When Jeff Bezos was CEO of Amazon, he took an arm’s length approach to the company’s affairs in Washington. He rarely lobbied legislators. He testified only once before Congress, under threat of subpoena.
Andy Jassy, Mr. Bezos’ successor is trying a different approach.
Since becoming Amazon’s CEO in July last year, Mr. Jassy, 54, has visited Washington at least three times to cross Capitol Hill and visit the White House. In September, he met Ron Klain, President Biden’s Chief of Staff. He has called Senator Chuck Schumer, the Democratic majority leader, to lobby against antitrust law and talked to Senator Tim Kaine, a Democrat from Virginia, about Amazon̵[ads1]7;s new business campus in the state.
“He was very curious,” said Mr. Kaine, who met Mr. Jassy at the Capitol in September and spoke to him on the phone last month. Mr. Jassy was diplomatic rather than out to “toast” with “personality power,” Mr. Kaine said, coming prepared with knowledge of the legislature’s committee mission.
Mr. Jassy’s actions in Washington are a sign that a new era is taking shape at Amazon. The leader, who joined the company in 1997 and built up Amazon Web Services’ cloud computing business, followed in Mr. Bezo’s footsteps for years and was seen as one of his closest lieutenants. The succession last year was largely seen as a continuation of Mr. Bezos’ culture and methods.
But Mr. Jassy has quietly left his mark on Amazon, and has made more changes than many insiders and corporate monitors expected.
He has drilled into important parts of the business that Mr. Bezos pressured on deputies, especially the logistics operations. He has admitted that Amazon overbuilt and needed to cut costs, close its physical bookstores and make some plans to expand the warehouse on ice. He has started a tumultuous overhaul of leadership. And while he has reiterated the company’s opposition to unions, he has also struck a more conciliatory tone with Amazon’s 1.6 million employees.
The strongest difference with Mr. Bezos may be the new CEO’s far more practical approach to regulatory and political challenges in Washington.
Mr. Jassy has been more involved in exploring Amazon’s broader role as an employer and in society, beyond serving customers, said Matt McIlwain, a managing partner at Seattle’s Madrona Venture Group, who was an early investor in the company.
“I think things like that mean more to Andy,” said Mr. McIlwain, who has known Mr. Bezos and Mr. Jassy for more than two decades. “Jeff has more of a libertarian mindset.”
Mr. Jassy’s efforts may have been born of necessity. Political leaders, activists and academics are taking a closer look at Amazon because of its dominance. The company has responded by expanding its lobbying apparatus in Washington, spending $ 19.3 million on federal lobbying in 2021, compared to $ 2.2 million a decade earlier, according to OpenSecrets, which tracks influence in Washington.
Understand the association work at Amazon
The challenges are increasing. The Federal Trade Commission, led by forensic scientist Lina Khan, is investigating whether Amazon violated antitrust laws. Last year, Mr. Biden threw his support behind Amazon workers trying to organize; he has since hosted a union organizer from an Amazon warehouse in the Oval Office. And Congress may soon vote on an antitrust bill that will make it harder for Amazon to favor its own brands over those offered by competitors on the site.
A spokeswoman for Amazon, Tina Pelkey, pointed to an earlier statement from the company that said Mr. Jassy “meets with politicians on both sides of the aisle regarding political issues that may affect our customers.” The company refused to make Mr. Jassy available for an interview.
Mr. Bezos’ ambitions in Washington used to be largely social. His ownership of The Washington Post brought him to the city, where he bought a mansion in the Kalorama area. But Amazon’s office workers in Washington sometimes did not know when he was in town. An Amazon team led by Jay Carney, a former White House press secretary, fought to isolate Mr. Bezos from the company’s critics.
Mr. Jassy – who was in the Republican club as an undergraduate at Harvard and has donated to business-friendly Democrats in recent years – made helping Amazon navigate the regulatory landscape a priority right out of the gate. After Mr. Bezos announced his resignation as Amazon’s boss last year, Mr. Jassy convened a group of company leaders for a briefing on the antitrust fight, said two people with knowledge of the gathering.
In August, Mr. Jassy appeared at a White House summit on cyber security. In September, he crossed Capitol Hill to meet all four members of Congress. He also asked Democratic senators from Washington state, where Amazon is headquartered, and a Republican senator from Tennessee, where the company has expanded its logistics business.
Some Democrats pressured Mr. Jassy to let Amazon workers organize and oppose state abortion restrictions, said a person with knowledge of the talks, previously reported by Politico. Representative Kevin McCarthy, the Republican leader, asked Mr. Jassy to focus on construction products and stay away from controversial political and social issues, said a person with knowledge of the meeting.
A spokesman for Mr. McCarthy declined to comment.
The same week, Mr. Jassy met with Mr. Klain in the White House, said two people with knowledge of the meeting. They discussed the state of the economy and other issues, said one of the people.
A White House official said Mr. Klain regularly met with top executives and supervisors, mostly by phone, but sometimes in person.
Amazon’s most immediate regulatory threat is the proposed U.S. Innovation and Choice Online Act, which will stop major digital platforms from giving their own products preferential treatment.
One of the bill’s Democratic co-sponsors, Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, met with Mr. Jassy in Washington in December and discussed China’s influence over technology. At another meeting this year in Seattle, Warner said he told Jassy that he was concerned about how Amazon could copy the products to sellers who used their site.
Mr. Jassy “is going to be someone who is likely to be more involved in these political disputes with DC than Bezos was as a founder,” Warner said.
Amazon has opposed the law and claimed that the company already supports the small businesses that sell products on the site. It has said that if the bill goes through, it may be forced to leave the promise of fast delivery at the heart of the Prime subscription service. Senator Amy Klobuchar, the Minnesota Democrat behind the bill, has called the idea that it would “ban” Amazon Prime a “lie.”
Mr. Jassy has also discussed Amazon’s opposition to antitrust proposals with lawmakers and Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo, whom he knew from attending Harvard at the same time, said people familiar with the matter. Mr Jassy told Raimondo about Amazon’s concerns about new antitrust regulations in Europe that they believe unfairly target their business, said one person. Raimondo has criticized European laws, saying they have a disproportionate impact on US technology companies.
A spokeswoman for the Department of Commerce said Raimondo supported the proposed US antitrust law and had spoken with Mr. Jassy. The spokeswoman declined to comment on their conversations. When Mr. Jassy called to lobby Mr. Schumer, Mr. Schumer said he supported the antitrust bill, said a person familiar with their call.
As Amazon faces the possibility of a federal antitrust lawsuit and continued skepticism of its power, Mr. Jassy could be a potent spokesman for the company, said Daniel Auble, senior researcher at OpenSecrets.
“Not many lobbyists would be able to sit down with – or even have a conversation with – most of the members of the congressional leadership at all,” he said. “But of course, the CEO of Amazon can get them all on the phone.”