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Protocol | Enterprise

How new Amazon CEO Andy Jassy built an enterprise tech juggernaut

Using lessons honed from a stint as outgoing CEO Jeff Bezos' right hand, Jassy changed the way enterprise tech is bought and sold in building the most profitable division of the company.

How new Amazon CEO Andy Jassy built an enterprise tech juggernaut

AWS CEO Andy Jassy will replace Jeff Bezos later this year.

Photo: F. Carter Smith/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Twenty-four years after he joined a small online bookseller, and 15 years after he launched a small group at that company that would become the most disruptive enterprise tech company of a generation, Andy Jassy is taking over one of the biggest companies in the world.

The CEO of AWS will become the second CEO in Amazon history later this year, following the departure of founder Jeff Bezos, Amazon announced Tuesday. Jassy is a self-taught technologist who built AWS into an enterprise tech giant, turning the technology infrastructure needed to underpin its retail operation into the most profitable division of the company.

Jassy started at Amazon in 1997 in the marketing department and was tapped as Bezos' chief of staff in 2003, learning how Bezos built Amazon's culture and operational discipline before hatching the plan for AWS. Starting with simple computing and storage services delivered remotely over the internet, AWS has gone on to define a new era of enterprise computing as well as new business models for aspiring tech companies built on or around AWS.

Inside AWS, Jassy has a reputation for sweating the details, driving the company to focus on executing its plan to deliver the most comprehensive suite of cloud infrastructure services on the planet: "The Everything Store," just for CIOs. In the early days of cloud computing, this was an uphill battle, trying to convince risk-averse business leaders to bet on an emerging technology when all they really wanted was tech that wouldn't break.

So for years, AWS focused on building features that got the folks working for those CIOs — software developers and operations engineers — excited about its potential. Rather than try to force the cloud from the top down into organizations, Jassy encouraged AWS to build services for the people who were actually doing the work, who would build their own applications and services around AWS, and come back for more.

"Lots of companies and teams can fill whiteboards full of ideas and possibilities, but at the end of the day, where the rubber meets the road is being able to execute on those ideas in a way that customers care about and that resonates, and then continue to evolve that offering," Jassy told CRN in 2015, long after AWS had established itself as the leader in cloud infrastructure computing.

In the last several years, cloud competition has become much more intense. Microsoft's decision to elevate its own cloud expert, Satya Nadella, to the CEO position in 2014 set the stage for its remarkable turnaround. Google Cloud, which reported a 46% jump in revenue Tuesday, also signaled its intent to compete head-on with AWS by naming former Oracle executive Thomas Kurian its CEO two years ago.

Those developments have forced Jassy to adjust. AWS famously started off life as a "pay-as-you-go" service, where the running joke was that the early days of the company were financed by the credit cards of Silicon Valley venture capitalists scaling their startups' computing resources. Now, at Jassy's direction, the company looks to sign customers to longer-term deals in exchange for pricing concessions, giving AWS a more predictable revenue stream and its customers an incentive to build around AWS for the long term, which makes it harder to leave its cloud down the road.

"It is really hard to build a business that lasts successfully for many years, and to do it, you're going to have to reinvent yourself. And often you're going to have to reinvent yourself multiple times over," Jassy said in December during his AWS re:Invent keynote.

One consistent source of friction between Jassy and AWS employees has been his seemingly random use of non-compete agreements — which are legal in Amazon's home state of Washington — to penalize employees and executives who have left AWS to seek opportunities elsewhere. Some executives have been allowed to leave quietly for positions at other enterprise tech companies, while others — such as Google Cloud Vice President of Marketing Brian Hall and Smartsheet Chief Product Officer Gene Farrell — were hit with lawsuits delaying their transition to their new jobs.

"He's a win-at-all-costs type of person," said Zoltan Szabadi, who now works at Google Cloud after he was sued by AWS in 2017. "This is just one of the many tactics that he thinks will help his business."

That win-at-all-costs philosophy can be linked to Jassy's love of football, and especially his New York Giants. Jassy also recently became a part-owner of the Seattle Kraken, an expansion franchise in the National Hockey League that is due to start play next year at Climate Pledge Arena — sponsored by Amazon.

Jassy finished the opening section of his most recent re:Invent keynote — a meticulously planned, marathon three-hour affair — by talking about leadership. He was talking about how companies need strong leadership to commit to investing in cloud computing, but the message was certainly broader.

"… The leadership team has to build aggressive top-down goals, to force the organization to move faster than organically it otherwise would," he said. "Setting an aggressive top-down goal forces the organization to understand that they are not going to be able to dip their toe in the water for a number of years; that you mean business. And you're going to make this change, and [set] up the right mechanisms to inspect whether you're getting the right progress."

