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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."

Power

Google wants to help you get a life

Digital car windows, curved AR glasses, automatic presentations and other patents from Big Tech.

A new patent from Google offers a few suggestions.

Image: USPTO

Another week has come to pass, meaning it's time again for Big Tech patents! You've hopefully been busy reading all the new Manual Series stories that have come out this week and are now looking forward to hearing what comes after what comes next. Google wants to get rid of your double-chin selfie videos and find things for you as you sit bored at home; Apple wants to bring translucent displays to car windows; and Microsoft is exploring how much you can stress out a virtual assistant.

And remember: The big tech companies file all kinds of crazy patents for things, and though most never amount to anything, some end up defining the future.

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Mike Murphy

Mike Murphy ( @mcwm) is the director of special projects at Protocol, focusing on the industries being rapidly upended by technology and the companies disrupting incumbents. Previously, Mike was the technology editor at Quartz, where he frequently wrote on robotics, artificial intelligence, and consumer electronics.

Sponsored Content

The future of computing at the edge: an interview with Intel’s Tom Lantzsch

An interview with Tom Lantzsch, SVP and GM, Internet of Things Group at Intel

An interview with Tom Lantzsch

Senior Vice President and General Manager of the Internet of Things Group (IoT) at Intel Corporation

Edge computing had been on the rise in the last 18 months – and accelerated amid the need for new applications to solve challenges created by the Covid-19 pandemic. Tom Lantzsch, Senior Vice President and General Manager of the Internet of Things Group (IoT) at Intel Corp., thinks there are more innovations to come – and wants technology leaders to think equally about data and the algorithms as critical differentiators.

In his role at Intel, Lantzsch leads the worldwide group of solutions architects across IoT market segments, including retail, banking, hospitality, education, industrial, transportation, smart cities and healthcare. And he's seen first-hand how artificial intelligence run at the edge can have a big impact on customers' success.

Protocol sat down with Lantzsch to talk about the challenges faced by companies seeking to move from the cloud to the edge; some of the surprising ways that Intel has found to help customers and the next big breakthrough in this space.

What are the biggest trends you are seeing with edge computing and IoT?

A few years ago, there was a notion that the edge was going to be a simplistic model, where we were going to have everything connected up into the cloud and all the compute was going to happen in the cloud. At Intel, we had a bit of a contrarian view. We thought much of the interesting compute was going to happen closer to where data was created. And we believed, at that time, that camera technology was going to be the driving force – that just the sheer amount of content that was created would be overwhelming to ship to the cloud – so we'd have to do compute at the edge. A few years later – that hypothesis is in action and we're seeing edge compute happen in a big way.

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Saul Hudson
Saul Hudson has a deep knowledge of creating brand voice identity, especially in understanding and targeting messages in cutting-edge technologies. He enjoys commissioning, editing, writing, and business development, in helping companies to build passionate audiences and accelerate their growth. Hudson has reported from more than 30 countries, from war zones to boardrooms to presidential palaces. He has led multinational, multi-lingual teams and managed operations for hundreds of journalists. Hudson is a Managing Partner at Angle42, a strategic communications consultancy.
Policy

Here are Big Tech’s biggest threats from states

The states are moving much quicker than Congress on privacy, taxes and content moderation.

Virginia is expected to be the second state to pass a comprehensive privacy law.

Photo: Ron Cogswell/Flickr

When critics say that Virginia's new privacy bill is "industry-approved," they're not totally wrong, said David Marsden, the state senator who has been working for months to shepherd the law through the state legislature.

It was an Amazon lobbyist who originally presented Marsden with the text of the bill, which hews closely to the failed Washington Privacy Act, versions of which have been pushed by Microsoft across the country.

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Emily Birnbaum

Emily Birnbaum ( @birnbaum_e) is a tech policy reporter with Protocol. Her coverage focuses on the U.S. government's attempts to regulate one of the most powerful industries in the world, with a focus on antitrust, privacy and politics. Previously, she worked as a tech policy reporter with The Hill after spending several months as a breaking news reporter. She is a Bethesda, Maryland native and proud Kenyon College alumna.

Transforming 2021

Blockchain, QR codes and your phone: the race to build vaccine passports

Digital verification systems could give people the freedom to work and travel. Here's how they could actually happen.

One day, you might not need to carry that physical passport around, either.

Photo: CommonPass

There will come a time, hopefully in the near future, when you'll feel comfortable getting on a plane again. You might even stop at the lounge at the airport, head to the regional office when you land and maybe even see a concert that evening. This seemingly distant reality will depend upon vaccine rollouts continuing on schedule, an open-sourced digital verification system and, amazingly, the blockchain.

Several countries around the world have begun to prepare for what comes after vaccinations. Swaths of the population will be vaccinated before others, but that hasn't stopped industries decimated by the pandemic from pioneering ways to get some people back to work and play. One of the most promising efforts is the idea of a "vaccine passport," which would allow individuals to show proof that they've been vaccinated against COVID-19 in a way that could be verified by businesses to allow them to travel, work or relax in public without a great fear of spreading the virus.

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Mike Murphy

Mike Murphy ( @mcwm) is the director of special projects at Protocol, focusing on the industries being rapidly upended by technology and the companies disrupting incumbents. Previously, Mike was the technology editor at Quartz, where he frequently wrote on robotics, artificial intelligence, and consumer electronics.

Amazon's new interface tries to rein in the chaos

The company is rolling out a new interface with profiles and a big emphasis on live content to additional Fire TV streaming devices next month.

Amazon's new Fire TV interface is coming to additional streaming devices next month.

Image: Amazon

When Amazon's Fire TV team began pushing out a new interface to select streaming devices in December, it wasn't just aiming for a cosmetic refresh. The new Fire TV experience, which is scheduled to launch on Fire TV Stick 4K and Fire TV Cube devices next month, promises to rein in some of the sprawl caused by Fire TV's last major UI change. However, the new changes also show how hard it can be for TV platforms to do the right thing for consumers without offending content partners.

The idea was simple enough: Instead of making consumers browse bland lists of apps, forcing them to choose whether they'd want to spend their evening with Netflix or Hulu, Amazon's Fire TV team wanted them to get straight to the movies and shows that matter. That's why in late 2016, the company was first among the major smart TV platform providers to introduce what's known in the industry as a content-first user experience, with rows and rows of shows and movies — from various streaming apps — directly on the TV home screen.

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Janko Roettgers

Janko Roettgers (@jank0) is a senior reporter at Protocol, reporting on the shifting power dynamics between tech, media, and entertainment, including the impact of new technologies. Previously, Janko was Variety's first-ever technology writer in San Francisco, where he covered big tech and emerging technologies. He has reported for Gigaom, Frankfurter Rundschau, Berliner Zeitung, and ORF, among others. He has written three books on consumer cord-cutting and online music and co-edited an anthology on internet subcultures. He lives with his family in Oakland.

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