Few management transitions in the tech sector have been as well prepared as Amazon’s. We are talking about somebody who can arguably be described as the most successful CEO of all time, who over the course of 27 years has not only built several business empires, but did so based on a strategic plan he outlined in the mid-1990s.
But unlike the departure of other founding CEOs, Jeff Bezos seems not to have any plans to leave the management of Amazon, and will remain as executive chair of the board of directors, a far-from-symbolic position.
It’s not uncommon for the founder of a company to stand down from operational management after decades at the helm, and we have already seen it in cases such as Microsoft or Google: success on this kind of scale means that there comes a time when the company you created has changed to such a degree that the task of managing it requires a superhuman level of dedication and public presence; furthermore, interest in the attention to detail required to do the job properly decreases significantly over time. In such cases, many founders, who at heart remain entrepreneurs rather than managers, prefer to devote themselves to work that allows them, on the one hand, to enjoy their success, and on the other, to create new projects, generally with much more ambitious goals, not necessarily financial, but by contributing to the greater good.
This was very much the case when Bill Gates left Microsoft: he maintained a good relationship with the company, but completely disassociated himself from all operational decisions and instead left everything in the hands of Steve Ballmer, to the point of not intervening when it became clear that he had chosen the wrong person, who was causing enormous damage to the company. Gates simply left and devoted his attention to his philanthropic foundation, where he has shown an unquestionable vocation to solving some of humanity’s most pressing problems.
Google is similar: first Sergey Brin, and then Larry Page, left the company, leaving all operational aspects of both Google and Alphabet in the hands of Sundar Pichai, and simply devoted themselves to enjoying their money and to personal projects of various kinds, to matters that they are much more passionate about than running a huge company on a day-to-day basis.
In contrast, everything indicates that the post-Bezos Amazon will be different, and that the founder will continue to exercise leadership from his position as the chairman of the board of directors. Operational decisions will be in the hands of Andy Jassy, who over the more-than two decades he has been working with Bezos has more than proved his brilliance, and who will continue to report on a timely basis and consult on all his decisions at regular board meetings.
In the meantime, Bezos will have more free time, which he will probably devote to improving the quality of his personal life, as well as to a number of other projects. This is a move that has been rumored for some time, which is not surprising, and which effectively leaves Jassy in charge of the third-most valuable company in the world. He will also have to manage the unionization of his workforce, demands to address the climate emergency, or the battles derived from likely antitrust legislation. In any event, it’s a safe bet he will pursue very similar policies to those Bezos would have implemented had he remained in post.