As he prepares to blast off into a new career stage, Jeff Bezos leaves an enduring legacy after transforming Amazon from a modest online bookseller into one of the world’s most powerful corporations.
Bezos, 57, was set to hand over the job of Amazon chief executive yesterday to Andy Jassy and turn his attention to his private space exploration firm, philanthropy and other endeavors. He will retain a key role, however, as executive chair at the technology and e-commerce colossus he founded 27 years ago.
The transition comes after a spectacular streak for Amazon, which has drawn attention for its innovations.
But the firm has also been vilified over business practices that have crushed competitors and raised concerns over treatment of a workforce of more than one million.
“Bezos has been a transformational leader… in book selling, the retail market, cloud computing and home delivery,” said Darrell West, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution’s Center for Technology Innovation.
“He was a pioneer who introduced many of the conveniences that people take for granted, such as going to an online store, ordering something, and having it delivered to your home the next day. The whole e-commerce sector owes many of its innovations to this individual.”
In public appearances, Bezos often recounts the early days at Amazon, started in his garage, when he packed up orders himself and drove boxes to the post office.
Today, Amazon has a market value of more than US$1.7 trillion. It posted 2020 annual revenues of US$386 billion from operations in e-commerce, cloud computing, groceries, artificial intelligence, streaming media and more.
Bezos “had an instinct for the right thing” in finding the next market, said Roger Kay, analyst at Endpoint Technologies Associates.
Kay said Bezos deftly transitioned from books to other merchandise to an online marketplace, and successfully built the cloud infrastructure for the company which became the highly profitable Amazon Web Services.
Amazon outlasted its rivals by forgoing profits in its early years “and reinvesting everything into expanding,” Kay said.
“If you look at the trajectory now, it was all logical,” Kay added. “You can say Bezos has been one of the best business architects of his time.”
Bob O’Donnell of Technalysis Research said Bezos “wasn’t the first or the only one, but he took the concept (of e-commerce) and worked to perfect it.”
Amazon was able to outdo rivals because Bezos “recognized the need to build infrastructure,” including the vast network of warehouses, trucks, planes and other logistics for the business, O’Donnell said.
“A lot of other companies didn’t want to spend money on the messy behind-the-scenes work.”
The stunning rise of Amazon has made Bezos into one of the world’s richest people, with a net worth close to US$200 billion.
Bezos will step away from day-to-day Amazon management to spend more time on projects including his space firm Blue Origin – which is set to take him into space later this month.