about 8 months ago
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While we are still kicked-up by the Budget and the stratosphere headed Sensex, the world headlines did make us all sit back and take some notice – not the coup in Myanmar but that of Amazon founder, Jeff Bezos planning to step down as CEO of the company in coming summer.

How often have we ever heard of an Indian CEO, at the peak of his glory, choosing to step down? Unless it is due to circumstances, never, ever.

If you really look at it, all the companies which dominate our lives today – Google, Microsoft, Netflix and now Amazon, all CEOs stepped down when they were right at the top. The only exception is Zuckerberg of Facebook but then he is just 36 years old….

This requires a lot of courage – he might be the richest or the second richest man on earth but surely for him, money stopped being a motivator long time ago, right? So, what makes people like Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, Larry Page step down as CEOs?

Many say that its mid-life crisis but that’s pure humbug. Bezos started Amazon in 1994 (don’t know if it was from a garage) as an online book selling company; from there it has grown into an almost $1.7 trillion behemoth. He built it up to an extent where he changed the way people across the world buy their groceries and all necessities of life. If Steve Jobs changed the way we listen to music, Bezos changed our entire shopping ways and choices.

The reason, why they step down, based on other CEOs - when a company grows so huge, it sets up its own momentum – such behemoths make their own gravity and plot their own path, going beyond the control of a single person. When companies become this big and well entrenched, it no longer needs the men who made them.

And that’s why for geniuses like Bezos, it’s a blessing as it frees them up from the responsibility as a CEO, to pursue other things and apply their mind to take the company to the next stage. Thinking is what they do best and probably that’s a good idea for CEOs to step down when at the peak, as the adrenaline rush is still pulsating.  

In his letter to his employees, he wrote, “I will stay engaged in important Amazon initiatives but also have the time and energy I need to focus on ... my other passions. I’ve never had more energy, and this isn’t about retiring. I’m super passionate about the impact I think these organizations can have.”

But its not as though Bezos is going away; he will remain very much a part of Amazon. In fact last year, Bezos got into the day-to-day management when the pandemic brought forth a mammoth opportunity but along with it, supplier and logistical nightmares. He solved problems and led the company hands-on, like the way he did a few years ago. Amazon in fact hired 2,50,000 in 2020 alone.

By deciding to step down, Bezos just formalized a restructuring which was already in place – Andy Jassy, who has been with Bezos since 1997, as such was running the company and he formally got his place as CEO.

Jassy has been the founder of Amazon’s cloud business – Amazon Web Services (AWS), which is running much of the world’s internet economy, powering everything from Netflix’s streaming service to hundreds of enterprise softwares. AWS is by far the largest profit maker for Amazon. And that’s the sign which we need to see – Amazon has always ‘pre-invested’ ahead of the future and its paid off. This move signals that cloud will be its growth engine in the future while it will continue to expand its groceries and logistical network.

Bezos is also an ardent ‘space’ investor and his venture, Blue Origin, in which he invests $1 billion every year, will take centerstage. Elon Musk is steps ahead here with his SpaceX – he has already kicked off regular NASA crew flights to the International Space Station from November. Thus space could be an area which could see a lot of action in coming months.

What separates these hugely successful men from all of us – their ability to take risk. The success we achieve in life is directly proportional to the risk-taking ability and of course, Lady Luck’s blessing too.

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