So Jeff Bezos is stepping back from Amazon to play with his space rockets. Who's this Andy Jassy chap?

Cloud supremo to become CEO of one of Earth's biggest super-corps

Analysis Even though Amazon is one of the largest and most recognized companies in the world, such was the outsized stature of its CEO and founder Jeff Bezos that the ecommerce giant's actions have often been personally associated with him.

Bezos' astronomical wealth, right now about $200bn, has inevitably pulled the entrepreneur in different directions, and not all of them good.

In addition to buying one of the United States' most renowned national newspapers, The Washington Post, Bezos has also joined fellow famous businessman Elon Musk in looking at the future of space travel with his Blue Origin company. And then you have Bezos' private life exposed by the National Enquirer: his separation from his wife MacKenzie, relationship with TV star and helicopter pilot Lauren Sanchez, and then possibly the most expensive divorce in history.

Even that exposure was an extraordinary tale: one theory is that Bezos' phone was hacked in early 2018 by none other than Saudi Arabia's crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, who sent him a booby-trapped WhatsApp message that compromised his device, allowing snoops to ransack it for compromising messages and photos of the Amazon supremo. Through a still-murky series of events, Bezos ended up being threatened with blackmail by the publisher of the National Enquirer.

But Bezos is nothing if not decisive: he called the extortionists' bluff, hired his own investigators to probe the security breach, and created international upset as the United Nations started warning about the dark world of hackers-for-hire across the world.

Why would a crown prince pwn Bezos's phone? Perhaps it was part of an effort to get to Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi who was critical of bin Salman and his regime, which at the time was a darling of America's business and political elites. Khashoggi was subsequently murdered and dismembered inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October 2018, almost certainly on bin Salman's orders.

And now Jassy

And so we go from one of the business world's most colorful figures running one of the world's largest companies to Andy Jassy. Andy who? Andy Jassy, the current head of Amazon's cloud computing arm, AWS, and, from this summer, one of the most powerful CEOs on the planet.

You could be forgiven for not knowing much, if anything, about Andy Jassy; regular Register readers ought to know him well. Despite being the man responsible for what has arguably been one of the most significant shifts in modern computing – organizations shifting data and processing from their own on-prem computers to off-prem "cloud" systems run by a third party – Jassy has not ordinarily been mainstream front-page material, even though his business efforts are now effectively the driving engine behind Amazon’s world domination.

AWS CEO Andy Jassy, re:Invent 2020

AWS boss calls for racial justice, slams enterprise rivals, unveils a raft of real and promised services


Jassy is pretty much the archetypal American CEO: born into wealth and following an East Coast elite upbringing. His father was a top lawyer in New York City, and Jassy grew up in the suburb of Scarsdale, ranked the richest town and wealthiest school district in America with a median family income of $300,000.

He attended Harvard and left with honors as well as another classic CV marker – a lead role at Harvard's newspaper, the Crimson – except he wasn't an editor but the advertising manager. And it was as a marketing manager that he ended up at Amazon in 1997, just when the company was starting to make serious forays into people's lives with its cutting-edge e-commerce offerings.

Jassy helped found Amazon Web Services in 2003, getting into the market for cloud computing at a critical time and wiping the floor with competing offerings from tech giants like Microsoft and Google. He became CEO of AWS in 2016, and his achievements in the industry are widely recognized: AWS is the planet's leading cloud provider, after all. His association has made him a very rich man, even if he has nothing on his current boss Bezos. Thanks in large part to shareholdings in Amazon, he is worth an estimated $380m.


What about the man himself? Well, he's not above a scrap, even when that involves taking on one of the world's biggest egos in the form of Oracle's Larry Ellison. Jassy took aim at Oracle before he was even AWS CEO, dedicating portions of his public appearances to slamming the database giant.

"It is extremely rare that I meet with an enterprise customer that isn't looking to flee their existing database provider. They just don't feel like they are treated in the right way," Jassy told one conference crowd in 2015 before launching Amazon's migration services.

That led to a lengthy battle with Ellison, one that Jassy seemed to enjoy. Oracle blundered through the cloud era, and was forced to play catch-up. And although Amazon was heavily reliant on Oracle's technology initially, Jassy kept poking the bear. In 2017, he told another conference audience: "Oracle overnight doubled the price of their software to run on Microsoft and AWS. Who does that to their customers?"

Oracle was irritated but sanguine, telling reporters that Amazon couldn't do without it, no matter how much they complained. "We don't believe that Amazon Web Services has any database technology that comes close to the capabilities of the Oracle database," said Larry Ellison.

