Amazon's incoming CEO Andy Jassy rode wave of cloud computing boom

Mr Andy Jassy, 53, joined Amazon in 1997 after attending Harvard Business School. He has led Amazon Web Services since before the launch of its first major services in 2006.
Mr Andy Jassy, 53, joined Amazon in 1997 after attending Harvard Business School. He has led Amazon Web Services since before the launch of its first major services in 2006.

NEW YORK • Incoming Amazon.com chief executive officer Andy Jassy cuts a low profile outside of the wonky world of cloud computing. But for much of the last decade he has been arguably the most important person in the tech industry.

The unit he leads, Amazon Web Services, has reshaped how companies buy technology, by simplifying computing services into their component pieces and offering them essentially for rent over the Internet. The business was initially dismissed by enterprise software giants like Oracle before that company and others quickly sought to emulate elements of AWS' strategy.

In the same earnings report in which Amazon said Mr Jassy, 53, would succeed Mr Jeff Bezos later this year, the company reported that AWS pulled in US$12.7 billion in sales in the fourth quarter, making the unit a US$50 billion (S$67 billion) business on an annual basis.

"Andy brings the first principles thinking that has always been a part of what's made Amazon successful - deeply trying to understand the end customer, creating building blocks by which other people can build and then being good at rapidly iterating," said Mr Matt McIlwain, a managing director with Madrona Venture Group in Seattle, who has closely tracked Amazon's rise. "He watched how Jeff approached problems. That's very important because there are a lot of things that are deeply embedded in the culture of Amazon."

Mr Jassy has led AWS since before the launch of its first major services in 2006. Cloud computing was not a natural area for Amazon, then almost exclusively an online retail company. But Amazon's expertise in creating digital systems and running its own sometimes-cumbersome technology gave Mr Bezos, Mr Jassy and other executives confidence that they could come up with an answer to problems confounding other big corporate technology buyers.

AWS' early customers were primarily start-ups, and Amazon built the business through trial and error quietly, tucking the unit into a catch-all category in financial results. By the time Amazon disclosed the unit's revenue in 2015, AWS was already on its way towards unseating business technology incumbents. Researcher Gartner Inc estimates Amazon had a 45 per cent market share in infrastructure as a service as at 2019, its most recent data.

Mr Jassy was named CEO of AWS in a reorganisation that gave long-time logistics and retail executive Jeff Wilke oversight of Amazon's retail unit. When Mr Wilke announced his retirement last year, Mr Jassy became Mr Bezos' obvious successor.

Mr Jassy joined Amazon in 1997, after attending Harvard Business School. Early in his career, he served as the first technical adviser to Mr Bezos, a sort of chief of staff role that had him sitting in on all of the top executive's meetings and providing counsel on a wide range of issues.

Whether by nature or that experience as Mr Bezos' "shadow", Mr Jassy is uncannily similar to his boss, current and former colleagues say. He has instituted Amazon's preference for rigorous data-driven decision-making throughout AWS and has been known to intervene in meetings when executives go on tangents unrelated to pleasing the customer.

He is also known as an occasional micro-manager on projects close to his heart, another trait he has in common with Mr Bezos. His challenge as CEO will be to understand the consumer and logistics parts of the business as well as he knows AWS.

Mr Jassy, over the years, has shown a passion for social and philanthropic issues not often associated with Amazon's sometimes single-minded founding CEO. He has long devoted time to a Seattle non-profit that helps low-income students get into top schools. As homelessness became an all-consuming issue in Amazon's home town, Mr Jassy quietly joined the company's local city council member in walking the city during the one-night count designed to tally the scale of the crisis.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 04, 2021, with the headline 'Amazon's incoming CEO Andy Jassy rode wave of cloud computing boom'. Subscribe