Twenty-seven years to the day since Amazon.com was incorporated (though it was called Cadabra Inc. at the time), the company has its second leader. Andy Jassy is now running the show. And while on some level, this is as low-key a CEO transition as Amazon could have — Jassy's been at the company since 1997, and as CEO of AWS, he ran the company's biggest moneymaker, plus Jeff Bezos is still going to be involved at the company — it's still a big change.
Few companies have as wide a purview as Amazon does, and even fewer have as large an effect on the modern world. Jassy's vision and plan will have to be similarly widespread. And in so many cases around the company, he'll have to answer the same question: Where does Amazon need to slow down and focus, and where does it need to push and experiment?
With that in mind, here are eight things facing Jassy as he takes over the big chair in Seattle.
The looming antitrust battle. The same size and scope of Amazon that make it so uniquely powerful may also make it uniquely vulnerable to antitrust reform. Investigations loom into the way Amazon works with third-party merchants, into the combination of its store and AWS, even into how its MGM acquisition affects its position in the toilet paper-shipping industry. The name "Lina Khan" should send shivers up spines all over Seattle.
Jassy has mostly been left out of antitrust issues and hearings so far, because AWS hasn't been the focus of Congress's inquiry, but that's going to change quickly. He'll have to answer for Amazon's entire business, which gets harder as that business gets wider and bigger. And with Amazon poised to pass Walmart and become the largest U.S. company by sales, the scrutiny's only going to grow.
Worker unrest. In warehouses all over the U.S., workers are unhappy with the way they're treated by Amazon and are pushing to unionize. Amazon has long said that it pays and treats workers well, but the voices disagreeing are starting to get loud. Bezos made clear in recent months that this is a focus for Amazon, even adding to its leadership principles that Amazon should "strive to be the Earth's best employer."
Jassy will have to either acknowledge the increasing unionization effort, or put even more resources into fighting it. He'll have to find more ways to keep workers safe and happy, all while facing that typically Amazonian, relentless drive toward making everything more efficient.
A fast-changing S-team. One of the rarest things about Amazon was that its leadership never seemed to change. The so-called "S-team," made up of Bezos and his closest lieutenants (including Jassy), was a remarkably stable group. Until recently, anyway.
Bezos isn't the only important Amazon executive leaving the company. Jeff Wilke, the longtime head of the consumer business, left the company. Steve Kessel left in 2020 after leading seemingly every important project at one time or another. Jeff Blackburn left for a while and is now back in a new role running Amazon's media efforts. Adam Selipsky is back, too, as the new AWS CEO. And as The New York Times reported, even outside those very top ranks, there's an unusually large number of high-ranking executives who have left the company in recent months. That's not uncommon for such a large company, especially during a change like this one, but it means Jassy has a lot of leadership and culture work to do.
Expensive entertainment aspirations. When you're the richest guy in the world, it's natural to suddenly get Hollywood ambitions. And Bezos sure did; the company has spent billions of dollars on everything from MGM Studios to Thursday Night Football in an effort to become a major player in the entertainment world. Some moves have been hugely successful, while others, like its internal video game studio, haven't gone so well.
In many ways, all that expense contributes to Amazon's overall success, but the price is going up: Amazon spent $11 billion on video and music content in 2020, $8.5 billion on MGM and about $1 billion a year for NFL games. Does Jassy have the same Tinseltown ambitions?
Evolving the Everything Store. Amazon.com continues to be a great business, but its cracks are showing and growing. Fake reviews and counterfeit products are an enormous threat to the platform, there are antitrust questions about how Amazon uses third-party data to inform its own product decisions, and companies like Shopify are showing sellers that there's life outside the Everything Store.
Amazon has also invested massively in its logistics operation, spending big on everything from warehouse automation to drone delivery. It's also becoming a surprisingly huge brick-and-mortar player, thanks to Whole Foods and Amazon Go. With a new consumer-side leader in Dave Clark, Jassy's going to have to help decide what kind of store Amazon wants to be.
What's next for AWS. It's already the (mostly) undisputed king of cloud services, thanks in large part to Jassy's leadership. And its ambitions are as big as anything at Amazon. Even in recent days, it has been reported that AWS is planning a push into the productivity wars, buying the Wickr app, angling its Chime services as an infrastructure alternative to Zoom and Teams, integrating with Salesforce and building a partnership to try and crush Office.
Selipsky, the new CEO, has a long to-do list in front of him. It gets even longer if it becomes a real possibility that AWS could be split off from Amazon. But even without an earth-shattering change, Jassy will have to help AWS compete in a more competitive market while still trying to expand into new ones.
Climate change. None of the rest of this matters if everything's underwater, right? Amazon has spoken loudly and often about the Climate Pledge, and the company's commitment to being net-zero carbon by 2040. Bezos got to set the lofty goal; Jassy has to accomplish it.
It's not going to be easy, either. Amazon's carbon emissions grew 19% year-over-year in 2020, and while the glass-half-full read is that the company itself grew even faster (and so it's operating more efficiently), it makes painfully clear that Amazon's climate goals and growth plans are in direct conflict.
What kind of leader does he want to be? Bezos in recent years became a larger-than-life figure, a red carpet fixture, a tabloid mainstay. He got ripped, got divorced, booked his place on a rocket ship. Jassy has historically been much more private and down to earth, famously driving his old Jeep and not wanting to fly on private jets. He's been public in his support for Black Lives Matter, immigration reform and other causes, but that can be trickier to do from a bigger job. Will he be forced into the limelight simply by virtue of the fact that he's the CEO of Amazon? Or will he try to stay lower-key?
Internally, too, Jassy is known for being quieter and less intense than Bezos. The Wall Street Journal reported he's the type to speak last rather than first, and is famous for his one-word emails that say only, "Nice!" Jassy is demanding and organized, but not ruthless the way Bezos could be.
It can be tempting for new leaders to try and replicate their predecessor's energy and thinking, even the way they run their company. Jassy will have to learn to run Andy Jassy's Amazon, not just do his best Bezos impression.
You can't sit in a room with an Amazon employee and not have them tell you, "It's Day One." That has been Bezos's mantra, and Amazon's, for the 9,862 days since the company's incorporation. More than anything, Jassy's job is to make sure his first day as CEO doesn't go down in history as Day Two.