But by the end of 2018, Jassy had taken to Twitter to goad Oracle about how Amazon was going to ditch Big Red in favor of its own tech, around the same time we started referring to the AWS boss as Sassy Jassy.

Oracle kept mocking. And then Andy did it, cutting Amazon free from Oracle in October 2019.

Mind tricks

Jassy also showed his willingness to pick a fight when it came to a huge cloud computing contract for the US Department of Defense. The JEDI IT project was eventually awarded to Microsoft, but it is a sign of Jassy's determination and refusal to let go of something that we can't bring ourselves to outline the full, painful history of the subsequent JEDI fight. Here instead is a story that contains within it links to another dozen.

But beyond his willingness to pick fights and an extraordinary determination to get what he wants, what do we know of the soon-to-be CEO's views?

In what was, in hindsight, an effort to "introduce the world to Andy Jassy," he gave an unusual keynote in December at the AWS re:Invent conference, straying from computing, numbers, and Ellison-bashing to talk about, well, disease and death.

"COVID has been so difficult for so many people," he said about the ongoing pandemic. "We've had so many people pass away. We'd had so many people lose their jobs. So many businesses are struggling. It's just been really difficult."

And then jumped into the highly charged subject of racial inequality: "If you live in the United States, it's also pretty hard to not be struck by the murders of Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor and George Floyd and realize the sobering thought that we have so far to go in this country in how we treat Black people."

He went on: "I think the reality is for the last several hundred years, the way we have treated black people in this country is disgraceful and is something that has to change."


This was part of a larger effort by America's business elite to recognize that it had to do something about police brutality and the widespread, institutional racism that the United States continues to cling vigorously to but even so, the words were surprisingly blunt. Whether he genuinely felt the depth of feeling he expressed is another question. He went straight on to kicking Oracle in the balls again.

For those hoping that having Jassy as a top CEO will mark some kind of sea-change in how corporate America treats citizens and consider their broader rights, however, you are likely to be left waiting.

In a video that is currently doing the rounds online thanks to the decision to put him in the top job, Jassy approaches the critical topic of AI and facial-recognition in a way that has set off alarm bells. Amazon provides, directly or indirectly, technology to police forces across the US, putting the biz directly in the line of fire over fears of next-generation technology being used to discriminate against minorities.

Asked about the well-established racial bias in such technology and fears that its roll-out to police forces will inevitably lead to more aggressive and lethal confrontations between cops and Black people, Jassy was dismissive.

"We don't have a large number of police departments that are using our facial recognition technology and we have never received any complaints of misuse," he said on camera.

"Let's see if they somehow abuse the technology. They haven't done that. To assume they're going to do it and therefore you shouldn't allow them to have access to the most sophisticated technology out there doesn't feel like the right balance to me."

He then makes it plain that Amazon will put no limits on the sale of its facial-recognition technology beyond US laws that prevent him from doing so.

So that's who we now have as the leader of the Amazon behemoth. He may not have Bezos' profile, founding story, guns, and international half-naked-selfie-hacking scandal status, but he does seem to have a high degree of comfort with the potential for IT to crush civil rights for cash. So, yay for Amazon stakeholders. ®

Similar topics

Other stories you might like

  • Amazon fears it could run out of US warehouse workers by 2024
    Internal research says the hiring pool has already dried up in a number of locations stateside

    Jeff Bezos once believed that Amazon's low-skill worker churn was a good thing as a long-term workforce would mean a "march to mediocrity." He may have to eat his words if an internal memo is accurate.

    First reported by Recode, the company's 2021 research rather bluntly says: "If we continue business as usual, Amazon will deplete the available labor supply in the US network by 2024."

    Some locations will be hit much earlier, with the Phoenix metro area in Arizona expected to exhaust its available labor pool by the end of 2021. The Inland Empire region of California could reach breaking point by the close of this year, according to the research.

    Continue reading
  • Amazon shows off robot warehouse workers that won't complain, quit, unionize...
    Mega-corp insists it's all about 'people and technology working safely and harmoniously together'

    Amazon unveiled its first "fully autonomous mobile robot" and other machines designed to operate alongside human workers at its warehouses.

    In 2012 the e-commerce giant acquired Kiva Systems, a robotics startup, for $775 million. Now, following on from that, Amazon has revealed multiple prototypes powered by AI and computer-vision algorithms, ranging from robotic grippers to moving storage systems, that it has developed over the past decade. The mega-corporation hopes to put them to use in warehouses one day, ostensibly to help staff lift, carry, and scan items more efficiently. 

