxes—as well as every other item that Amazon would like to sell to us.