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Meet the man taking over Amazon: Harvard grad and ‘experienced buffalo wings eater’ Andy Jassy

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He describes himself as an ‘experienced buffalo wings eater’ – a man so sports mad he built a sports bar in his basement he calls HelmetHeads, and part-bought his local hockey team. 

His co-workers describe him as an unassuming and friendly boss, whose easygoing demeanor is belied by high professional expectations.

To the rest of the world, he is now only one thing: the soon-to-be CEO of Amazon. 

When Jeff Bezos announced Andy Jassy was replacing him, Amazon observers were not surprised.

Bezos, 57, described his replacement as an Amazon stalwart; business insiders said his appointment was all-but secured when Bezos’s other deputy, Jeff Wilke, who ran Amazon’s retail business, announced in August that he was retiring.

‘Andy is well known inside the company and has been at Amazon almost as long as I have,’ said Bezos.

‘He will be an outstanding leader, and he has my full confidence.’

Andy Jassy, 53, will take over from Jeff Bezos as CEO of Amazon, it was announced on Tuesday

Andy Jassy, 53, will take over from Jeff Bezos as CEO of Amazon, it was announced on Tuesday

Jassy joined the franchise that owns the Seattle Kraken hockey team in 2018

Jassy joined the franchise that owns the Seattle Kraken hockey team in 2018

Jassy and his wife Elana live in Seattle's Capitol Hill district in a mansion built in 1906

Jassy and his wife Elana live in Seattle’s Capitol Hill district in a mansion built in 1906

A 1999 60 Minutes interview shows Bezos in an office with a spray-painted amazon.com sign

A 1999 60 Minutes interview shows Bezos in an office with a spray-painted amazon.com sign

Bezos (in an undated photo) said he wasn't retiring but will 'focus on the Day 1 Fund, the Bezos Earth Fund, Blue Origin, The Washington Post, and my other passions'

Bezos (in an undated photo) said he wasn’t retiring but will ‘focus on the Day 1 Fund, the Bezos Earth Fund, Blue Origin, The Washington Post, and my other passions’

Taking over as CEO from the man who founded the company in 1994 from his garage in Seattle, turning it into a company worth almost $1 trillion, is not going to be easy.

David Larcker, a professor at Stanford Graduate School of Business who specializes in corporate governance surveyed 113 directors and 18 executive recruiters and compensation experts three years ago, and found that Bezos would be the most difficult CEO to replace among those of several major U.S. corporations.

Yet Jassy, 53, appears almost uniquely placed to take over the helm of what is, after Walmart, America’s second largest company.

Not only is he seen as Bezos’s right-hand-man, he is in charge of one of the most important areas of the business, Amazon Web Services (AWS). It is a role which has earnt him an estimated $377 million.

Furthermore, he is widely liked and respected.

‘He is authentic, genuine, empathetic,’ said Taimur Rashid, AWS former managing director of business development.

‘That’s the key thing I love about Andy.’

Jassy is ‘as down to earth as a CEO as you’re going to meet,’ one former employee told Insider.

Others agreed, yet also emphasized his toughness.

‘He doesn’t suffer foolishness,’ said Scott Chancellor, a former AWS director.

He told Insider: ‘People who don’t do their best in those meetings won’t get a second shot, at least not for a long time.’

Jassy is described as likeable and unaffected, but with high expectations of his staff

Jassy is described as likeable and unaffected, but with high expectations of his staff

Amazon's headquarters in Seattle, known as the Spheres, from where Jassy works

Amazon’s headquarters in Seattle, known as the Spheres, from where Jassy works

Amazon Web Services has emerged as one of biggest profit centers for the ecommerce giant, with the cloud business making up over 60 percent of Amazon's operating profits and generating over $40 billion in revenue each year

Amazon Web Services has emerged as one of biggest profit centers for the ecommerce giant, with the cloud business making up over 60 percent of Amazon’s operating profits and generating over $40 billion in revenue each year

Jassy’s current role is head of AWS, which he has helped build from the ground up since 2003, and now generates over $40 billion in annual revenue, and is responsible for over 60 per cent of Amazon’s operating profits, though its sales are just 13 per cent of the total.

AWS is seen as the leader in cloud computing, with over 30 per cent of market share.

Jassy was the man responsible for pulling the plug on Parler, making the decision in a meeting session known as The Chop.

Parler was hosted on AWS: Jassy made the call to cut off the social-media app for its lax content-moderation policies, deciding they had not done enough to limit violent content. 

The name comes from ‘Charterhouse of Parma,’ a book Jassy read in college. The Chop was originally an actual conference room, but now is shorthand for the meetings where Jassy holds his most important brainstorming and planning sessions.

The Chop is also where big ideas, and sometimes employees, go to get chopped down to size, according to people familiar with the company who spoke to Insider.

‘If you go to a Chop meeting with Andy, you better be ready,’ one former senior-level employee told Insider.

‘He has a tremendous amount of trust in his team, but you have to be at the highest levels of diligence and preparation for any meeting with him.