Protocol | Workplace

The pay gap persists for Black women

"The pay gap is a multifaceted problem and any time you have a complex problem, there's not a single solution that's going to solve it."

For every dollar paid to white, non-Hispanic men, Black women are paid just 63 cents, according to the American Community Survey Census data.

Photo: Christine/Unsplash

Last year's racial reckoning following the murder of George Floyd led many tech companies to commit to promoting equity within their organizations, including working toward pay equity. But despite efforts, the wage gap for Black women still persists. For every dollar paid to white, non-Hispanic men, Black women are paid just 63 cents, according to the American Community Survey Census data.

Black Women's Equal Pay Day on Tuesday represents the estimated number of days into the year it would take for Black women to make what their white, non-Hispanic male counterparts made at the end of the previous year, according to the organization Equal Pay Today. And while the responsibility to fix the pay gap falls mostly on companies to rectify, some female employees have taken matters into their own hands and held companies to their asserted values by negotiating higher pay.

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Amber Burton

Amber Burton (@amberbburton) is a reporter at Protocol. Previously, she covered personal finance and diversity in business at The Wall Street Journal. She earned an M.S. in Strategic Communications from Columbia University and B.A. in English and Journalism from Wake Forest University. She lives in North Carolina.

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What comes to mind when you think of AI? In the past, it might have been the Turing test, a sci-fi character or IBM's Deep Blue-defeating chess champion Garry Kasparov. Today, instead of copying human intelligence, we're seeing immense progress made in using AI to unobtrusively simplify and enrich our own intelligence and experiences. Natural language processing, modern encrypted security solutions, advanced perception and imaging capabilities, next-generation data management and logistics, and automotive assistance are some of the many ways AI is quietly yet unmistakably driving some of the latest advancements inside our phones, PCs, cars and other crucial 21st century devices. And the combination of 5G and AI is enabling a world with distributed intelligence where AI processing is happening on devices and in the cloud.

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Protocol | Workplace

Tech company hybrid work policies are becoming more flexible, not less

Twitter, LinkedIn and Asana are already changing their hybrid policies to allow for more flexibility.

Photo: FG Trade/Getty Images

Twitter, LinkedIn and Asana are all loosening up their strategies around hybrid work, allowing for more flexibility before even fully reopening their offices.

In the last week and a half, Twitter announced it's adopting an asynchronous-first approach, and both Asana and LinkedIn said they would increase the amount of time their employees can work remotely.

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Allison Levitsky
Allison Levitsky is a reporter at Protocol covering workplace issues in tech. She previously covered big tech companies and the tech workforce for the Silicon Valley Business Journal. Allison grew up in the Bay Area and graduated from UC Berkeley.
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Activision Blizzard scrambles to repair its toxic image

Blizzard President J. Allen Brack is the first executive to depart amid the sexual harassment crisis.

Activision Blizzard doesn't seem committed to lasting change.

Photo: Allen J. Schaben/Getty Images

As Activision Blizzard's workplace crisis rages on into its third week, the company is taking measures to try to calm the storm — to little avail. On Tuesday, Blizzard President J. Allen Brack, who took the reins at the developer responsible for World of Warcraft back in 2018, resigned. He's to be replaced by executives Jen Oneal and Mike Ybarra, who will co-lead the studio in a power-sharing agreement some believe further solidifies CEO Bobby Kotick's control over the subsidiary.

Nowhere in Blizzard's statement about Brack's departure does it mention California's explosive sexual harassment and discrimination lawsuit at the heart of the saga. The lawsuit, filed last month, resulted last week in a 500-person walkout at Blizzard's headquarters in Irvine. (Among the attendees was none other than Ybarra, the new studio co-head.)

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Protocol | Workplace

Alabama Amazon workers will likely get a second union vote

An NLRB judge said that Amazon "usurped" the NLRB by pushing for a mailbox to be installed in front of its facility, and also that the company violated laws that protect workers from monitoring of their behavior during union elections.

An NLRB judge ruled that Amazon has violated union election rules

Image: Amazon

Bessemer, Alabama warehouse workers will likely get a second union vote because of Amazon's efforts to have a USPS ballot box installed just outside of the Bessemer warehouse facility during the mail-in vote, as well as other violations of union vote rules, according to an NLRB ruling published Tuesday morning.

While union organizers, represented by the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union, lost the first vote by more than a 2:1 margin, a second election will be scheduled and held unless Amazon successfully appeals the ruling. Though Amazon is the country's second-largest private employer, no unionization effort at the company has ever been successful.

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