How did new Amazon CEO Andy Jassy get his start? Jeff Bezos’ ‘shadow adviser’ grew Amazon Web Services into a US$40 billion business, now he’s overseeing one of the world’s most valuable companies

Andy Jassy, who leads Amazon Web Services, will replace Amazon founder Jeff Bezos as CEO by autumn. Above, Jassy poses for a portrait at one of the companyâ€TMs South Lake Union buildings in 2016. (Johnny Andrews/The Seattle Times/TNS)

On July 5, Andy Jassy became only the second CEO in Amazon’s history.

The 53-year-old Amazon veteran is taking over the top job after 15 years spent growing Amazon’s cloud unit into a US$40 billion business. Once Amazon founder Jeff Bezos passes the torch, Jassy will oversee one of the world’s most valuable companies and one of its largest employers.

Known for his obsession with the customer experience and his high standards for those who work under him, Jassy seems like the natural choice to take over for the famously hard-charging Bezos.

AWS CEO Andy Jassy discusses a new initiative with the NFL during AWS Re: Invent 2019 in Las Vegas. Photo: AP Images for NFL

With Jassy taking the helm, here’s a look at how he got his start and earned the top job at Amazon.

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Jassy grew up outside New York City and went to Harvard

Jassy was raised in Scarsdale, New York, a ritzy enclave about 30km (20 miles) north of New York City. His father, Everett, is a lawyer who was a partner at Manhattan law firm Dewey Ballantine. His mother, Margery, worked as a trustee at youth theatre programme TheaterWorksUSA, according to The New York Times.

Jassy attended Harvard University for undergrad, then went on to get his MBA from Harvard as well. In between, he worked as a project manager at collectibles company MBI, according to the Financial Times.

He joined Amazon in 1997 as a marketing manager

Jassy came on board at Amazon the same year it went public and quickly stood out as a promising hire: Rick Dalzell, the company’s chief information officer at the time, told Fortune that Jassy had a competitive streak and a photographic memory that set him apart, despite his lack of engineering chops.

According to Fortune, Jassy oversaw music sales at Amazon. Then, in 2002, he was chosen as Bezos’ first “shadow adviser”, essentially a chief of staff who accompanied the CEO to all of his meetings for a year or more.

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Jassy came up with the idea for AWS and started building it in 2003

Amazon Web Services. Photo: @amazonwebservices/Instagram

AWS was Jassy’s idea: he wanted to offer up Amazon’s expertise in managing troves of e-commerce data, along with its expansive network of data centers, to make data storage cheaper and easier for other companies. He wrote a memo to Bezos to convince him the idea would work, and Bezos signed off in October 2003, according to Fortune.

Since then, AWS has grown into a US$40 billion business within Amazon, generating more than 60 per cent of the entire company’s operating profits. AWS now owns over 30 per cent of the cloud-computing market share.

Jassy’s work in building AWS has attracted the attention of his industry peers: former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer considered Jassy as his successor before choosing Satya Nadella, and Jassy was also rumoured to take the helm of Uber after Travis Kalanick’s departure.

Jassy is known as a down-to-earth yet exacting leader

Andy Jassy, centre, with Western Digital CIO Steven Phillpott, left, and VMware CEO Patrick Gelsinger in 2016. Photo: The San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images

He has a packed schedule of seven or eight meetings every day and keeps a close eye on the specifics of AWS’ business, including reading every press release before it goes out. But he’s also considered an “authentic, genuine, empathetic” boss, company insiders told Business Insider.

“He doesn’t suffer foolishness,” Scott Chancellor, a former AWS director who’s now the chief product and technology officer at the IT management software company Apptio, said.

Current and former AWS employees also said that Jassy has operated with almost complete autonomy at Amazon, even before his upcoming promotion.

“Jeff has allowed Andy to do his job without anybody looking over his shoulder,” one former senior-level employee said. “It’s 100 per cent Andy’s show. Jeff does not tell Andy what to do. They’re almost side-by-side on the org chart.”

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He’s been married since 1997 and has two kids

Andy Jassy and his family. Photo: Facebook

Jassy and his wife, Elana, got married in California in August 1997. The couple has two children together.

In October 2020, the Jassys bought a US$6.7 million home in Santa Monica, California, according to Variety. The 5,500 sq ft home has four bedrooms, five bathrooms, a library, an outdoor kitchen and an in-ground pool.

The Jassys’ main residence in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighbourhood is a 10,000 sq ft historic landmark. The family bought the house for US$3.1 million in 2009, according to Variety.

He’s a huge sports fan – and now owns a team

Employees said that Jassy continued to use a BlackBerry device long after their early 2000s heyday, loves Dave Matthews Band, and has a fondness for beef jerky – so much so that Amazon’s annual Re: Invent cloud conference used to have buffet tables full of beef jerky assortments. Jassy also describes himself as an “experienced Buffalo wings eater” on Twitter.

Jassy is a huge sports fan, running a football pool with Amazon employees and attending major sporting events like the Super Bowl. Despite living in Seattle since the late 1990s, Jassy is still a fan of his hometown teams: in the basement of his Seattle home, Jassy built his own sports bar to watch New York Mets, Giants and Rangers games, according to Fortune.

He took his sports fandom to the next level in 2018 when he became a minority owner the NHL’s Seattle Kraken.

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Jassy is outspoken about social justice issues

While Bezos has become increasingly public about his opinions in recent years, Jassy is perhaps the most outspoken leader at the company. He’s taken to Twitter to condemn police killings of black Americans and recently became the executive sponsor of Amazon’s Black Employee Network. Jassy has also been public on Twitter about his thoughts on immigration, LGBTQ+ discrimination and affordable housing

While he’s made comments about Trump’s “disdain” for Amazon, Jassy has mostly steered clear of politics, though his wife, Elana, has made political donations: she donated US$250 to Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign in 2016 and later gave US$750 to Hillary Clinton’s campaign after she secured the nomination.

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  • Having spent 15 years growing Amazon’s cloud computing unit, Jassy was also considered as a successor at Microsoft and Uber
  • He owns a share of the NHL’s Seattle Kraken, has a US$7 million home in California, and is outspoken about LGBT and other social issues on Twitter