Amazon founder Jeff Bezos stepped down as CEO on Monday, handing over the reins as the company navigates the challenges of a world fighting to emerge from the coronavirus pandemic.
Andy Jassy, who ran Amazon’s cloud-computing business, replaced Bezos, a change the company announced in February.
Bezos, Amazon’s biggest shareholder with a stake worth about $180 billion, will still hold sway over the company he started out of his Seattle garage in 1995. He takes over the role of executive chair, with plans to focus on new products and initiatives.
Jassy takes the helm of a $1.7 trillion company that benefited greatly from the pandemic, more than tripling its profits in the first quarter of 2021 and posting record revenue as customers grew ever more dependent on online shopping.
At the same time, Amazon faces activism from a restive workforce just as a rapid economic recovery causes a labor crunch that has retailers, manufacturers and other companies competing for workers with higher wages and other benefits.
The company defeated an attempt by workers to unionize at an Alabama warehouse earlier this year, but faces a more formidable challenge as the International Brotherhood of Teamsters launches a broader effort to unionize Amazon workers.
Bezos also attracted attention last month after a report by investigative news outfit ProPublica, citing leaked IRS documents, said he paid a “true tax rate” of only 1.1% as his wealth surged by $127 billion between 2006 and 2018.
In a blog post to employees earlier this year, Bezos said he planned to devote more time to side projects, including his space exploration company Blue Origin, his philanthropic initiatives and overseeing The Washington Post, which he owns.
“We’ve done crazy things together, and then made them normal,” Bezos wrote, outlining a list of Amazon innovations: “Customer reviews, 1-Click, personalized recommendations, Prime’s insanely-fast shipping, Just Walk Out shopping, the Climate Pledge, Kindle, Alexa, marketplace, infrastructure cloud computing, Career Choice, and much more.”
First up, the richest person in the world by Forbes’ estimate will fulfill his childhood dream of traveling to space. Bezos, 57, will blast into space on July 20 when Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket makes its first flight with a crew, bringing along his younger brother Mark, an investor and volunteer firefighter.
Bezos, who is worth an estimated $200 billion, will travel along with the rest of the crew more than 60 miles above the planet’s surface into suborbital space.
Bezos founded Amazon as an online bookstore and built it into a shopping and entertainment empire that is the second-largest private employer in the U.S., behind Walmart. Amazon, which is buying the MGM movie studio in its latest major acquisition, now makes movies and sofas, owns a grocery chain and has plans to send satellites into space to beam internet service to Earth.
Jassy, who has been with Amazon since 1997, ran the cloud-computing business that powers video-streaming site Netflix and many other companies, making it one of Amazon’s most profitable businesses.
Among Jassy’s challenges are growing calls for tighter regulation on tech giants. A report by the House Judiciary Committee in October called for possibly breaking up Amazon and others, making it harder for them to acquire companies and imposing new rules to safeguard competition.
And while Bezos is stepping down, some analysts expect him to continue playing a key role in guiding Amazon. Neil Saunders, managing director of research firm GlobalData, expects the entrepreneur will remain involved, especially in helping the company remain innovative.