‘He’s a shark who will smell a drop of blood from 100 miles away if you’re not ready.’

'He has a tremendous amount of trust in his team, but you have to be at the highest levels of diligence and preparation for any meeting with him,' a former employee told Insider

‘He has a tremendous amount of trust in his team, but you have to be at the highest levels of diligence and preparation for any meeting with him,’ a former employee told Insider

Bezos is pictured on the opening day of The Spheres in January 2018

Bezos is pictured on the opening day of The Spheres in January 2018

WHAT’S NEXT FOR JEFF BEZOS?

In his memo to staff, Bezos insisted this ‘isn’t about retiring’ saying he ‘will stay engaged in important Amazon initiatives but also have the time and energy’ to focus on ‘new products and initiatives’ in his new role as Executive Chair.

Bezos cited a number of focuses he plans to turn his attention to: the Day 1 Fund, the Bezos Earth Fund, Blue Origin, The Washington Post, and ‘my other passions.’ 

Blue Origin

Blue Origin is Bezos’s space tourism project which he launched back in 2000. 

Blue Origin has successfully used a single New Shepard Rocket six times.

The Amazon boss has been going head to head with rival Elon Musk to get his project off the ground ahead of his SpaceX but Blue Origin is yet to announce a date for the first crewed mission. 

The Day 1 Fund

Bezos set up his $2 billion philanthropic endeavor the Day 1 Fund with ex-wife MacKenzie back in 2018. 

The fund was set up to fund existing non-profits that help families experiencing homelessness, and to  create a network of new, non-profit tier-one preschools in low-income communities.

Included in it is the Day 1 Families Fund which gives annual leadership awards to organizations and groups that provide shelter and support to families facing homelessness.

There is also the Day 1 Academies Fund – a ‘network of high-quality, full-scholarship Montessori-inspired preschools in underserved communities’. 

The Bezos Earth Fund  

The Bezos Earth Fund is the name of the $10 billion venture launched in February 2020 to invest in scientists, activists and other organizations with the aim of tackling climate change. 

The Washington Post

Bezos bought the newspaper in 2013 after being approached by the son of  the Post’s publisher Katharine Graham.

He helped turn around the struggling business, doubling its web traffic in just three years.

Bezos has since described the move as ‘one of the things I’m most proud of’.

‘When I’m 90, it’s going to be one of the things I’m most proud of, that I took on the Washington Post and helped them through a very rough transition,’ he said in 2018.

‘Other passions’ 

  • Self-driving cars – In June 2020,  Amazon acquired self-driving-taxi company Zoox, making a move into the self-driving car industry. 
  • Internet satellite programs – Amazon’s Project Kuiper is the plan to launch more than 3,000 internet satellites into low Earth orbit.
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And although he may not be a household name like Bezos, Jassy is highly rated within the tech community.

Before Microsoft appointed Satya Nadella as CEO in 2014, Jassy was approached by the then-CEO, Steve Ballmer, about taking the job, Insider reported.

Jassy was also rumored to be in the running for Uber’s CEO position shortly after Travis Kalanick stepped down in 2017.

Jassy grew up in Scarsdale, Westchester County, just north of New York City

His New Yorker father, Everett, was a senior partner in Dewey Ballantine in New York and chairman of the firm’s management committee.

His Detroit-born mother, Margery, was a trustee of Theaterworks/USA, a theater company for young audiences in New York.

Jassy followed his father to Harvard University, where he studied for his undergraduate and M.B.A. degrees.

‘I took my last final exam at HBS, the first Friday of May in 1997 and I started Amazon next Monday,’ Jassy said in a Harvard Business School podcast in September.

‘No, I didn’t know what my job was going to be, or what my title was going to be. It was super important to the Amazon people that we come that Monday.’

Amazon at that point was a three-year-old company which had just gone public.

In August of that year he married Elana Rochelle Caplan, a fashion designer from Los Angeles.

The Seattle property was bought by the Jassys in 2009 for a reported $3.15 million

The Seattle property was bought by the Jassys in 2009 for a reported $3.15 million

The pair tied the knot in Santa Monica, at Loews Santa Monica Beach Hotel.

In October of this year they returned to their marital roots, buying a $6.7 million Cape Cod-style home in the beachside community.

Jassy and his wife, who works at clothing company Eddie Bauer, have two children: their main home is a five bedroom, six bathroom 10,000sq foot historic mansion in Seattle’s Capitol Hill district.

The stately manor, built in 1906, was bought by the Jassys in 2009 for a reported $3.15 million.

Elana Jassy in 2016 donated $250 to the presidential campaign of Bernie Sanders, a staunch Amazon critic.

The money, according to Insider, was donated in February 2016, during his primary contest against Hillary Clinton for the presidential nomination. 

She then donated $750 to Clinton in July of that year, after she won the Democratic nomination. 

In 2018 Sanders introduced the Stop BEZOS Act, that would have required large employers, such as Amazon, to pay the government an additional tax that would cover worker benefits. In October 2018 Bezos announced Amazon was raising its minimum wage to $15 an hour – a move which Sanders praised. 

