Jeff Bezos announced in February 2021 that he would step down from his CEO position at Amazon. On the 27th anniversary of the company, he followed through. Mr. Bezos is not leaving entirely but instead will act as Executive Chairman. He will consult and support the new CEO, Andy Jassy. It is safe to say that even as an advisor to the new CEO, not as Chief Strategic Officer, his 10% stake in the company will ensure he remains an influential figure. Still, leaving the day-to-day business is a clear sign that Jeff Bezos wants to focus his attention elsewhere. The question remains, what is his legacy? What has he built, and what can executives learn from him?
The right mindset
Jeff Bezos left an extremely well-paid position as Vice-President of D. E. Shaw & Co., a successful Wall Street finance firm, and took a tremendous risk. He employed his now-famous regret minimization framework. Jeff asked himself: “in X years, will I regret not doing this?”. For Bezos, 80 years was the age he used in this mental model to make better decisions. Leaving a position many would dream of to sell books on the back then new internet would have been seen by most as a foolish move, but Bezos answer was clear: yes, he would regret not trying. This mindset pushed Amazon from a Washington State garage firm to a global tech giant with 798,000 employees and a net worth of $314 Billion.
Bezos believes strongly that the customer comes first, a phrase everyone knows, but that he lives. Serving his customers with low prices and free shipping from the very start might have prevented Amazon from making a profit for the first seven years, but it kept customers coming back. While other e-commerce companies vanished during the late 1990s’ Dot-com tech bubble burst, Amazon survived. To this day, this unparalleled consumer-centric focus continues to drive constant innovation. In the United States, 22 Amazon-Go stores are entirely check-out free, utilizing contactless payment on smartphones when the shopper leaves the store. Amazon Air delivers within 30 minutes via drones in the U.S., Europe, and Israel. Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning, work constantly in the background to ensure that customers find what they are looking for easily and quickly. This obsession with customer satisfaction is arguably one of Jeff Bezos’s biggest contributions to not just Amazon, but e-commerce in general.
Look in the mirror
A dedication to learning from mistakes helped Bezos to stay on track. “First, look in the mirror and decide if your critics are right,” Amazon’s former CEO says. “If they’re right, change.” Crises and mistakes are almost unavoidable for a large company, and Amazon made plenty, the art is to know how to handle the situation. When in 2009 Amazon remotely deleted illegally distributed digital copies of George Orwell’s masterpiece “1984” from Kindles, the internet’s ire swiftly followed. In response, Jeff Bezos issued an apology, and Amazon offered a choice to affected customers: a new copy of the book or a $30 store credit. Communicating with customers and offering a solution is equally effective crisis management, as it is an extension of consumer centrism. Staying consistent even when things go wrong has contributed to his many successes.
Amazon employs the very best and continues to attract the most talented minds in all areas. “How do you hire great people and keep them from leaving?” Bezos asks. “By giving them, first of all, a great mission–something that has a real purpose, that has meaning.” The impact Amazon makes is by always staying on the cutting edge of innovation and being willing to try new things. No machine runs without well-oiled cogs, Bezos knows that and created early on an environment of innovation and excellence. On top are numerous CSR projects and a planned switch to 100% renewable energy by 2025, zero carbon footprint by 2030, and $2 Billion investment in climate-related funds showing Amazon’s commitment to being part of the future.
Jeff Bezos has achieved incredible success with his dedication to the consumer, his long-term mindset, and his ability to learn from failure. Over 27 years he has built one of the most important companies in the world. He will certainly keep pushing the boundaries of what is possible for many years to come. Bezos’s space-faring Blue Origin Company certainly reflects his desire to continue to create out-of-this-world innovation.