A short while after Amazon said hello to $100 billion in a single quarter, it said goodbye to its founder and CEO, Jeff Bezos.
After 30 years, the internet retailer announced that Bezos would step down as chief executive officer and transition to the role of executive chairman. The plan will take effect in Q3 of 2021, with Bezos continuing to work on initiatives like his namesake Earth Fund, Blue Origin, The Washington Post, and other passion projects.
Bezos will leave an astounding legacy. What started as a small online bookstore has become the template for e-Commerce and digital innovation. It has changed industries, challenged supply chains, redefined distribution, and ushered in the modern concept of the digital customer experience.
During the Covid-19 pandemic, Amazon provided a lifeline to millions of sheltered citizens toiling for toilet paper in a contactless world. It also created jobs around the globe that were deemed essential during an economic crisis.
While those positive attributes persist, the Bezos regime has left an indelible red mark on the retail industry. For better or worse, the Amazon Effect has had a profound impact on our economy, and is often linked to the dreaded "retail apocalypse" playing out in shopping malls around the U.S.
In physical retail realm, Amazon has been met with a range of successes and failures, which include the purchase of high-end grocer Whole Foods to the shuttering of nearly 100 pop-up stores in 2019. This manic foray is still nascent, but they have a lot of money to experiment with.
Bezos has not been without controversy both in his personal and professional lives. And while the exploits of the world’s richest man will continue to be fodder for media over-analysis, what’s more interesting – and speaks volumes about Amazon’s future – is his replacement: Andy Jassy.
Jassy, who currently heads the Amazon Web Services (AWS) division, has been a fixture at the retail juggernaut nearly as long as Bezos. Over the course of his 24-year tenure, he is credited with building AWS into the world’s most profitable cloud computing brand – and charting a new course for the internet giant in an evolving, highly-competitive digital world.
When Amazon launched AWS in 2006, it happened with very little fanfare; the cloud computing division was, after all, designed to support the growth of their online bookselling empire. They needed a modern infrastructure to meet customer demand, adapt quickly to changes, and manage resources around the seasonal buying habits of shoppers.
It’s fair to say that AWS was born out of Amazon’s need to “scratch its own itch.” Yet within a decade, it had created a tectonic shift in the technology landscape.
As the Amazon mothership diversified and expanded its retail offerings, so too did AWS. And it was under Andy Jassy’s leadership and vision that the cloud computing division was groomed as its own profit center – to the point where AWS has become the growth engine for its parent company.
Like Bezos, Jassy’s own career with Amazon is a legend in its own right. Shortly after graduating with an MBA from Harvard Business School, he joined the fledgling startup in 1997. After a stint in marketing, he and Bezos collaborated on the concept for AWS, leveraging the company’s growing footprint of data centers to building a virtual ecosystem for hosting business services and applications.
What started as a small initiative with less than 60 employees has ballooned to over 25,000 worldwide and $40 billion in revenue – and Jassy’s fortunes have skyrocketed in lockstep. As CEO of AWS, he now earns the kind of money that buys a stake in the Seattle Kraken hockey club.
As the new CEO of Amazon, he might be buying an entire team. Or a league.
In the early days, AWS (run by then Amazon CTO Allan Vermeulen) offered a limited spectrum of services within their e-Commerce-as-a-service model. The tools were mostly disparate, and the offerings still primitive.
When Jassy started managing the portfolio at Amazon.com Web Services (as it was called) in 2003, he laid out a vision for an “Internet OS” after seeing their own teams struggle with infrastructure issues. He outlined key areas like database, storage, and compute as foundational components, all based on how Amazon.com was leveraging them in a scalable, cost-effective manner.
Fast forward, and AWS has perfected this model across hundreds of services that support every kind of application – from storage to satellites. Customers can outsource their computing and infrastructure needs in regions around the world, allowing them to run and scale applications while controlling capacity at every turn.
The other big concept that Jassy helped pioneer was AWS’ subscription-based pricing. Trading CapEx for OpEx allowed businesses to part ways with expensive hardware and maintenance and instead focus on operations. This pay-as-you-go model has eliminated costly long-term contracts, reduced dependency on data centers, and democratized the cloud by lowering the barriers to entry.
