Hi all, it’s Matt. Andy Jassy took the keys to Amazon.com Inc. from Jeff Bezos on Monday.
I’ve spent the last couple months talking to Jassy’s coworkers and friends for a profile on the 53-year-old executive. My basic question was this: Does Jassy’s move to the CEO’s chair herald a new era for the $1.8 trillion company? Will we see a gentler, humbler Amazon? Is there a version of the e-commerce behemoth—that Bezos considered naming “Relentless.com”—that slows down, and focuses on placating workers groups and pacifying regulators?
The conclusion: Maybe a little.
There have always been some philosophic differences between Jassy and Bezos. Back in 2012, the Seattle Times—Amazon’s hometown paper—published a scathing assessment of the company’s philanthropic record, an investigation that helped kick off a shift in Amazon’s popular image from startup darling to sharp-elbowed monopolist. Bezos at the time was unapologetic, saying the company’s positive impact on society came from of paychecks to employees and benefits to shoppers. If Microsoft Corp., Boeing Co. and other Washington state stalwarts wanted to spin their wheels on do-gooding, that was their business.
But just a about a year before that story published, Jassy had quietly reached out to the Rainier Scholars, a nonprofit that works to get students of color through college. He told an executive there that he had been fortunate in his upbringing, and he wanted to devote his time and energy to helping others get access to similar advantages. Jassy has served on the board ever since, and sponsored classes of Rainier Scholars interns at Amazon.
Jassy is also, by almost all accounts, a nice guy. He greets lowly subordinates by name in the elevator, and wants to hear about your kids. His standards are high, but he’s a human being—a term you don’t always hear from people describing Bezos.
Just days before Jassy took the helm at Amazon, the company added two new items to its sacrosanct “Leadership Principles.” They were, basically: Treat employees well, and be humble and thoughtful about the impact of your actions outside Amazon. This is isn’t your father’s Relentless.com.
And yet in many ways, Jassy is just as aggressive and competitive as Bezos. He’s pushed lawsuits against former employees who left for rivals, sources told us. And Amazon’s us-against-the-world mentality can be seductive: There is a school of thought within the executive ranks that the company’s current media firestorm and its regulatory hurdles are the result of misunderstandings pushed by bad-faith critics, not an indictment of flawed methods.
“By the metrics Amazon cares about, Amazon’s doing great, why would they change anything?” said Tim Bray, a former Amazon Web Services vice president who quit last year in protest of the firing of internal Amazon critics.
Indeed, Amazon brought in $419 billion in sales over the last year and employs 1.3 million people. It’s among the most trusted institutions in the U.S., right after the military.
And yet the company is under fire from trustbusters in the U.S. and Europe who believe it’s trampled on partners and pushed the limits of the law to get an upper hand on rivals. Amazon also faces an all-out assault from unions determined to organize its hourly workers, and a flurry of lawsuits alleging workplace discrimination.
So I asked, over and over: Does Andy Jassy herald a kinder, milder Amazon?
Some laughed at the suggestion. “It’s in his character, if he wants to fight, he’ll fight,” said someone who’s known him for years.
Another person, a veteran of Amazon’s policy and communications team, also predicted more of the same from the historically combative company: “They may say, ‘Hey, we know, we’re going to go through a few of these things and we may not win them all, but we’ll win enough.’”
Jassy won’t be a Bezos clone, though. The new CEO’s mandate is different than his predecessor’s. Bezos had the luxury of focusing maniacally on the shopper experience and shutting out the outside world. Jassy does the same at his peril. —Matt Day.