In September 2020, she donated $2,800 to now-President Joe Biden’s campaign, as well as to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and a group affiliated with the Democratic National Committee, according to FEC records. She has also donated to other high-profile Democrats, including former President Barack Obama and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. 

Andy Jassy has limited his donations to tens of thousands of dollars to the Amazon corporate political action committee, which contributes to both parties. 

He appears to steer clear of politics, but has previously shown support for Supreme Court decisions that made it illegal to discriminate against LGBTQ people in the workplace and blocked former president Donald Trump’s bid to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. 

Jassy is described as a sports fanatic: his home, according to The Washington Post, has ‘an elaborate man cave for watching sports’.

He told GeekWire that he wanted a way to both watch football and hang out with his family on the weekends, so he built a sports bar.

‘It’s called HelmetHead,’ Jassy said, explaining the reference from a sports book called Personal Fouls. 

‘We try to watch as many of the big sporting events as we can there.’

In 2018 he became part of a franchise that owns the Seattle Kraken hockey team, fulfilling a childhood dream.

The Jassys bought a Santa Monica home (pictured) for $6.7 million in October

The Jassys bought a Santa Monica home (pictured) for $6.7 million in October

Jassy co-owns the Seattle Kraken hockey team, fulfilling a childhood dream

Jassy co-owns the Seattle Kraken hockey team, fulfilling a childhood dream

‘It’s always been a dream of mine to be part of a group owning a sports team,’ he said at the time, buying into a franchise started by Top Gun and Pirates of the Caribbean producer Jerry Bruckheimer and billionaire investor David Bonderman, among others.

‘It really is thrilling and exciting for me.’

He told GeekWire his love for hockey started as a three-year-old, when his father would take him to New York Rangers hockey games.

When the opportunity to join Seattle Hockey Partners came up, he gladly came aboard, he said.

Jassy also has a football obsession, keenly following the New York Giants.

He describes himself on Twitter as a ‘big sports/music/film fan, experienced buffalo wings eater.’

JEFF BEZOS FULL EMAIL TO STAFF

Fellow Amazonians:

I’m excited to announce that this Q3 I’ll transition to Executive Chair of the Amazon Board and Andy Jassy will become CEO. In the Exec Chair role, I intend to focus my energies and attention on new products and early initiatives. Andy is well known inside the company and has been at Amazon almost as long as I have. He will be an outstanding leader, and he has my full confidence.

This journey began some 27 years ago. Amazon was only an idea, and it had no name. The question I was asked most frequently at that time was, ‘What’s the internet?’ Blessedly, I haven’t had to explain that in a long while.

Today, we employ 1.3 million talented, dedicated people, serve hundreds of millions of customers and businesses, and are widely recognized as one of the most successful companies in the world.

How did that happen? Invention. Invention is the root of our success. We’ve done crazy things together, and then made them normal. We pioneered customer reviews, 1-Click, personalized recommendations, Prime’s insanely-fast shipping, Just Walk Out shopping, the Climate Pledge, Kindle, Alexa, marketplace, infrastructure cloud computing, Career Choice, and much more. If you get it right, a few years after a surprising invention, the new thing has become normal. People yawn. And that yawn is the greatest compliment an inventor can receive.

I don’t know of another company with an invention track record as good as Amazon’s, and I believe we are at our most inventive right now. I hope you are as proud of our inventiveness as I am. I think you should be.

As Amazon became large, we decided to use our scale and scope to lead on important social issues. Two high-impact examples: our $15 minimum wage and the Climate Pledge. In both cases, we staked out leadership positions and then asked others to come along with us. In both cases, it’s working. Other large companies are coming our way. I hope you’re proud of that as well.

I find my work meaningful and fun. I get to work with the smartest, most talented, most ingenious teammates. When times have been good, you’ve been humble. When times have been tough, you’ve been strong and supportive, and we’ve made each other laugh. It is a joy to work on this team.

As much as I still tap dance into the office, I’m excited about this transition. Millions of customers depend on us for our services, and more than a million employees depend on us for their livelihoods. Being the CEO of Amazon is a deep responsibility, and it’s consuming. When you have a responsibility like that, it’s hard to put attention on anything else. As Exec Chair I will stay engaged in important Amazon initiatives but also have the time and energy I need to focus on the Day 1 Fund, the Bezos Earth Fund, Blue Origin, The Washington Post, and my other passions. I’ve never had more energy, and this isn’t about retiring. I’m super passionate about the impact I think these organizations can have.

Amazon couldn’t be better positioned for the future. We are firing on all cylinders, just as the world needs us to. We have things in the pipeline that will continue to astonish. We serve individuals and enterprises, and we’ve pioneered two complete industries and a whole new class of devices. We are leaders in areas as varied as machine learning and logistics, and if an Amazonian’s idea requires yet another new institutional skill, we’re flexible enough and patient enough to learn it.

Keep inventing, and don’t despair when at first the idea looks crazy. Remember to wander. Let curiosity be your compass. It remains Day 1.

Jeff 

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This post was first published on DailyMail.

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