Amazon founder Jeff Bezos will step down as CEO in the third quarter and switch to executive chair of the board, the company said late Tuesday.
He will be replaced by Andy Jassy, now chief of the company's AWS cloud services unit.
The news comes as the e-commerce giant also reported that fourth quarter net sales rose 44% to $125.6 billion, as full-year net sales rose 38% to $386.1 billion. On the retail side, quarterly product sales rose to $71 billion from $50.5 billion a year ago, and for the full year rose to $215.9 billion from $160.4 billion in 2019.
By most if not all measures, Amazon had a blockbuster third quarter, but those results were eclipsed Tuesday by the news of Bezos' departure.
The company's ethos and steady climb from a pioneering online bookseller founded by Bezos more than a quarter century ago to the digital behemoth it is today is widely seen as a reflection of Bezos' fearless approach to innovation and insistence that each day be regarded as "day one."
"Many of the traits that make Amazon great first came from the personality and passions of Bezos," GlobalData Managing Director Neil Saunders said by email, noting that many e-retailers began around the same time, but none achieved Amazon's scale.
The appointment of Jassy makes sense, considering that AWS (which was developed first for internal purposes but quickly became a line of business in its own right) is the operation's most profitable side.
"Amazon is a DATA company, not a retail company," Kristin Bentz, president of KB Advisory Group, said by text. "Its intrinsic value is in the data analytics, not retail, as anachronistic as that sounds. Even with the boom of COVID, it's at its core a data company. I'm not surprised Jeff chose a data analytics guy to succeed him."
It's not entirely the end of an era, either, given that Bezos will be firmly ensconced on the board. Saunders believes that will "ensure that it does not lose its innovative edge" and could actually spur even more new ideas, a Bezos forte.
In a note to employees, Bezos himself said that would be his focus.
"In the Exec Chair role, I intend to focus my energies and attention on new products and early initiatives," he wrote. "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."