An Open Letter to Amazon’s New CEO About How to Lead Amazon into the Middle of the 21st Century

Dear Andy,

Congratulations on becoming CEO of Amazon. It seems like only yesterday that I worked with you at AWS, starting the Elastic Beanstalk service in 2009. You’ve done an amazing job with AWS over the years. And now, as of July 5, you’ve taken over the CEO role from the man himself, Amazon Founder Jeff Bezos, just as Steve Ballmer did for Bill Gates and Tim Cook for Steve Jobs. Congratulations! You’re in heady company.

Of course, the media is asking, “Can Andy Jassy fill Jeff’s shoes?” My answer? Nope, you won’t fill his shoes—your shoes will be even bigger than Jeff’s. Under your leadership, Amazon will excel more than anyone—including you—can ever imagine.

But, I do have a few suggestions for you. And given where I am in my career, I feel I can share some of my thoughts. Take these or ignore them, of course. But I would be remiss to not share some advice now that you are carrying on for the richest and most successful entrepreneur in history.

First, let’s back up and take a look at where Amazon sits in the grand scheme of things:

  • It’s one of the top 5 tech firms in the world and the biggest cloud provider in terms of marketshare.
  • It faces government scrutiny like never before.
  • You are a global player, and as such your reach has no boundaries. That’s both good and bad as far as geopolitics goes.
  • Amazon’s founder is a guy most people love to hate. Whether it’s because he’s rich or because he’s ruthless, you have to admit he’s getting out at exactly the right time for the company’s benefit.
  • Your “two companies,” AWS and Amazon.com, couldn’t be more different, with entirely different customers.

My advice for new Amazon CEO Andy Jassy

OK, with that, here’s my advice on how to can lead the company into a new golden age:

  1. Keep the focus on the customer. Period. End of story. You’ve got this one. Amazon excels at this already.
  1. Increase focus on the employees and their needs. Working for Amazon was the hardest and most rewarding time of my life. I know many other ex-Amazonians who agree with that sentiment. But there is a “use them and lose them” mentality at Amazon, and there are a lot of talented engineers and managers who have been “spat out and discarded” by the Amazon employment machine. This is especially true on the retail side of the house. Don’t fall into the same trap as Jeff did and continue the reputation of driving your employees to exhaustion. And you can skip the coffin meditation chambers. Make Amazon a leader in employee rights and human rights. 
  1. Increase focus on security. AWS has always had a strong security focus, but given the growth in cybercrime and the increased impact this has on businesses and our way of life, now is the time for AWS and Amazon retail to take a worldwide leadership role in fighting cybercrime and improving corporate security overall.

    I’m not talking about making AWS’ security tools better. I’m talking about AWS taking a global leadership role in making our world’s technical infrastructure more secure. I’m talking about Amazon retail taking a strong stand on counterfeit products and cheap knockoffs. I’m talking about taking a stand on fraud, safety, and security, in order to improve all our lives for all of humanity’s benefit.
  1. Keep the growth-oriented vision. Amazon is one of the largest and most successful companies that the world has ever seen. That’s a good start. Do more.
  1. As far as structural changes, consider splitting AWS from Amazon Retail. Both companies can grow faster without the baggage that the other side of the company brings. AWS loses customers because of its connection to Amazon Retail, and Amazon Retail can serve the needs of more non-AWS customers without the close connection.
  1. As I prepared to write this post, people made suggestions—“Tell the new Amazon CEO Andy Jassy to make the browse button on the blah blah page bigger.” or “Tell him to make purchase history easier to scan.”—I won’t bother telling you any of those things. Instead I’ll say, “Keep running Weblab experiments and discovering what people really want. You know what to do next.”

Good luck—and keep your head down here in the cloud, not up there in outer space!

Lee Atchison
ex-Amazon.com
ex-AWS

More articles by Lee Atchison:

Photo by JD Lasica, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons.