On Tuesday, Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos announced he would be stepping down as chief executive sometime later this year.
The move isn’t an exit, or a demotion. Instead, Bezos is becoming the Executive Chair of the Amazon Board while appointing a new CEO. What this means is that Bezos will still effectively be the head of the company and the new CEO’s boss while taking a step back from day-to-day operations as well as the critical eye of the media.
“I’m excited to announce that this Q3 I’ll transition to Executive Chair of the Amazon Board and Andy Jassy will become CEO. In the Exec Chair role, I intend to focus my energies and attention on new products and early initiatives,” Bezos wrote in a statement. “Andy is well known inside the company and has been at Amazon almost as long as I have. He will be an outstanding leader, and he has my full confidence.”
Bezos’ tenure as Amazon CEO saw the company go from selling books online to providing computing services for the U.S. military and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, while still selling books and other things online. Under Bezos, Amazon became a world leader in squeezing labor, and its appalling working conditions at its warehouses have been well-documented. Bezos’ announcement comes on the day the FTC sanctioned Amazon $67.1 million for stealing tips from its workers since 2019 and on the eve of Amazon’s first union potentially being formed in an Alabama warehouse.
Bezos seemed to try and cover for this aspect of his legacy in his statement when he praised the company's efforts to "lead on important issues" such as the $15 minimum wage and the company's climate pledge. Bezos writes that in both cases "we staked out leadership positions and then asked others to come along with us" but both were largely examples of the company relenting after public criticism and worker pressure proved to be too much.
Amazon raised its minimum wage after months of attacks from politicians, including a bill introduced by Bernie Sanders named the Stop BEZOS Act that would force large employers to raise wages by taxing them if their workers relied on public welfare programs. Amazon's venture capital Climate Pledge, along with its Earth Fund, are in response to organizing by workers in the Amazon Employees for Climate Justice—a group that still found the initiatives inadequate and full of half-measures.