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

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Bezos loved to take risks and play the long game, resulting in one of the most powerful tech companies in the world.

Jeff Bezos
Jeff Bezos

Jeff Bezos is going the route of Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and Larry Page,ceding the responsibilities of a powerhouse company in full stride: Amazon has reached new heights of influence and relevance amid our pandemic-driven locked-down lives. For Bezos, it’s been more than a quarter-century of shattering the status quo in everything from how we buy everyday items to how we interact with the gadgets in our homes.

Buried a few paragraphs into the company’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 become executive chairman in the third quarter. In his place will be one of his key lieutenants, Andy Jassy, who runs the highly profitable Amazon Web Services business. The elevation of an Amazon veteran should ensure a smooth transition — not that Bezos is likely to be completely hands-off with the business.

Since founding Amazon in 1994, Bezos has gone on to reinvent the company dozens of times. In the process, Amazon has muscled in on or outright dismantled whole industries. From a simple online retailer, Amazon expanded into cloud services and artificial intelligence through its Alexa digital assistant, which powers millions of smart homes. It’s even taken a stab at physical retail — which it’s in the process of destroying  — through its ownership of high-end supermarket Whole Foods Market and a host of experimental stores.

But millions know Amazon through its core Prime service, which has evolved from a subscription delivery service into a digital platform that offers streaming video and music, photo storage and other services. It’s grown from a luxury to an essential for people reluctant to leave their homes in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic and more comfortable having everything from toilet paper to this week’s groceries delivered to their doorstep. That dynamic was amply illustrated by a fourth-quarter net profit of $7.2 billion, more than double its year-earlier total.

Amazon’s dominance has raised questions about the power that the company wields, amid a broader, more skeptical look at the role that Big Tech plays in our lives. Stepping down will presumably allow Bezos to step away from the day-to-day operations of Amazon, giving him time to focus on other pursuits, including his aerospace company Blue Origin.

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