When Andy Jassy succeeds Jeff Bezos as chief executive officer of Amazon in the third quarter of 2021, the transition will mark the end of an era at a company that has made it a habit to reexamine customer needs, challenge long-held assumptions and upend established ways of doing business. Amazon’s ability to act as a catalyst in industry after industry — fields that include retailing, logistics and cloud computing — originated with Bezos.
When he founded the company as an online bookseller 26 years ago, Bezos had already formulated many of the precepts that fueled Amazon’s meteoric rise. An obsessive focus on the customer, a commitment to continuous learning and innovation, and a willingness to think big are a direct reflection of Bezos’ vision.
“Amazon is what it is because of invention,” Bezos commented during the announcement that he will become executive chairman when Jassy, now head of the company’s cloud computing division, assumes the duties of CEO. “We do crazy things together and then make them normal.”
Bezos has over the years encountered criticism, both from within and outside Amazon, related to his management style and some aspects of his demeanor, but no one can argue with his track record. Consider his impact on retailing. Amazon’s innovations — customer reviews, 1-Click ordering, personalized recommendations, Prime shipping and Just Walk Out shopping are among those recently cited by Bezos — have altered consumer expectations about product assortment, price, service and more. By implementing those concepts, the company prompted others across the retail spectrum to respond in kind, resulting in an omnichannel marketplace in which shoppers increasingly demand access to products whenever, wherever and however they want them. Woe to the retailer who fails to meet those expectations.
In his role as executive chairman, Bezos will focus on overarching strategic questions, reportedly including expansion of the company’s presence in the grocery category. Whatever form future initiatives might take, the Amazon that Jassy will assume control of already is ascendant.
“When you look at our financial results, what you’re actually seeing are the long-run cumulative results of invention,” Bezos said. “Right now I see Amazon at its most inventive ever, making it an optimal time for this transition.”
Assuming that Bezos’ assessment is correct — and there’s no reason to think it isn’t — competitors in retailing and other sectors will certainly have their work cut out for them.