On Tuesday, among what would otherwise be big news for Amazon, the company's founder and CEO, Jeff Bezos, announced he was resigning. On any other day, the fact the company announced revenue of $125 billion--its first-ever above the symbolic $100 billion mark--would be the headline. It's an extraordinary number, surpassing even Apple's record numbers announced last week.
Instead, the bigger news is that Bezos says he will step down and become executive chairman later this year. The company said Andy Jassy, who is currently the head of the company's cloud-computing service, AWS, will become Amazon's next CEO.
There's a lot going on here, but make no mistake--Bezos's decision absolutely makes sense and it's exactly the right move both for himself and the company he started in his garage. Let me explain.
Amazon had an extraordinary year, even beyond its most recent, record-breaking quarter. It was already one of the biggest benefactors of the surge in online shopping during the Covid-19 pandemic. Its two-day Prime Day sale, earlier this year, was its biggest shopping event ever.
It's easy to ask why now. The company has had an incredible run, and Bezos is maybe the most successful business leader of all time. He founded and leads a company that directly impacts the lives of literally hundreds of millions of people every single day.
It turns out that why now is exactly the question you should ask, and Bezos's answer is a master class in emotional intelligence.
Bezos's legacy is pretty clear. He built one of the most dominant and influential businesses ever and managed to become the wealthiest person on earth as a result (at least for a while). But, Amazon is about a lot more than Jeff Bezos. And, it turns out, Jeff Bezos is about more than just Amazon.
"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," Bezos said in an email announcing the change. "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."
While Amazon will always be the company that Bezos is most closely associated with, just like Steve Jobs with Apple and Bill Gates with Microsoft, there's nothing left to do here. There are, however, plenty of other things that Bezos wants to devote his time and resource towards.
It takes a high level of self-awareness to recognize that your identity doesn't have to be forever wrapped up in only one thing. It also takes a degree of humility to admit that the thing you built will be fine without you, but make no mistake, that might be the most important act of emotional intelligence for any leader.
By the way, it would be a mistake to assume Bezos is in a completely unique position because of his wealth or position, and miss the lesson. Sure, if Bezos has other things he wants to do, and yes, those things are a little different than what most of us have to look forward to when we retire.
Still, I think the simple answer to the question why now, is because he can.
That's true not because he's rich--it's because he's done everything there is for him to do at Amazon. He's done his job. In a statement, Bezos said it this way:
We do crazy things together and then make them normal. If you do it right, a few years after a surprising invention, the new thing has become normal. People yawn. That yawn is the greatest compliment an inventor can receive. When you look at our financial results, what you're actually seeing are the long-run cumulative results of invention. Right now I see Amazon at its most inventive ever, making it an optimal time for this transition.
In reality, the greatest success of any leader is to develop people around them who are capable of doing more and doing it better. Then, your job is to recognize that there comes a time when the best thing you can do for the team is to get out of the way.
That's not easy for many leaders, especially founders. There is a tendency to believe that you are the only person who can make the right decisions and lead people in the right direction. While there's validity to the importance of a founder, especially in creating the vision and culture of a company, it's almost never true that they have a monopoly on success.
Jassy, by the way, is the obvious choice. He's already leading Amazon's most important business, AWS. He's been with the company for over 20 years, and is one of Bezos's most trusted lieutenants.
Every leader's job is to find the right people, with those skills, and empower them to use them to make the business better. Then, to have the emotional intelligence to admit to themselves that it's time to move on--just like Bezos.