The founder of the world’s largest e-commerce site announced the move Feb. 2, telling investors that he would transition into the role of executive chairman at the end of September. Andy Jassy, who has served as CEO of Amazon Web Services, will take over as CEO.
“In the Exec Chair role, I intend to focus my energies and attention on new products and early initiatives,” Bezos wrote in a letter to employees that was published on the company blog. “Andy is well known inside the company and has been at Amazon almost as long as I have. He will be an outstanding leader, and he has my full confidence.”
A former hedge fund executive, Bezos started Amazon as an online retailer for books from his Seattle garage in 1994. The business was widely credited with popularizing online shopping and dealing a blow to physical book retailers around the U.S.
A sharp and, at times, ruthless executive, Bezos transformed Amazon into one of the world’s largest companies, an everything store that sells toilet paper, Oscar-nominated movies, music subscriptions and more. Today, the company owns IMDb, Audible, Zappos and Whole Foods and has a market cap of nearly $1.7 trillion.
In recent years, he’s become a staple at Hollywood awards shows as Amazon has invested heavily in big-budget films and TV shows as a way to provide more value to subscribers to its Prime membership plan. “When people join Prime, they buy more of everything we sell,” Bezos told THR in 2015 in an interview about why the e-commerce company had transformed itself into a Netflix competitor. “They buy more shoes, they buy more power tools and so on. How you pay for great content is an important part of making great content available.”
The company has made some missteps on its way to becoming a Hollywood player. In 2018, it ousted Amazon Studios head Roy Price following a sexual harassment claim. For the last three years, former NBCUniversal executive Jen Salke has led the Santa Monica-based content arm, ordering a high-profile Lord of the Rings TV series that has yet to debut and building up a film slate that ranges from broad comedies like Borat Subsequent Moviefilm to awards contenders like One Night in Miami. The division, which has collected a large haul of Oscar, Emmy and Golden Globe nominations and wins, is not broken out in Amazon’s earnings.
As Amazon has grown, so has Bezos’ wealth. He’s the world’s second richest, with a net worth of $188 billion, as estimated by the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. In addition to running Amazon, Bezos also owns The Washington Post and space travel company Blue Origins.
Bezos has become the subject of fascination in business and media circles, gaining recognition for his particular management style. (Known to be frugal, he repurposed doors as desks during Amazon’s startup days and extended the practice even as the company grew.) His 2019 divorce from wife Mackenzie Scott became the subject of tabloid fodder after private text messages between him and new girlfriend Lauren Sanchez were leaked to the National Enquirer.
Bezos has stepped back from day-to-day operations of Amazon in recent years and makes only rare appearances on the company’s quarterly earnings calls. After years of operating at a loss, the company became profitable in 2017. In 2020, amid a pandemic that left many Americans homebound and looking for online shopping alternatives, Amazon saw a 38 percent increase in sales to $386 billion. It grew operating income to $21.3 billion, or $41.83 per share.
“As much as I still tap dance into the office, I’m excited about this transition,” Bezos wrote in his note to employees. “Millions of customers depend on us for our services, and more than a million employees depend on us for their livelihoods. Being the CEO of Amazon is a deep responsibility, and it’s consuming. When you have a responsibility like that, it’s hard to put attention on anything else.”
He said that as executive chairman, he will have more “time and energy” to focus on philanthropic efforts Day One Fund and Bezos Earth Fund and non-Amazon businesses Blue Origin and The Washington Post, as well as other passions. “I’ve never had more energy, and this isn’t about retiring,” he wrote. “I’m super passionate about the impact I think these organizations can have.”
One of Bezos’ top lieutenants, Jassy has worked at Amazon since its early days. He founded AWS in 2003, growing it into one of the most important divisions within Amazon. Last year, AWS brought in $45.4 billion in sales and had $13.5 billion in operating income.
“I don’t know of another company with an invention track record as good as Amazon’s, and I believe we are at our most inventive right now,” Bezos wrote in his letter. “I hope you are as proud of our inventiveness as I am. I think you should be.”
This story was originally published by The Hollywood Reporter.