Since Jeff Bezos's Feb. 2 announcement that he’ll be stepping down as CEO of Amazon and transitioning to the role of executive chair, media commentators have been split in their assessments of him, with some calling him the ”best CEO ever” and others calling him “a managerial Mephistopheles.”
While admirers and critics both have plenty to praise and condemn him about, there is one undeniable truth: just about no one else in history has had as big an overall impact on business as he’s had.
“Big” doesn’t mean good or bad per se; it just means big. Like it or not, for better or worse, Jeff Bezos really did change the world. And there’s no reason to think he’s anywhere close to being done.
The Magnitude of Amazon’s Reach
It’s hard to overstate Amazon’s sheer size and scope. It’s the second largest employer in the U.S. and the third most valuable U.S. company. 82 percent of American households subscribe to Amazon Prime (a staggering number that’s almost hard to believe), and nearly 50 percent of the e-commerce market belongs to Amazon, meaning that basically one out of every two products sold online are sold through the company. What's more, its online store is not even its most profitable division. That distinction goes to AWS, its cloud computing and web hosting service.
Notwithstanding some of the criticisms against him, Amazon under Bezos's leadership undoubtedly did some good things. One of them was raising its minimum pay rate to $15 an hour. It also not only urged competitors to follow suit, but has been supporting the legislative push, via the Raise the Wage Act, to increase the national minimum wage to $15 an hour as well. These are not just empty gestures. As the National Employment Law Project (NELP) has pointed out, such actions can have a significant impact given the scope of Amazon’s size and reach.
The Road Ahead for Amazon
Any major move such as a CEO stepping down from a company as big as Amazon is understandably going to cause some concern, and the timing of Bezos's announcement is admittedly a bigger deal now than it would have been a few years ago, largely because competitors like Target and Walmart have been amping up their efforts to fight back. Still, there’s plenty to feel reassured about.
Andy Jassy, who will take over as the new CEO, is a devoted follower of the 14 leadership principles that Bezos established, and it is these principles that are arguably the main keys to Amazon’s success. Jassy is also the driving force of AWS which, in addition to being the company’s real cash cow, is stronger than ever. We should also remember that as executive chairman, Jeff Bezos will still be providing vision and making some decisions. He’s just stepping away from the day-to-day operations.
Then there’s the company’s foray, fueled by the COVID-19 pandemic, into the healthcare industry via Amazon Care and Amazon Pharmacy. Bezos was never meant to lead the charge for Amazon Health anyway, and there’s no reason to think the company won’t be successful in this area.
On the other hand, there will be some bumps ahead for Amazon which, quite likely, may have played a part in the timing of Bezos's decision to hand over the reins to Jassy. The U.S. House Judiciary Committee has been paying no small amount of attention to Amazon and is likely to step up its antitrust case against the company. I doubt Jeff Bezos will miss having to attend any more antitrust committee hearings anytime soon. Fortunately for him, that responsibility will now fall to Jassy.
The Road Ahead for Jeff Bezos
So what will Jeff Bezos do with his newfound time? Well, for starters Bezos himself has indicated that he’ll be devoting more attention to his spaceflight company, Blue Origin. The Washington Post, which he owns, might be another project he’ll spend more time on. Beyond that, it’s still anyone’s speculation at this point.
It’s possible he may get more involved in philanthropic work and tackle the big problems of the world. Though he was one of the largest charitable donors in 2020, Bezos isn’t yet known for his philanthropic work the way someone like Bill Gates is, for instance. But even Gates didn’t focus on philanthropy until stepping down as Microsoft’s CEO back in 2000 (and his numerous other step-downs since then). With his level of drive, resources, and innovation, if Jeff Bezos wanted to he could go from being the most impactful businessman ever to being the most impactful citizen ever. But is that what he’ll choose to do? We can only wait and see.