As digital experiences have evolved, so have their reliance on cloud infrastructure. For e-Commerce websites, running a digital business application that’s “cloud-first” or purpose-built for AWS provides an unmatched set of advantages like rapidly scaling resources, enhancing redundancy, and reducing capacity costs through optimization.
The cloud has had a profound effect on applications that leverage these capabilities, including content management (CMS), digital experience (DXP), customer relationship (CRM), marketing automation, and customer data. Solutions that are “cloud-first” or purpose-built for AWS can connect and scale in ways that were previously unimaginable, and this has influenced how enterprises select platforms as part of their stack.
Software that's designed for the cloud will have the advantage in a cloud world. When considering a CMS, DXP, or CRM platform, organizations will rely on security artifacts, deep learning algorithms, and other advanced cloud services that can be orchestrated through these platforms. Add the complexity of compliance (such as GDPR and CCPA) and the cloud becomes a governance watchdog.
What's exciting is that many of these solutions can be procured in the AWS Marketplace, a virtual shopping mall for applications designed to run on AWS. As they continue to pioneer new services, AWS is enhancing these platforms with AI and machine learning capabilities like Amazon Personalize, which provides a subscription-based recommendation engine using the same technology that powers Amazon.com.
Under Jassy’s leadership, digital experience has been thrust to the forefront of business imperatives. Exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic, more organizations are relying on the cloud and digital transformation to adapt to a new world of “digital-first” commerce – and AWS is powering the transformation.
This is a brave, new world – and it’s Andy Jassy’s for the taking. As he assumes command of the Amazon flagship later this year, all eyes will be on him.
Amazon’s selection of Jassy was based heavily on his track record at AWS. But what this move signals is the global shift in consumer habits, and how the cloud will be instrumental to unlocking the future.
During his keynote speech at AWS re:Invent in December 2020, Jassy said that the Covid-19 pandemic “accelerated cloud adoption by several years.” This reality will serve as his greatest opportunity, but also his greatest challenge. Competitors are rising from all corners of the globe with a focus on owning the digital consumer, and that means innovation will be essential to his success.
From the beginning, Jassy has been leading AWS to innovate rapidly and push the boundaries. Technologies like containers and serverless computing – widely seen as the next wave of digital transformation – are beginning to power everything. By leveraging Jassy’s expertise around these cutting-edge innovations, Amazon can draft a roadmap for offering advanced services across their channels.
The lesser-known AWS Marketplace might be one area where Jassy blends cloud services through Amazon. While traditionally a DevOps-focused shopping experience, the AWS Marketplace is already offering more business applications that are built for the cloud. This could be expanded to include SaaS technologies sold more broadly across the Amazon ecosystem.
For Bezos, Amazon has always been a sandbox for invention. Maybe its greatest invention is the grooming of Andy Jassy as its leader.
Time and again, Jassy has executed a cohesive vision, generating billions and growing Amazon into a titan.
But where do you go when you’ve already reached the top?
One place to start might be the relationship with large retailers – the very brands that Amazon has eaten away at for years. Borders, Toys ‘R Us, and other legacy brick-and-mortar players struggled and lost to the convenience and delivery of Amazon. Needless to say, when it comes to Amazon, trust is a rare commodity among many retail brands.
But as Walmart (arguably Amazon’s biggest challenger) continues to expand their own offerings, many retailers like Nordstrom and Nike have turned to AWS to juice their digital experiences by running mission-critical workloads in the cloud.
As the early moves begin to crystallize, what’s already clear is the rising challenge from competitive clouds (think Google, Microsoft, and even Alibaba), the ever-present threat of Walmart and its breadth of physical locations, and the looming governance around data privacy. There are also lingering issues around the company’s reputation as a "business killer," despite having over a million businesses operating on their platform.
Perhaps the only certainty that Andy Jassy faces is change. 2020 accelerated digital, but 2021 may bring an unexpected fork in the road. Jassy is inheriting an empire he helped build, so he knows it more intimately than almost anyone. That gives him an unmatched insight to adapt and thrive in a changing world.
With millions of products and services under the Amazon/AWS umbrella – from cloud to streaming video to prefabricated houses – there's a vast kingdom to oversee. What could possibly go wrong?
You read that right: you can buy a house on Amazon.
Maybe Jassy’s next trick will be giving you an address on the moon.