Jeff Bezos steps down as CEO just as Amazon cements itself in our lives

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos is stepping down as the corporate’s CEO.

Jeff Bezos goes the route of Steve Jobs, Invoice Gates and Larry Web page, ceding the CEO tasks of a powerhouse firm in full stride: Amazon has reached new heights of affect and relevance amid our pandemic-driven locked-down lives. For Bezos, it has been greater than a quarter-century of shattering the established order in all the pieces from how we purchase on a regular basis gadgets to how we work together with the devices in our houses. 

Buried just a few paragraphs into the corporate’s blowout fourth-quarter report Tuesday was the announcement that Bezos, the world’s second-wealthiest man behind Elon Musk, would step down as CEO to grow to be government chairman within the third quarter. In his place will probably be one in all his key lieutenants, Andy Jassy, who runs the extremely worthwhile Amazon Net Providers enterprise. The elevation of an Amazon veteran ought to guarantee a easy transition — not that Bezos is more likely to be utterly hands-off with the enterprise. 

Since founding Amazon in 1994, Bezos has gone on to reinvent the corporate dozens of instances. Within the course of, Amazon has muscled in on or outright dismantled complete industries. From a easy on-line retailer, Amazon expanded into cloud providers and synthetic intelligence by its Alexa digital assistant, which powers hundreds of thousands of sensible houses. It is even taken a stab at bodily retail — which it is within the strategy of destroying  — by its possession of high-end grocery store Complete Meals Market and a number of experimental shops. 

However hundreds of thousands know Amazon by its core Prime service, which has developed from a subscription supply service right into a digital platform that provides streaming video and music, picture storage and different providers. It is grown from a luxurious to an important for individuals reluctant to go away their houses in the course of the coronavirus pandemic and extra comfy having all the pieces from rest room paper to this week’s groceries delivered to their doorstep. That dynamic was amply illustrated by a fourth-quarter web revenue of $7.2 billion, greater than double its year-earlier complete. 

“Jeff Bezos actually is aware of find out how to exit on a excessive observe,” mentioned Andrew Lipsman, eMarketer principal analyst at Insider Intelligence. “The information of his stepping down from the CEO function will definitely overshadow what was a really historic quarter.”

Amazon’s dominance has raised questions in regards to the energy that the corporate wields, amid a broader, extra skeptical take a look at the function that Huge Tech performs in our lives. Stepping down will presumably permit Bezos to step away from the day-to-day operations of Amazon, giving him time to concentrate on different pursuits, together with his aerospace firm Blue Origin. 

To suppose, it began with bodily books. Keep in mind these?

From books to Yeti statues and Hollywood

When Bezos began Amazon (initially often called “Cadabra”) in 1994, the largest promoting proposition was reductions on books. In a warehouse tour with CNET staffer Ron Reagan in 1997, Bezos crowed in regards to the 30% low cost supplied on each New York Occasions bestseller. In a video accompanying the story, you possibly can see staff manually printing out orders and selecting out books by hand. 

That is a far cry from the robots and automatic techniques that reside in achievement facilities like its 1.2 million-square-foot (that is 26 soccer fields) facility in Fall River, Massachusetts, which ships all the pieces from iPhone chargers to life-size Yeti statues. 

It is also completely different from the core Prime program, which was launched in 2005 as an all-you-can-eat supply service that promised two-day delivery with out prices past its subscription price. The mannequin echoed warehouse membership packages like Costco’s, which cost a month-to-month price to entry discounted merchandise.

This system began out as a nice-to-have, however grew to become extra helpful as Amazon stocked increasingly merchandise, typically at costs cheaper than brick-and-mortar opponents like Walmart or Kmart supplied. Amazon started including new providers to Prime, together with a streaming video providing full with authentic reveals, and later picture storage, ebooks and gaming. A 12 months in the past, Amazon mentioned it had 150 million Prime subscribers in 19 nations. 

