Jeff Bezos leaves an enduring legacy after transforming Amazon from a modest online bookseller into one of the world’s most powerful corporations as he prepares to launch into a new career stage.
Bezos, 57, was set to hand over the reins of Amazon to Andy Jassy on Monday and devote his time to his private space exploration company, philanthropy, and other endeavors. He will continue to play an important role as executive chair of the technology and e-commerce behemoth he founded 27 years ago.
The transition follows a spectacular run for Amazon, which has garnered attention for its innovations. However, the company has been chastised for business practices that have crushed competitors and raised concerns about the treatment of a workforce of over one million people.
“Bezos has been a transformational leader… in book selling, retail, cloud computing, and home delivery,” said Darrell West, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution’s Center for Technology Innovation.
“He was a pioneer who pioneered many of today’s conveniences, such as going to an online store, ordering something, and having it delivered to your home the next day. This individual is responsible for many of the innovations in the e-commerce industry.” In public appearances, Bezos frequently recalls the early days of Amazon, which began in his garage with him packing orders and driving boxes to the post office.
Amazon now has a market capitalization of more than $1.7 trillion. It forecasted $386 billion in annual revenue for 2020 from operations in e-commerce, cloud computing, groceries, artificial intelligence, streaming media, and other areas.
According to Roger Kay, analyst at Endpoint Technologies Associates, Bezos “had an instinct for the right thing” in identifying the next market. Kay stated that Bezos successfully transitioned the company from books to other merchandise to an online marketplace, as well as successfully building the cloud infrastructure that became the highly profitable Amazon Web Services.
Amazon outlasted its competitors by foregoing profits in the early years and “reinvesting everything into expanding,” according to Kay.
“When you look at it now, it was all logical,” Kay added. “You could argue that Bezos was one of the best business architects of his generation.”
According to O’Donnell, Amazon was able to outperform competitors because Bezos “recognized the need to build infrastructure,” including a vast network of warehouses, trucks, planes, and other logistics for the business. Amazon’s meteoric rise has made Bezos one of the world’s richest people, with a net worth close to $200 billion, even after a divorce settlement that gave his ex-wife MacKenzie Scott a portion of his stake.
Bezos will step away from day-to-day Amazon management to devote more time to projects such as his space company Blue Origin, which will launch him into space later this month.
He owns the Washington Post and has devoted time and resources to efforts to combat climate change, but he has also faced criticism following recent reports that he paid no income tax at all for some years. His departure raises concerns about Amazon’s future, as the company faces a barrage of regulatory scrutiny and activist criticism.
US lawmakers are debating legislation that would make it easier to break up Amazon, amid concerns that a handful of Big Tech firms have become overly dominant, harming competition and ultimately harming consumers.
With its fast delivery of goods and groceries, Amazon was well-positioned during the coronavirus pandemic, and it increased its US workforce to more than 800,000.
While the company has boasted about its $15 minimum wage and other benefits, critics claim that its relentless focus on efficiency and worker monitoring has treated employees like machines. The Teamsters union recently launched an organizing campaign for Amazon employees, claiming that the company’s employees “face dehumanizing, unsafe, and low-pay jobs, with high turnover and no voice at work.”
Bezos appeared to address employee concerns earlier this year when he called for a “better vision” for employees following a bruising battle over a unionization vote in Alabama, which ultimately failed.
In his final letter as CEO, he set a new goal for the company to be “Earth’s best employer and Earth’s safest place to work.”