Jassy told Fortune CEO Alan Murray at a dinner at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, on Thursday that his predecessor, the Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, was one of a kind.
“I learned from somebody who’s arguably the most unusual business leader of our era,” he said.
Jassy added that he was “lucky” to work closely with Bezos for 20 of his 26.5 years at Amazon, but played coy in saying what exactly made him different from Bezos. He argued that the challenges he is facing at the helm of Amazon differ from what Bezos experienced.
“I do think that every era of business leadership … is different,” he said. “When I started the job, nobody really predicted that the pandemic would last that long, and Omicron would come, and the war in Ukraine would come and the inflation—there’s lots of things that happen throughout, and you have to just keep adjusting, and that’s what we tried to do as a team.”
Though Jassy worked to separate his predecessor’s hardships from his own, he has inherited many issues from Bezos, including streaming losses and slowing sales growth and delivery operations.
Jassy took over as CEO after Bezos stepped down in July 2021 to focus on philanthropy and growing his rocket company, Blue Origin. Jassy joined Amazon in 1997 as a marketing manager and launched the cloud computing platform Amazon Web Services (AWS) with Bezos in 2006. AWS helped generate $13 billion of Amazon’s $21 billion 2020 revenue, which, along with Jassy’s insider status and long tenure, made him a clear candidate for CEO.
Bezos’ departure was part of a decade-long trend of iconic, often founding CEOs in Big Tech stepping down or being replaced. Tim Cook took Apple’s reins from Steve Jobs in 2011, Satya Nadella took over Microsoft from Steve Ballmer in 2014, and Sundar Pichai became CEO of Google’s parent company Alphabet Inc. in December 2019.
While Bezos was known to be competitive and intense, Jassy is known for being diplomatic and friendly. Becoming CEO of the world’s largest e-commerce company wasn’t part of his original professional plan.
“I was surprised,” Jassy told Vanity Fair. “I wasn’t anticipating it, I wasn’t clamoring for it, I loved my current job, but I was obviously flattered and excited by the prospect.”
Jassy’s humility hasn’t kept him from putting his foot down when necessary, including cracking down increasingly on Amazon’s return-to-office mandates. In August, the CEO told remote workers that “it’s probably not going to work out for [them]” if they refused to comply with his three-day hybrid work plan. Jassy has a meeting room called the “Chop,” where he’s known for striking down employees’ big ideas, Business Insider reported.
His rising up the ranks and unsentimental attitude toward Amazon is reflected in his approach to growing the company, where he’s largely tried to keep it on the path his predecessor built while pruning back on some of Amazon’s overbuilt investments. In September 2022, Amazon canceled or closed 44 warehouses and delayed 25 more. Earlier this month, the company laid off hundreds of movie and streaming division employees across Amazon MGM Studios, Prime Video, and Twitch. It cut 27,000 jobs across the company in 2023, including several hundred in the Alexa division.
Jassy’s mission to steady the company has been successful. Third-quarter revenue in 2023 was up 13% at $143.1 billion compared to the year before. Amazon’s stock is up 85% over the past five years and up 20% in the last six months with a 1.60 trillion market capitalization.
Jassy told Fortune on Thursday that Amazon plans to focus on growing subscription-based health care provider One Medical and Prime streaming services, as well as Project Kuiper to grow broadband connections, particularly in rural communities.
“It’s a big capital investment, but I think it will help a lot of people and will be a good business as well,” Jassy said.