New era: Amazon CEO breaks from the ‘Bezos way’
When Jeff Bezos was CEO of Amazon, he took an arms-length stance toward the company’s affairs in Washington. He rarely lobbied lawmakers. He testified only once before Congress, under the threat of subpoena.
Andy Jassy, Bezos’ successor, is trying a different approach.
Amazon CEO Andy Jassy took over from Jeff Bezos as Amazon chief last year.Credit:Bloomberg
Since becoming Amazon’s CEO last July, Jassy, 54, has visited Washington at least three times to traverse Capitol Hill and visit the White House. In September, he met with Ron Klain, President Joe Biden’s chief of staff. He has called Senator Chuck Schumer, the majority leader, to lobby against antitrust legislation and talked with Senator Tim Kaine about Amazon’s new corporate campus in Virginia.
“He was very inquisitive,” said Kaine, who met with Jassy at the Capitol in September and spoke with him by phone last month. Jassy was diplomatic rather than out to “bowl you over” by “force of personality,” Kaine said, and came prepared with knowledge of the lawmaker’s committee assignments.
Jassy’s actions in Washington are a sign of a new era taking shape at Amazon. The executive, who joined the company in 1997 and built its Amazon Web Services cloud computing business, followed Bezos’ footsteps for years and was viewed as one of his closest lieutenants. The succession last year was largely seen as a continuation of Bezos’ culture and methods.
But Jassy has quietly put his own imprint on Amazon, making more changes than many insiders and company watchers expected.
He has drilled into key parts of the business that Bezos pushed off onto deputies, especially the logistics operations. He has admitted that Amazon overbuilt and needed to cut costs, closing its physical bookstores and putting some warehouse expansion plans on ice. He has started a tumultuous overhaul of leadership. And while he has reiterated the company’s opposition to unions, he has also struck a more conciliatory tone with Amazon’s 1.6 million employees.
The starkest difference with Bezos may the new CEO’s far more hands-on approach to regulatory and political challenges in Washington.
Jassy has engaged more with the scrutiny on Amazon’s broader role as an employer and in society, beyond serving customers, said Matt McIlwain, a managing partner at Seattle’s Madrona Venture Group, which was an early investor in the company.
“I think those kinds of things do matter more to Andy,” said McIlwain, who has known Bezos and Jassy for more than two decades. “Jeff has more of a libertarian mindset.”
The challenges for Amazon are mounting. Credit:AP
Jassy’s efforts may be born of necessity. Political leaders, activists and academics are taking a closer look at Amazon because of its dominance. The company has responded by expanding its lobbying apparatus in Washington, spending $US19.3 million ($28.3 million) on federal lobbying in 2021, compared with $US2.2 million a decade earlier, according to OpenSecrets, which tracks influence in Washington.
Its challenges are mounting. The Federal Trade Commission, which is led by legal scholar Lina Khan, is investigating whether Amazon violated antitrust laws. Last year, Biden threw his support behind Amazon workers who were trying to unionise; he has since hosted a union organiser from an Amazon warehouse in the Oval Office. And Congress may vote soon on an antitrust bill that would make it tougher for Amazon to favour its own brands over those offered by competitors on its site.
An Amazon spokesperson, Tina Pelkey, pointed to a previous company statement that said Jassy “meets with policymakers on both sides of the aisle regarding policy issues that could affect our customers.” The company declined to make Jassy available for an interview.
Bezos’ ambitions in Washington used to be largely social. His ownership of The Washington Post brought him to the city, where he bought a mansion in the Kalorama neighbourhood. But Amazon’s Washington office staff sometimes didn’t know when he was in town. An Amazon team led by Jay Carney, a former White House press secretary, fought to insulate Bezos from the company’s critics.
“Not many lobbyists would be able to sit down with — or even get a call with — most of the members of congressional leadership at all. But of course the CEO of Amazon can get them all on the phone.”
Jassy — who was in the Republican Club as an undergraduate at Harvard and has donated in recent years to business-friendly Democrats — made helping Amazon navigate the regulatory landscape a priority right out of the gate. After Bezos announced that he was stepping down as Amazon’s chief last year, Jassy summoned a group of company executives for a briefing on the antitrust fight, two people with knowledge of the gathering said.
Amazon’s most immediate regulatory threat is the proposed American Innovation and Choice Online Act, which would stop large digital platforms from giving their own products preferential treatment.
One of the bill’s Democratic co-sponsors, Senator Mark Warner of Virginia, met with Jassy in Washington in December and discussed China’s influence over technology. In another meeting this year in Seattle, Warner said, he told Jassy that he was concerned about how Amazon could copy the products of merchants that used its website.
Jassy is “going to be somebody who will probably be more engaged in these policy disputes with D.C. than Bezos was as founder,” Warner said.
Amazon has opposed the legislation, arguing that the company already supports the small businesses selling products on its site. It has said that if the bill passes, it could be forced to abandon the promise of quick delivery at the heart of its Prime subscription service. Senator Amy Klobuchar who is behind the bill, has called the idea that it would “outlaw” Amazon Prime a “lie.”
As Amazon faces the possibility of a federal antitrust lawsuit and continued scepticism of its power, Jassy may be a potent advocate for the company, said Daniel Auble, a senior researcher at OpenSecrets.
“Not many lobbyists would be able to sit down with — or even get a call with — most of the members of congressional leadership at all,” he said. “But of course the CEO of Amazon can get them all on the phone.”
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.
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