Jeff Bezos’ resignation letter arrived Tuesday at the speed of a package shipped by Amazon Prime.
But Bezos’s departure as CEO, 27 years after founding the company, doesn’t just spell the end of an era for Amazon, a company that went from being an online bookstore to one of the most innovative, powerful and ubiquitous firms in the world. .
His retirement is also the most visible symbol of a profound changing of the guard in Silicon Valley leadership, whereby a generation of charismatic founders you have left your businesses in the hands of trusted people who are expert tactical operators but not necessarily visionaries. They successors also face a number of challenges in the form of extensive scrutiny from governments that grew out of the style of their visionary bosses.
The transition in Silicon Valley has been underway for some time now. It started in 2000, when Bill Gates He left his position as CEO of Microsoft and his day-to-day role at the company eight years later. The founder of Apple, Steve Jobs, passed away in 2011, leaving the company in charge of then-COO Tim Cook. The founders of Google, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, retired from their roles as CEO and President of Alphabet (the parent company) in 2019, handing over the reins to Sundar Pichai, who had been their henchman for 15 years. Both Pichai and Cook have sustained their companies’ earnings, but they are seen as less creative than their former bosses.
Now, with Bezos in search of other “passions”,Facebook will be the only company in today’s elite circle of tech giants run by the man who founded it.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is, in a sense, the last man standing. He is also the youngest founder and the one with the most scrutinized company by regulators.
“In the case of Larry and Sergey, they thought about the next 10 years and knew what was going to happen. It felt like they were bored. As for Bezos, he has been operating that machinery for 27 years, and he knows that others will continue to do so for another 10, “said technology analyst Benedict Evans in an interview. But for Zuckerberg, there are so many problems and so many questions that arise It is not known what will happen next. He will probably want to stay close. “
The generation of founders that built Silicon Valley’s most valuable companies today consisted of men who had their own vision and personality. But executives too They had similarities: they all shared unrelenting creativity and an ability to push the boundaries of what was possible in IT and services. They were also known for their ruthless competitiveness. They were friend-foes, they built app stores, devices, services and projects to compete with each other. Combined, these efforts made their businesses look more and more like each other over the years.
Bezos, who also owns the The Washington Post, used Amazon’s position in e-commerce to build two adjacent businesses – cloud service provider Amazon Web Services and Amazon’s third-party marketplace. which have become wildly successful but were not safe bets in the beginning.
The founders of Google expanded their idea of free access to information around the world, which they began pushing in 1998, to create Google Maps, Gmail and YouTube, and then made the transition to devices and cloud computing.
Zuckerberg turned his already massive social network in a mega social network after buying Instagram in 2012 and WhatsApp Messenger in 2014. At the time, these moves were read as attempts to ensure Facebook’s viability as consumers switched to messaging and photo apps.
Jobs revolutionized computing when he introduced the iPhone, a product that transformed a cell phone into a computer with a separate operating system and a new keyboardless interface for the first time.
Microsoft created the Windows operating system and a suite of tools in the Office Suite They are still the face of desktop computing today.
“Jobs, Brin and Bezos created their companies and had the moral authority to take risks that a reasonable person would reject,” said Yukari Kane, author of Haunted Empire: Apple after Steve Jobs. “It would be difficult for a simple steward to get approval from the board, shareholders and even consumers to make the same kinds of decisions,” he said.
But the strategies of the founders, who turned their companies into gigantic businesses and led them to become some of the richest men in history, they have also caught the attention of governments around the world.
Regulators and politicians have questioned their growth and the data collection they have done, and its power over the smallest aspects of people’s lives. Google and Facebook face antitrust lawsuits that are historic in the United States, and Amazon must also grapple with monopoly allegations in the European Union. The United States Supreme Court has allowed customers to sue Apple for anti-competitive practices in its app store.
A key difference between Zuckerberg and the other founders is that he is a generation younger than his peers.. Bezos, 57, ran Amazon for 27 years before resigning. Brin and Page, both 47, left their positions at Google after more than two decades.
Zuckerberg is 36 and Facebook is only 16. His company was founded a decade after Amazon and six years after Google.
That means Zuckerberg may feel like he has more work to do, Evans said.
When Bezos and the founders of Google, Page and Brin, chose another path, they announced their retirement at a high point, when their companies’ business prospects looked firm and solid for years to come. Upon leaving office in 2019, Google’s founders had spent four years consolidating their empire into a parent company called Alphabet, which spun off its search and advertising divisions to make money from its “other bets”: projects. moonshot (a new mindset aimed at achieving radical solutions) in healthcare, Nest cameras connected to the grid and self-driving cars. YouTube was becoming a major ad revenue generator in its own right.
When Bezos said he would resign as CEO, Amazon had just reported its first quarter with revenue above $ 100 billion. In his resignation letter, Bezos said he believed “we are at our most creative moment right now,” suggesting that the company had reached a peak of success.
In the resignation letter co-written by Brin and Page, they also pointed out that Alphabet was in a comfortable and stable place. “If the company were a person, it would be a 21-year-old young adult and it would be time to leave the nest,” they wrote.
When Gates finally resigned from day-to-day operations in 2008, the company was in a mid-life crisis: It still made huge amounts of money from Windows, but was outmatched in emerging computing areas by younger rivals like Apple, Google, and Facebook. Gates was already the richest man in the world and he was tired of the antitrust lawsuits.
The founders also left their successors in charge of future and ongoing headaches from antitrust lawsuits, as evidenced by the fact that Pichai has been called upon to testify before Congress numerous times since the departure of his predecessors. Microsoft finally got rid in 2011 of the last of the agreements that it had to close with the justice in the framework of the cases opened against it. Amazon’s Andy Jassy will also have to deal with increased scrutiny over Amazon’s business practices and its treatment of workers, leading to the first major worker unionization campaign in the company’s history.
Zuckerberg’s social network remains one of the most profitable companies in the world, but it is also the most embattled among the tech giants.
Facebook has little public approval, a huge antitrust lawsuit in the United States, regulatory scrutiny around the world, and allegations that its platform is undermining democracy and riddled with disinformation.
And unlike Apple and Alphabet, Facebook hasn’t groomed a second-in-command to take over the company. Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg, 51, has led the business side of the social network, but is not seen as a technique or an innovator. Chief Product Officer Chris Cox, a longtime close associate who is 38, is considered the most likely replacement should Zuckerberg leave, though he just recently rejoined the company after resigning in 2019.
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