When Jeff Bezos was Amazon’s chief executive, he was neutral about the company’s business in Washington. He rarely lobbied legislators. He only testified once before Congress under threat of subpoena.
Andy Jassi, Mr. Bezos’ successor, is trying a different approach.
Since becoming Amazon’s chief executive last July, Jesse, 54, has visited Washington at least three times to walk up Capitol Hill and visit the White House. In September, he met with Ron Klein, President Biden’s chief of staff. He urged Senator Chuck Schumer, Democratic Majority Leader, to lobby against antitrust laws and spoke with Senator Tim Kaine, Democrat of Virginia, about Amazon’s new corporate campus in the state.
“He was very inquisitive,” said Mr. Kane, who met Mr. Yassy at the Capitol in September and spoke to him on the phone last month. Mr. Jassy was diplomatic rather than “struck you” with “strength of personality,” Mr. Kane said, and came prepared, knowing the legislator’s committee’s assignments.
Mr. Jassi’s actions in Washington are a sign that a new era is dawning at Amazon. The CEO, who joined the company in 1997 and built his Amazon Web Services cloud computing business, followed in Bezos’s footsteps for many years and was considered one of his closest aides. The succession last year was largely seen as a continuation of Mr. Bezos’ culture and methods.
But Mr. Yassy has quietly left his mark on Amazon, making more changes than many insiders and company watchers expected.
He delved into the key parts of the business that Bezos had left to deputies, especially logistics operations. He acknowledged that Amazon had realigned itself and had to cut costs by closing its physical bookstores and putting some store expansion plans on hold. He began a stormy leadership restructuring. And while he reaffirmed the company’s opposition to unions, he also took a more conciliatory tone with Amazon’s 1.6 million employees.
The biggest difference with Mr. Bezos may be the new chief executive’s much more hands-on approach to regulatory and political issues in Washington.
Mr. Jassie has been more exploring Amazon’s broader role as an employer and community beyond customer service, according to Matt McIlwain, managing partner at Seattle-based Madrona Venture Group, which was one of the company’s early investors.
“I think those kinds of things matter more to Andy,” said Mr. McIlwain, who has known Mr. Bezos and Mr. Jassi for over two decades. “Jeff has a more libertarian mindset.”
Mr. Yassy’s efforts may be born out of necessity. Political leaders, activists and academics are eyeing Amazon for its dominance. In response, the company expanded its lobbying apparatus in Washington, spending $19.3 million on federal lobbying in 2021, up from $2.2 million a decade earlier, according to OpenSecrets data that tracks influence in Washington.
Learn about unionization efforts at Amazon
His problems are growing. The Federal Trade Commission, headed by legal scholar Lina Khan, is investigating whether Amazon violated antitrust laws. Last year, Mr. Biden supported Amazon workers who tried to unionize; he has since hosted a union organizer from the Amazon warehouse in the Oval Office. And Congress may soon vote on antitrust legislation that would make it harder for Amazon to prioritize its own brands over those offered by competitors on its site.
Amazon spokeswoman Tina Pelkey pointed to a previous statement from the company that said Mr. Jassi “meets with politicians on both sides of the aisle about policy issues that could affect our customers.” The company declined to grant an interview to Mr. Yassy.
Previously, Mr. Bezos’ ambitions in Washington were largely social in nature. Owning The Washington Post brought him to the city, where he bought a mansion in the Kalorama area. But employees at Amazon’s Washington DC office sometimes didn’t know when he was in town. An Amazon team led by Jay Carney, a former White House press secretary, fought to shield Mr. Bezos from the company’s critics.
Mr. Jassi, who was a member of the Republican Club while at Harvard and has donated to business-friendly Democrats in recent years, has made helping Amazon manage the regulatory framework a priority from the start. After Mr. Bezos announced he was stepping down as head of Amazon last year, Mr. Jassi convened a group of company executives for an antitrust briefing, two people familiar with the meeting said.
In August, Mr. Jassi appeared at the White House Cyber Security Summit. In September, he toured Capitol Hill to meet with all four members of the Congressional leadership. He also called for Democratic senators from Washington state, where Amazon is headquartered, and a Republican senator from Tennessee, where the company has expanded its logistics operations.
Some Democrats have pushed Mr. Yassy to have Amazon workers unionize and resist government restrictions on abortion, said a person familiar with the conversations previously reported by Politico. Representative Kevin McCarthy, the Republican leader, told Mr. Jassi to focus on building products and stay away from controversial political and social issues, a person with knowledge of the meeting said.
A spokesman for Mr. McCarthy declined to comment on the meeting.
That same week, Mr. Jassi met with Mr. Klein at the White House, two people with knowledge of the meeting said. They discussed the state of the economy and other issues, one of the people said.
A White House spokesman said Mr. Klein met regularly with executives and union leaders, mostly by phone but occasionally in person.
Amazon’s most immediate regulatory threat is the proposed U.S. Online Innovation and Choice Act, which would prevent major digital platforms from giving their own products preferential treatment.
One of the Democratic co-sponsors of the bill, Virginia Senator Mark Warner, met with Mr. Jassi in Washington in December to discuss China’s impact on technology. At another meeting this year in Seattle, Mr. Warner told Mr. Jassy that he was concerned about how Amazon could copy the products of sellers that use its website.
Mr. Jassi “will be someone who is likely to be more involved in these political disputes with DC than Bezos was the founder,” Mr. Warner said.
Amazon has opposed the law, arguing that the company already supports small businesses selling products on its site. He said that if the bill passes, he may be forced to drop the fast delivery promise at the heart of his Prime subscription service. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, the Minnesota Democrat behind the bill, called the idea that he would “outlaw Amazon Prime” a “lie.”
Mr. Jassi also discussed Amazon’s opposition to the antitrust proposals with lawmakers and Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, whom he knew from concurrent classes at Harvard, people familiar with the matter said. According to one of the sources, Mr. Yassi spoke to Ms. Raimondo about Amazon’s concerns about new antitrust rules in Europe, which she believes are unfairly affecting her business. Ms. Raimondo has criticized European laws, saying they have a disproportionate impact on US tech companies.
A Commerce Department spokesman said Ms. Raimondo supported the proposed US antitrust law and spoke with Mr. Yassi. A spokeswoman declined to comment on their conversation.
As Amazon faces the possibility of a federal antitrust lawsuit and continues to question its strength, Mr. Yassy could be a strong advocate for the company, according to Daniel Oble, senior researcher at OpenSecrets.
“Few lobbyists would even be able to sit down or even call most members of the leadership of Congress,” he said. “But of course the Amazon CEO can reach everyone by phone.”
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