Jeff Bezos stepping aside as Amazon CEO amid rising heat in Washington

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Founder Jeff Bezos will step aside as CEO of Amazon later this year, the e-commerce giant announced Tuesday, with Amazon Web Services chief Andy Jassy set to take over the top title.

The company announced ahead of its latest quarterly earnings call that Bezos “will transition to the role of Executive Chair in the third quarter of 2021 and Andy Jassy will become Chief Executive Officer at that time.”

The announcement marks the biggest transition of power to date for the tech behemoth, which rose from humble beginnings as an online book selling platform to become one of the first trillion-dollar companies in history, with a sprawling footprint that includes e-commerce, cloud computing and brick-and-mortar retailers like Whole Foods.

“Right now I see Amazon at its most inventive ever, making it an optimal time for this transition,” Bezos said in a statement announcing the move.

In an email to employees, he added that he will spend more time focusing on other “passions,” including his space company Blue Origin and his ownership of The Washington Post, a role that made him the continual focus of broadsides from former President Donald Trump. “I’ve never had more energy, and this isn’t about retiring,” he wrote.

Bezos has faced intense scrutiny in Washington during his time helming one of the world’s most powerful and profitable companies, as well as for long holding the title of world’s richest person — a title he recently ceded to Tesla founder Elon Musk. The Amazon mogul in recent years became a frequent target for politicians of both major parties, including Trump and President Joe Biden, who have taken aim at his vast wealth and at the company’s business practices.

Democrats have assailed Amazon over its wages and treatment of its workers, an issue that has gained renewed attention as demand for online shopping has soared during the Covid-19 pandemic. Biden and other Democrats have also been critical of the company for not paying a larger tax share. Rival companies have accused it of leveling competitors across the economic landscape, as the rise of online commerce that Amazon helped pioneer has pummeled once-powerful retailers including Sears, Toys “R” Us, Borders and J.C. Penney.

“I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: No company pulling in billions of dollars in profits should pay a lower tax rate than firefighters and teachers,” Biden tweeted in May, alluding to reports that Amazon had paid $0 in federal income taxes in 2019. “It’s time for Amazon to pay its fair share.”

Bezos defended the company’s business practices and approach to competition at a House antitrust subcommittee hearing in July, the tech mogul’s first congressional testimony ever and possibly last as Amazon CEO. House lawmakers had threatened to subpoena for his testimony after the company initially declined to explicitly commit to making him available, but he ultimately appeared voluntarily alongside the CEOs of Facebook, Apple and Google.

Bezos also became a lighting rod for conservatives over his separate ownership of The Post, an independently run newspaper, which Trump and his GOP allies accused of unfair coverage.

His departure from the CEO role elevates Jassy, who in 2003 helped launch Amazon’s prominent cloud computing service, AWS, and in 2016 took over as that branch’s chief executive officer.

Jassy will take the mantle atop the tech giant as it faces unprecedented levels of scrutiny from policymakers and regulators around the world, including over allegations it has used its monopoly power to unfairly squelch competitors and mistreat its workforce.

Yet despite mounting calls by some lawmakers for regulators to break up the company, Jassy said as recently as 2019 that the company isn’t sweating that threat.

“We don’t spend a lot of time talking about it,” Jassy said of the possibility that federal regulators could spin off AWS from its parent company, Amazon, at the time.

Jassy last year dismissed as “folklore” the notion that Amazon crushes competition anytime it launches a new business, according to CNBC.

AWS in recent weeks has came under fire from Republicans for shuttering Parler, the alternative social media site that gained traction among conservatives. Amazon said Parler violated its terms of service by not doing enough to combat violent threats on its site. Parler is suing over the move.

Robert Weissman, president of the progressive advocacy group Public Citizen, called the shift in leadership “a chance for Amazon to turn over a new leaf.”

He added that Bezos’ transition “should be an inflection point for the U.S. government. We can’t rely on Amazon to reform itself. Amazon should be broken up and its business model refashioned.”

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