Bezos, in the meantime, introduced Amazon to Hollywood in 2010 with the founding of Amazon Studios, the corporate’s authentic movie and video arm. Amazon Studios was initially designed as a riff on the disruption Amazon dropped at books with self publishing. At first, the division aimed to mine a neighborhood of newbie screenwriters and filmmakers to uncover gems that may usually by no means get previous the gatekeepers of Hollywood: discover a hit like Fifty Shades of Grey, however for TV or films. 

But it surely did not take lengthy for Amazon to comprehend that paying some huge cash to people who find themselves already expert at movie or tv tended to ship higher outcomes — aka the Netflix mannequin. In public view, Bezos was in all probability most related to Amazon Studios as his private entry level to displaying up within the viewers on the Oscars or Golden Globes.

The expansion of all of its companies has turned Amazon into an enormous employer. In the course of the previous 12 months alone, the corporate employed tons of of 1000’s of staff to satisfy the elevated demand for, properly, nearly all the pieces because it struggled to maintain up with the order quantity.

Much less seen but simply as vital is Amazon Net Providers, based a 12 months after Prime, which provides on-demand cloud computing. Underneath Jassy, AWS has grown to be the market chief by a big stretch. Despite the fact that demand for Prime has pushed Amazon’s income progress, AWS has lengthy served because the engine for earnings. Within the newest quarter, AWS made up almost half of Amazon’s complete working earnings. 

Kindle to Echo


Amazon’s Kindle Paperwhite e-ink e-reader.

James Martin/CNET

Bezos’ push to disrupt issues did not simply apply to retail. In 2007, he unveiled the Amazon Kindle e-reader, which sparked the book market. Whereas different e-readers existed, the svelte Kindle allowed wi-fi downloads of books, setting it aside. 

The Kindle marked the beginning of an explosion of {hardware} from Amazon, all designed to tie individuals again to its core on-line retailer and Prime service. Probably the most important was the debut of the Echo speaker in 2014, on the time a curiosity with its voice-activated Alexa digital assistant. However Amazon continued so as to add capabilities to Alexa, permitting it to supply sports activities scores, climate updates and headlines from NPR. Its expanded assist allowed Alexa to energy sensible dwelling devices like lights and air conditioners.

Amazon’s success kicked off a race to manage the sensible dwelling, with Google pushing its personal assistant in its House line of audio system, and Apple pushing Siri in its HomePod lineup. 

Bezos has had his share of flops. Most notably, Amazon tried to interrupt into the cellphone market with the Hearth Telephone, which featured a multicamera and 3D show gimmick, nevertheless it was panned for the way in which it hooked into procuring as one in all its key drivers.  

Nonetheless, Bezos has by no means been afraid to experiment, as evidenced by Alexa-powered glasses and the Echo Loop ring. Amazon in October supplied its most bold lineup of recent merchandise, which included a brand new cloud gaming service, a Ring digicam drone and bulbous new Echo Dots, cementing its place as a tech {hardware} chief. 

Then there’s Amazon’s Prime Air drone supply service, which individuals thought was a glorified publicity stunt when Bezos confirmed it off throughout a 60 Minutes interview in 2013.  

Again to bodily

Although Amazon is chargeable for the destruction of quite a lot of brick-and-mortar shops — do you keep in mind Virgin Megastore, CircuitCity or Barnes and Noble? — that hasn’t prevented Bezos from experimenting with bodily retail.

Bezos in 2017 spent $13.7 billion to amass Complete Meals Market in what was its largest acquisition ever. Hastily, the net retailer had roughly 460 bodily shops.

Later that 12 months, it launched  Amazon Books, a throwback to its authentic mission assertion. In 2018, the corporate started rolling out its cashierless Amazon Go shops, in addition to an experiment with a substitute for Complete Meals. 

Past the idea shops, Amazon has lengthy owned a lot of achievement facilities and warehouses, the place a lot of its controversies have erupted. The corporate has lengthy fielded complaints in regards to the therapy of its warehouse staff, together with pregnant staff who sued the corporate for discrimination. 

Amazon additionally bumped into criticism early in 2020 because it struggled to guard its staff from the coronavirus, prompting lawmakers to press the corporate to do extra to deal with coronavirus infections. The corporate additionally drew criticism for firing three warehouse staff who spoke out in opposition to working situations, though it argued that the workers “violated inside insurance policies.” The corporate has stepped up its spending within the space and spent $4 billion on COVID-19-related prices within the fourth quarter. 

