Jeff Bezos, who founded Amazon as an online bookstore and built it into a shopping and entertainment behemoth, will step down later this year as CEO, a role he’s had for nearly 30 years, to become executive chairman, the company announced Tuesday.
Bezos, 57, will be replaced in the fall by Andy Jassy, who runs Amazon’s cloud-computing business.
In a blog post to employees, Bezos said he planned to focus on new products and early initiatives being developed at Amazon. He said he would have more time for side projects, including his space exploration company Blue Origin, his philanthropic initiatives and overseeing The Washington Post, which he owns.
Bezos, who is the company’s biggest shareholder, will still have broad influence over the company.
“Jeff is really not going anywhere,” Amazon executive Brian Olsavsky said in a call with reporters. “It’s more of a restructuring of who’s doing what.”
Launched in 1995, Amazon was a pioneer of fast, free shipping that won over millions of shoppers who used the site to buy diapers and just about anything else. Under Bezos, Amazon also launched the first e-reader that gained mass acceptance, and its Echo listening device made voice assistants a common sight in living rooms.
As a child, Bezos was intrigued by computers and interested in building things, such as alarms he rigged in his parents’ home. He got a degree in electrical engineering and computer science at Princeton University, and then worked at several Wall Street companies.
He quit his job at D.E. Shaw to start an online retail business — though at first he wasn’t sure what to sell. Bezos quickly determined that an online bookstore would resonate with consumers. He and his wife, MacKenzie Scott, whom he married in 1993, set out on a road trip to Seattle — a city chosen for its abundance of tech talent and proximity to a large book distributor in Roseburg, Oregon.
While MacKenzie drove, Bezos wrote up the business plan for what would become Amazon.com. Bezos convinced his parents and some friends to invest in the idea, and Amazon began operating out of the Bezos’ Seattle garage on July 16, 1995.
Amazon has gone far beyond selling paperbacks. It now produces makes sofas, owns a grocery chain and even has plans to send satellites to space to beam internet service to earth. The company is one of the most valuable in the world, worth nearly $1.7 trillion.
Bezos’ riches have also swelled: His stake in Amazon is worth $180 billion.
Scrutiny from regulators has also grown. Amazon and other tech giants have enjoyed light-touch regulation and star status in Washington for decades, but calls for greater regulation are growing. A report by the House Judiciary Committee in October called for possibly breaking up Amazon and others, making it harder for them to acquire companies and imposing new rules to safeguard competition.
Amazon is one of the last of the biggest tech giants to have a founder as CEO. Google’s co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin relinquished their executive positions in parent company Alphabet in 2019. Oracle’s Larry Ellison stepped down as CEO in 2014. Bill Gates, who was Microsoft’s CEO until 2000, kept a day-to-day role at the company until 2008 and served as its chairman until 2014. Gates left the board entirely last year to focus on philanthropy.
Reporting by AP