Jeff Bezos has a formulation about one-way doors and two-way doors—decisions that are irreversible and permanent and those that can always be unwound. Stepping through what’s almost certainly a one-way door on Tuesday, Bezos said he will resign as chief executive officer of Amazon.com Inc and become executive chairman later this year. He will hand day-to-day control to Andy Jassy, his longtime head of Amazon Web Services, a swiftly growing division that has almost singlehandedly changed the way companies buy the technology that powers their businesses.
With that comes at least a partial end to one of the most epic runs in modern business history. Yet, Bezos’s move feels, in many ways, natural and even inevitable. Over the last 25 years, the Amazon founder led the company through perhaps the most fertile period of any American business ever. Amazon was first just an idea at the Wall Street hedge fund D E Shaw & Co, where Bezos was a vice president; then it was an online bookseller and high-flying dot-com stock during the late 1990s. Bezos then rescued the company from the internet bust by formulating and guiding new inventions like the Kindle, Amazon Prime and AWS.
But Bezos’s decision to step down also reflects an uncomfortable reality for one of the wealthiest people in the world: The walls of his highly compartmentalised empire have been crumbling for some time. It’s becoming increasingly difficult to be Jeff Bezos (at least by Bezos’s standards). He presides over a collection of properties that spans not only Amazon but The Washington Post, several philanthropies and a space company, Blue Origin LLC, that lags far behind its chief rival, Elon Musk’s Space Exploration Technologies.
In his email to Amazon employees on Tuesday, Bezos said stepping down will give him more time to focus on “other passions,” including Blue Origin. “I’ve never had more energy, and this isn’t about retiring,” Bezos wrote. “I’ve never had more energy, and this isn’t about retiring”
There’s another reason Bezos might want to step back from active duty at Amazon: Things from here out could potentially become a lot less fun. Amazon just cleared $100 billion in quarterly sales for the first time. Getting to $200 billion may not be as satisfying an endeavor.
He promised employees that he intends to stay active at the company and to “focus my energies and attention on new products and early initiatives,” much as he did during the early days of Alexa and the Kindle.
If there’s one thing they’ve learned about Bezos over the last 25 years, it’s to trust he knows exactly which door to go through at precisely the right time.