By Arul Louis
New York, Feb 3 (IANS) Jeff Bezos, who built an online bookstore into a $1.7 trillion technology empire reaching into space, has announced he will be stepping down as CEO at the apex of his career to focus on innovations.
Bezos, who extended the company’s reach to India with multi-billion dollar investments, said on Tuesday that he will move away from its day-to-day operations and become the executive chairman of Amazon’s board.
Bezos said that in his new role he intends “to focus my energies and attention on new products and early initiatives”.
Andy Jassy, the head of the conglomerate’s web services, is to succeed him as Amazon’s CEO in the transition set for the third quarter.
It is estimated that about half of the company’s revenue comes from Amazon Web Services (AWS).
The phenomenal growth of Amazon’s retail business has made it a target for anti-monopoly actions and it will be Jassy’s lot to navigate through a spate of regulatory challenges from the US to Europe to India.
The company’s ubiquitousness has come with the backlash that it is the killer of “mom-and-pop” businesses — the small retailers mowed down by its might and customer convenience it is lauded for.
When Bezos visited India last year, small retailers under the umbrella of the Confederation of All India Traders protested against him and his company.
Amazon and Bezos have also been criticised for the stringent expectations they have for the employees and what labour advocates describe as low pay and harsh working conditions for workers in the lower rungs.
Financial results for the last quarter announced alongside the change at the top on Tuesday showed that the company crashed through the symbolic quarterly revenue mark of $100 billion for the first time recording sales of $1.256 billion for the quarter.
The earnings per share was $14.09, almost double that of analysts’ expectation.
The company has benefited from the Covid-19 pandemic which sent online retail soaring as many stores shut down or were affected by the lockdowns and people cut down on trips outside homes.
Amazon had a market capitalisation of $1.696 trillion on Tuesday, making it the planet’s fourth-largest company by value.
India was seen by Bezos as one of Amazon’s potential high-growth market and he is investing a total of $6.5 billion there. He was involved in a controversial attempt to acquire retail giant Futures Group, but was thwarted by Mukesh Ambani.
Besides retail, Amazon India distributes Bollywood and other entertainment through its Prime services.
A graduate in electrical engineering and computer science, Bezos came to online retailing after quitting his job as a senior vice president at a Wall Street firm and driving across the US from New York on the East Coast to Seattle on the West Coast.
Bezos, who started his company reportedly with an initial investment of $10,000 in 1994 is now worth about $180 billion making him the world’s second-richest man.
From four workers — himself, his ex-wife and two programmers — working out of his house, his company now has about a million workers worldwide.
Bezos summed up his business philosophy and strategy in his statement announcing the leadership change: “We do crazy things together and then make them normal.”
Invention, innovation and adaption were his mantras.
A progression of platforms and technologies followed naturally. He adapted the book-selling strategy to expand to selling anything that could be reliably and easily shipped from scores of fulfilment centres. There he brought in technologies to speed up and make easier the packaging and delivery of billions of items.
From printed books, he made the leap to Kindle, the digital device to read books and do more electronically.
Distributing entertainment on DVDs progressed to electronic delivery and then to studios to produce movies and TV shows.
From his company’s data needs, he built up AWS, the hugely profitable cloud computing division that provides data storage services to about a million customers.
While AWS started an aerospace and satellites unit, Bezos separately founded Blue Origin, a company that is developing rockets and space vehicles.
Independent of Amazon, Bezos bought the ailing Washington Post and with heavy investments in technology and people — he has almost doubled the number of editorial staff — is bringing it back to its former position of influence and reach.
In his personal life Besos set the gossip mills churning in 2019 when his affair with Lauren Sanchez, a helicopter pilot and a former TV journalist became public as he and his wife of 25 years, MacKenzie Bezos, were divorcing.
Intimate pictures of Bezos and Sanchez and messages were leaked leading to a case against a tabloid publication.
Bezos made a divorce $38 billion settlement — now worth considerably more — with MacKenzie who has since changed her surname to Scott. She was in practical terms a co-founder of Amazon working with him at its inception. Later she published novels.
Sanchez accompanied Bezos on his visit to India in 2020.
(Arul Louis can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter at @arulouis)