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Jeff Bezos steps down – what will it mean for Amazon?

Apple and Microsoft provide a possible template for how business at Amazon will proceed once Jeff Bezos transitions to executive chair.

The worlds of retail and technology were jolted by Amazon’s announcement that founder and CEO Jeff Bezos is stepping down as CEO in Q3 2021 to spend more time focusing on new products and early initiatives as executive chair. Andy Jassy, CEO of Amazon Web Services, will assume the position of Amazon CEO.

Amazon is third tech giant in the past two decades to experience a shift in its top position. Apple had to move on following the untimely death of founder/CEO Steve Jobs in 2011, while Microsoft founder/CEO Bill Gates stepped down in 2000 to focus more on philanthropy, but retained an advisory role. 

Based on the experiences of those two companies, here are three likely elements of the post-Bezos era at Amazon:

Business as usual
My recent column on how the transition in presidents will affect digital retail was titled, “Meet the new boss, (sort of) the same as the old boss.” That headline could also apply to how Amazon will likely continue its day-to-day operations once Bezos is no longer actively running the company. 

Like Jobs and Gates before him, Bezos has built a ground-up corporate infrastructure around the concepts of innovation, excellence, and competitiveness. Any senior executive in that type of organization will be steeped in those operating tenets and ready to follow them from day one of their tenure as CEO. Apple continued succeeding with iOS devices, Microsoft maintained the position of Windows as the world’s dominant computing platform, and Amazon will remain king of digital retail.

Continued innovation
Since innovation is a core component of Amazon’s corporate DNA, part of business continuing as usual will be a sustained focus on developing innovative technologies, products and services. According to media reports, Jassy has already indicated he plans to make turning around Amazon’s mostly unsuccessful efforts at producing video games a priority.

Apple and Microsoft were both able to maintain their dominant positions following a change in CEO in no small part by developing innovative new offerings. In the case of Apple, this has included Apple Watch, Apple Card, and Apple TV streaming. Microsoft innovations in the post-Bill Gates era include the Xbox gaming system, Surface tablet devices, and acquisition of LinkedIn.

Continued skepticism
Amazon under Jeff Bezos has had many admirers, but also garnered its fair share of detractors. Recent negative attention has come from sources including the acclaimed PBS investigative journalism series “Frontline.” Amazon has also seen U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) publicly propose the breakup of the company, had its liability for policing the sale of counterfeit goods increase, and come under federal antitrust scrutiny. Bezos was ultimately prompted to defend Amazon’s business practices in testimony before Congress.

Apple and Microsoft have also regularly encountered scrutiny from the government and the press, regardless of who is in charge. The continuation of Amazon’s corporate culture means skepticism, including from high places, will also go on. Jassy will likely have to assume to role of Amazon’s public defender as part of his responsibilities as CEO.

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