From tech titan to tabloid fixture

Bezos’ excessive profile has made him a goal of nearly everybody. In 2018, Sen. Bernie Sanders, a liberal impartial from Vermont, launched a invoice that may tax the rich. The identify of the proposed laws? The Cease Unhealthy Employers by Zeroing Out Subsidies, or Cease BEZOS, Act.


Jeff Bezos and MacKenzie Scott.

Jorg Carstensen/dpa/AFP/Getty Photographs

Former President Donald Trump routinely focused the tech billionaire, Amazon or The Washington Publish in his Twitter broadsides. Bezos’ possession of the Publish was a very sore level for Trump, who typically acquired unflattering protection within the paper. (Earlier than Trump was elected, Bezos pushed again, providing to ship Trump into house on a Blue Origin rocket.)

Bezos grew to become the stuff of gossip rags after he and then-wife MacKenzie Bezos introduced their divorce on Twitter. This was adopted by a narrative from the Nationwide Enquirer that detailed his relationship with Lauren Sanchez, the spouse of WME expertise agent Patrick Whitesell, which additionally included a sequence of textual content messages despatched to one another. 

The story took a wierd twist a month after the divorce announcement when Bezos revealed a prolonged Medium put up alleging an obvious blackmail plot by the Nationwide Enquirer. He mentioned the publication was threatening to launch nude pictures of him except he ended a non-public investigation into how the tabloid acquired ahold of his textual content messages to Sanchez.

Bezos additionally mentioned the publication known as for him to say publicly he discovered no proof that the Enquirer’s reporting was politically motivated. Moreover having a feud with Bezos, Trump had shut connections to the Enquirer.

“Somewhat than capitulate to extortion and blackmail, I’ve determined to publish precisely what they despatched me, regardless of the private value and embarrassment they threaten,” Bezos mentioned within the put up.

The twists continued after a non-public investigator alleged that Saudi Arabia hacked Bezos’ cellphone and personal data. Gavin de Becker, the investigator, got here to that conclusion after Bezos employed him to determine how personal messages a few private relationship have been leaked to a tabloid. A United Nations report got here to the identical conclusion.

The Saudi authorities has denied the allegations.

Feeling congressional warmth

Jeff Bezos grabbing a fast chew through the Congressional testimony Wednesday.

GIF by Laura Hautala/CNET

In 2020, the persevering with rise of Amazon coincided with elevated scrutiny from lawmakers, who questioned whether or not the corporate was abusing its energy as an internet market for different smaller distributors. Bezos was among the many 4 large CEOs — the others have been Apple’s Tim Cook dinner, Alphabet’s Sundar Pichai and Fb’s Mark Zuckerberg — who confronted the US Home of Representatives’ antitrust subcommittee in July. 

The questioning centered on Amazon’s use of its personal label and whether or not it offers the corporate an unfair benefit over different corporations utilizing the platform to promote their items. It is a difficulty more likely to persist as lawmakers dig into the ability of Huge Tech. 

“Bezos continues to be comparatively younger for a CEO and I do surprise if the strain of the federal government investigations, which a PR workforce can’t change, performed a task on this choice right now,” mentioned Forrester analyst Sucharita Kodali. 

It isn’t like Bezos wants the cash — he is price almost $200 billion, in accordance with Forbes. He is anticipated to spend extra time on different initiatives like Blue Origin, in addition to his Bezos Day One philanthropic group. 

Tuesday’s shock transfer took many trade observers aback, however analysts imagine Bezos will probably be round to supply his imaginative and prescient and be sure that Amazon retains experimenting. 

“Strategically, it’s a sensible transfer for Bezos and Amazon and you’ll be certain he’ll nonetheless be in command of imaginative and prescient and route of Amazon,” Artistic Methods analyst Tim Bajarin mentioned on Twitter

CNET’s Joan E. Solsman and Queenie Wong contributed to this report.