    Its "autonomous mobile robot" is a disk-shaped device on wheels, and resembles a Roomba. Instead of hoovering crumbs, the machine, named Proteus, carefully slots itself underneath a cart full of packages and pushes it along the factory floor. Amazon said Proteus was designed to work directly with and alongside humans and doesn't have to be constrained to specific locations caged off for safety reasons. 

    Continue reading
  • Amazon not happy with antitrust law targeting Amazon
    We assume the world's smallest violin is available right now on Prime

    Updated Amazon has blasted a proposed antitrust law that aims to clamp down on anti-competitive practices by Big Tech.

    The American Innovation and Choice Online Act (AICOA) led by Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and House Representative David Cicilline (D-RI) is a bipartisan bill, with Democrat and Republican support in the Senate and House. It is still making its way through Congress.

    The bill [PDF] prohibits certain "online platforms" from unfairly promoting their own products and services in a way that prevents or hampers third-party businesses in competing. Said platforms with 50 million-plus active monthly users in the US or 100,000-plus US business users, and either $550 billion-plus in annual sales or market cap or a billion-plus worldwide users, that act as a "critical trading partner" for suppliers would be affected. 

    Continue reading
  • AWS says it will cloudify your mainframe workloads
    Buyer beware, say analysts, technical debt will catch up with you eventually

    AWS is trying to help organizations migrate their mainframe-based workloads to the cloud and potentially transform them into modern cloud-native services.

    The Mainframe Modernization initiative was unveiled at the cloud giant's Re:Invent conference at the end of last year, where CEO Adam Selipsky claimed that "customers are trying to get off their mainframes as fast as they can."

    Whether this is based in reality or not, AWS concedes that such a migration will inevitably involve the customer going through a lengthy and complex process that requires multiple steps to discover, assess, test, and operate the new workload environments.

    Continue reading
  • Amazon accused of obstructing probe into deadly warehouse collapse
    House Dems demand documents from CEO on facility hit by tornado – or else

    Updated The US House Oversight Committee has told Amazon CEO Andy Jassy to turn over documents pertaining to the collapse of an Amazon warehouse – and if he doesn't, the lawmakers say they will be forced to "consider alternative measures."

    Penned by Oversight Committee members Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), Cori Bush (D-MO) and committee chairwoman Carolyn B. Maloney (D-NY), the letter refers to the destruction of an Edwardsville, Illinois, Amazon fulfillment center in which six people were killed when a tornado hit. It was reported that the facility received two weather warnings about 20 minutes before the tornado struck at 8.27pm on December 10; most staff had headed to a shelter, some to an area where there were no windows but was hard hit by the storm.

    In late March, the Oversight Committee sent a letter to Jassy with a mid-April deadline to hand over a variety of documents, including disaster policies and procedures, communication between managers, employees and contractors, and internal discussion of the tornado and its aftermath.

    Continue reading
  • Engineer sues Amazon for not covering work-from-home internet, electricity bills
    And no, I'm not throwing out this lawsuit, says judge

    Amazon's attempt to dismiss a lawsuit, brought by one of its senior software engineers, asking it to reimburse workers for internet and electricity costs racked up while working from home in the pandemic, has been rejected by a California judge.

    David George Williams sued his employer for refusing to foot his monthly home office expenses, claiming Amazon is violating California's labor laws. The state's Labor Code section 2802 states: "An employer shall indemnify his or her employee for all necessary expenditures or losses incurred by the employee in direct consequence of the discharge of his or her duties, or of his or her obedience to the directions of the employer."

    Williams reckons Amazon should not only be paying for its techies' home internet and electricity, but also for any other expenses related to their ad-hoc home office space during the pandemic. Williams sued the cloud giant on behalf of himself and over 4,000 workers employed in California across 12 locations, arguing these costs will range from $50 to $100 per month during the time they were told to stay away from corporate campuses as the coronavirus spread.

    Continue reading
  • Amazon’s Kindle bookstore to quit China
    Local authorities insist the next chapter is not a collapse in foreign investment has decided to end its Kindle digital book business in China.

    A statement posted to the Kindle China WeChat account states that Amazon has already stopped sending new Kindle devices to resellers and will cease operations of the Kindle China e-bookstore on June 30, 2023. The Kindle app will last another year, allowing users to download previously purchased e-books. But after June 30, 2024, Kindle devices in China won’t be able to access content.

    An accompanying FAQ doesn’t offer a reason for the decision, but an Amazon spokesperson told Reuters “We periodically evaluate our offerings and make adjustments, wherever we operate.”

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022