Andy Jassy: What You Should Know About Amazon’s New CEO

Well, it’s finally going to happen: after building Amazon into a $1.6 trillion company since founding it in 1994 out of his garage selling books (as CNBC describes), Jeff Bezos is stepping down as Amazon’s CEO. On one hand, Bezos and his gargantuan personal fortune (he, along with fellow space tourism enthusiast Elon Musk, is one of Earth’s five centibillionaires) represents the quintessential American success story. In 2020, he even gave $10 billion back to launch the Bezos Earth Fund to help fight climate change, as explained by Fortune. On the other hand, Bezos has been relentlessly criticized for Amazon’s utter lack of corporate tax payments (as CNBC states) and terrible employee working conditions that include incessant surveillance, harried, punishing work schedules, and actual physical injury (per The Atlantic). 

So who is stepping into Bezos’ ethically dubious, yet formidably cash-solvent, shoes? Andy Jassy, CEO of Amazon Web Services (AWS), who, as Reuters describes, has been around since those 1990s days. In fact, Amazon has been Jassy’s one and only workplace, after he finished his MBA at Harvard Business School in 1997 and headed to Amazon on a Monday with no idea even what his job title was going to be. Since starting AWS in 2006, he’s grown the company into the world’s largest cloud provider, as ZDNet explains. Their servers form the bedrock of mountains of data transmitted across the world every day.

But what kind of person is Jassy? What do we really know about the guy?

Power already on par with Bezos

Knowing about Jassy as a person helps us to know the kinds of decisions that might be made by Amazon, a company that provides goods worldwide, personally employs over 1 million people, per the Washington Postand, non-hyperbolically, helps direct the fate of the globe. The most important things to know about Jassy come from his staff, particularly his power within the company, how he’s perceived by employees, how he organizes his time and meetings, and his overall approach to management. This is important for not only the world’s largest retailer, Amazon, but the now-$40-billion AWS, which owns, as Business Insider says, 30 percent of the market share for cloud computing, worldwide, as well as 60 percent of all of Amazon’s profitability. 

Many have speculated, in fact, that AWS, now a subsidiary of Amazon, would break off and become its own company, especially since AWS is “100 percent Andy’s show,” as an employee states, continuing, “Jeff does not tell Andy what to do… They’re almost side-by-side on the org chart,” and, “Jeff has allowed Andy to do his job without anybody looking over his shoulder.” This may account for why Jassy, who has been around since all of Amazon could fit “in just one conference room,” as he says in an interview with PBS, and was “Bezos’ first ‘shadow’ advisor,” is possibly the only one that Bezos would trust with his old job when he steps down to executive chairman in Q3 2021.

A kinder, gentler 'chop'

Most interestingly, Jassy is described in glowing, almost fatherly terms by employees, as “authentic, genuine, empathetic,” and “as down to earth as a CEO as you’re going to meet.” “Nice,” as it turns out, is one of Jassy’s catchphrases, even in emails where the word is typically followed by several exclamation points. Another of his catchphrases is the hokey-but-endearing, “Giddy up, let’s get this going,” which he dispenses during meetings when he’s satisfied with results, as Business Insider recalls. These meetings are referred to as “Chop” meetings, thanks to the name of the conference room (the other room is unironically called “Rothschild”).

At the same time, Jassy is ruthlessly detail-oriented and “doesn’t suffer foolishness,” according to Scott Chancellor, a former AWS director. He insists that nearly every single AWS-related decision goes through him directly, down to blog posts. “People who don’t do their best in those meetings won’t get a second shot,” Chancellor continued, “at least not for a long time.” Another former senior-level employee noted that Jassy can “smell a drop of blood from 100 miles away if you’re not ready” for a meeting.

Jassy often has up to seven such “Chops” a day, where he, per Amazon’s usual policy, dispenses memos and everyone reads silently for half an hour before speaking up. Jassy goes last. The entire process, per one anonymous employee, is “a very inefficient hub-spoke model.” Some employees said that transitioning out of AWS is difficult because they can’t find Jassy’s extreme attentiveness to detail anywhere else. 

Unafraid to be vocal about issues of civil liberty

Another truly important, key thing to know about Jassy is that he’s politically-minded and not afraid to stand up for pro-social issues. He’s spoken up on Twitter in support of the Supreme Court’s decision to block workplace discrimination against LGBTQ individuals, talking about “how crazy it is in 2020 that this was even a question.” He’s also tweeted very vocally about the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement, calling for people to be prosecuted in the tragic Breonna Taylor case. Jassy has also tweeted his approval of the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the humanitarian-minded DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) for “dreamers,” which protects the nearly 650,000 children of undocumented migrants from being deported, as The Washington Post explains. Jassy was also behind AWS’s decision to take down Parler’s servers — the festering Proud Boy swamp and ultra-right-wing canker sore — after the attack on the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021, as the Wall Street Journal relates.

And once again, on the other hand, during the aforementioned PBS interview, Jassy released himself from responsibility for police misusing AWS’s facial recognition technology, saying that it wouldn’t “feel like the right balance” to limit the tech’s use before anything improper was done (fair enough). Then again, he also said that if any customer does misuse it, and “people’s civil liberties” have been broken, and “we have documented proof of that,” then AWS “will suspend their ability to use our platform.”

In the end: kind of just an ordinary guy with some quirks?

So in the end, who is Andy Jassy? Well, his favorite music group is the Dave Matthews Band, as Business Insider says (no need to judge him too harshly for this). He’s a huge sports fan and keeps a collection of his Super Bowl tickets (he also has minority ownership in the Seattle Kraken). He kept using Blackberries in the office long after they went out of fashion and teased fellow employees for not coming up with AWS support for the devices. He also has an unparalleled love of beef jerky, which he used to order in arrays of buffets during AWS’s annual re:Invent cloud conference. So… maybe just a regular kind of dude who is hyper-attentive to facts, relatively fair-minded, but serious when it comes to business?

Such speculation exists to answer one question: Does Jassy’s elevation to CEO represent a newer, friendlier era of Amazon, in terms of employee treatment and corporate policy? Amazon has always prided itself on its “obsessive-compulsive focus” on customers, rather than competitors, as Bezos once related via Business Insider. However, next-day Amazon Prime delivery really hasn’t really gotten them off the hook for poor behavior.

We can maybe look to Jassy’s strategy for AWS, as Business Insider states, to understand Amazon’s future. Put simply, Jassy has said he wants to “prioritize building and selling existing services” rather than acquiring other companies. Let’s hope this very non-bullish attitude holds up over time.

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