It’s a Tuesday in January 2021 in Seattle, and the rain outside is torrential. Sheltered from the flood, installed in his office on the Amazon campus, Andy Jassy is about to make the most important phone call of his life. A few hours earlier, this 50-year-old who heads the huge AWS (Amazon Web Services) department received an e-mail from Jeff Bezos. The boss wants to talk to him urgently, which doesn’t happen that often. Phone in hand, Jassy wears his usual uniform: almost old-fashioned shirt, worn jeans, high-top sneakers. That day, as for more than twenty years, he was the first to arrive at the office, in the Jeep Cherokee Sport that he has driven since settling in the Emerald City in 1997 – he was hired here as soon as he graduated from Harvard. Unlike most of the company’s employees, no telework for him during the pandemic: Jassy came from Monday to Friday. His office is a mosaic of whiteboards covered in to-do lists and ideas, so much so that you can’t even see the walls.
Jassy figures Bezos is sure to tell him about an issue affecting one of Amazon’s 36 branches, which cover just about everything from top-secret government contracts to manufacturing toilet paper. As a downpour whipped the facade of the building, he called his CEO. He picked up the phone and began by talking about the rain and the good weather. Then suddenly, he announces something truly incredible to him: “I plan to leave the general management of Amazon, but only if you see yourself stepping up to succeed me. Jassy is surprised and enthusiastic, but above all he feels a little taken aback: “Can I think for a few days before answering you? ” Granted.
Jassy is a man of rituals. Once a week, for years, he meets one of his two children for breakfast: everyone has their day. For ages, he has organized the same sports evenings at his house, where he invites his friends to watch hockey or basketball games. Every week, he wedges into his diary a two-hour slot for reading (usually professional memos) and, every Tuesday for twenty-five years, he has dined one-on-one with his wife, Elana. That evening, the Jassy couple go through the pros and cons of being the hottest CEO on the planet. To accept would be to find yourself at the head of a company of 1.6 million employees, listed at more than 1.8 trillion dollars (one trillion equals one trillion). This would oversee the branches responsible for the manufacture of electronic products and clothing, the sale of books, food production, pharmaceutical distribution; not to mention his own baby, AWS, the cloud division, on which almost the entire Internet is based. Intimidating prospect: imagine having under your responsibility Alexa, Twitch, Amazon Studios, Whole Foods, IMDb, Audible, but also a supply chain of titanic dimensions, hundreds of warehouses for shipping goods (the much maligned fulfillment centers) , and countless lesser-known branches such as Amazon Advertising, Amazon Fresh or Amazon Drive.
Crucially, saying yes to Bezos’ offer would also force Jassy to answer congressional questions about his company’s monopolistic practices, as cameras around the world watch. Angry politicians would kill him and bombard him with antitrust charges. He would be ridiculed on TV, would be the subject of callous memes and GIFs on social media, would end up on the front page of countless newspapers around the globe. He would find himself on the front line of the war between Amazon and its employees on the union front, non-existent to date in the company, and at the same time would have to deceive a multitude of foreign governments driven by a single project: dismantle the giant Amazon. But its biggest challenge would be above all to distance itself from any form of competition in order to continue the astonishing growth of the group, whose revenues are increasing by 37% per year, to reach 443 billion dollars in 2021. very surprised, Jassy tells me about Bezos’ proposal. I wasn’t expecting it in the least and I wasn’t applying for the job at all, because I loved my old job. But, of course, I was very flattered, and very thrilled. A few days later, after weighing the pros and cons, he called his future ex-supervisor back: he agreed.
The biggest problem with delegating
Science has recently proven that only certain types of personalities really aspire to take control of a huge corporation. Psychological studies have shown that nearly 20% of CEOs of large corporations display psychopathic tendencies. In other words, it can be said that the world of top management is largely populated by thrill-seeking, non-empathetic individuals who primarily fuel the drive for revenge. Bezos undoubtedly exhibits some of these traits. But not Jassy. At least not yet, if I’m to believe what I’ve seen of him. In February, when his appointment was announced, Wall Street reacted in a mixed way. The choice suited financial analysts, who were also relieved to learn that Bezos would stick around as chairman. Stocks immediately gained 1% but also did not soar. No doubt because Bezos remains the absolute icon of modern business. He’s a killer, a real one, who walks on instinct and who conceived his project alone, during a bike ride in 1994. He became a real celebrity, almost Hollywood, where Jassy lives. still unknown to the general public. Will he be able to take over? And, above all, is he a killer like his predecessor?
I have had the opportunity in my career to write several times about big tech bosses, like mark zuckerberg, Steve Jobs, or precisely Jeff Bezos. And, each time, I saw the same string of ex-employees, ex-collaborators or ex-friends, delighted to break the sugar on their backs. About Jassy, on the other hand, I didn’t meet anyone who was able (or wanted) to express the slightest reservation. It’s not for lack of trying: Andy is a nice guy, with his head on his shoulders – that’s what everyone agrees. Tom Salentine, his former co-turn at Harvard, thus describes a fundamentally good and amiable young man. One day, he recalls, Andy was so worried about the health of a dorm neighbor who was too busy with his studies that he left a meal for him outside his door.