When Jeff Bezos led Amazon as CEO, he kept the government affairs of the company at arm’s length. He seldom approached lawmakers. He only ever testified before Congress once, and it was under subpoena.
The new CEO of Amazon, Andy Jassy, is experimenting with a different strategy.
The 54-year-old Mr. Jassy has traveled to Washington, D.C., at least three times since taking over as CEO of Amazon last July, visiting Capitol Hill and the White House each time. He met with President Biden’s chief of staff, Ron Klain, in September. He has spoken with Senator Tim Kaine, a Virginia Democrat, about Amazon’s new corporate campus in the state, and he has called Senator Chuck Schumer, the Democratic majority leader, to advocate against antitrust legislation.
Mr. Kaine, who met Mr. Jassy at the Capitol in September and spoke with him on the phone last month, described him as “very inquisitive.” Mr. Kaine claimed that Mr. Jassy was diplomatic rather than attempting to “bowl you over” with “force of personality,” and that he had knowledge of the lawmaker’s committee assignments.
The actions Mr. Jassy took in Washington are evidence that a new era is emerging at Amazon. For many years, the executive followed in Mr. Bezos’ footsteps and was regarded as one of his closest lieutenants. The executive joined the company in 1997 and built its Amazon Web Services cloud computing business. Last year’s succession was largely viewed as carrying on Mr. Bezos’ culture and practices.
However, Mr. Jassy quietly made more changes to Amazon than many insiders and business observers anticipated.
He has focused on the logistics operations in particular, which Mr. Bezos passed off to deputies as important areas of the company. He has acknowledged that Amazon overbuilt and had to reduce costs, leading to the closure of its physical bookstores and the suspension of some warehouse expansion plans. He has begun an upheaval in the leadership structure. Additionally, he has adopted a more accommodative tone with Amazon’s 1.6 million employees while still reiterating the company’s opposition to unions.
The most obvious distinction from Mr. Bezos may be the new CEO’s much more active approach to the political and regulatory challenges in Washington.
According to Matt McIlwain, managing partner at Seattle’s Madrona Venture Group, an early investor in the business, Mr. Jassy has become more involved in the scrutiny of Amazon’s broader role as an employer and in society, beyond serving customers.
Mr. McIlwain, who has known Mr. Bezos and Mr. Jassy for more than 20 years, said: “I think those kinds of things do matter more to Andy.” “Jeff has a more libertarian mindset,” someone said.
It’s possible that Mr. Jassy’s efforts are necessary. Because of Amazon’s dominance, political figures, activists, and academics are paying more attention to the company. According to OpenSecrets, which tracks influence in Washington, the company has responded by growing its lobbying operation in Washington, spending $19.3 million on federal lobbying in 2021 as opposed to $2.2 million a decade earlier.
Recognize Amazon’s efforts to unionize
It faces increasing difficulties. The Federal Trade Commission is looking into whether Amazon broke antitrust laws, and Lina Khan is in charge of the investigation. Mr. Biden supported Amazon workers who were seeking to form a union last year, and he has since hosted a union representative from an Amazon warehouse in the Oval Office. The antitrust legislation that would make it more difficult for Amazon to prioritize its own brands over those sold by rivals on its website may be put to a vote by Congress soon.
Earlier company statements claimed that Mr. Jassy “meets with policymakers on both sides of the aisle regarding policy issues that could affect our customers.” An Amazon spokeswoman, Tina Pelkey, cited those statements. The business declined to set up an interview with Mr. Jassy.
Previously, Mr. Bezos’ goals in Washington were primarily social. He moved to the city as a result of owning The Washington Post, where he purchased a mansion in the Kalorama district. However, the staff in Amazon’s Washington office didn’t always know when he was in town. A group from Amazon, led by former White House press secretary Jay Carney, fought to shield Mr. Bezos from the company’s detractors.
Mr. Jassy, who was a member of the Harvard Republican Club while an undergraduate and has recently donated to business-friendly Democrats, made assisting Amazon with navigating the regulatory environment a top priority right away. Two people with knowledge of the meeting said that Mr. Jassy called a meeting of company executives for a briefing on the antitrust dispute after Mr. Bezos announced his resignation as Amazon’s CEO last year.
Mr. Jassy participated in a cybersecurity summit at the White House in August. He traveled all over Capitol Hill in September to meet with the four leaders of the congressional delegation. Additionally, he addressed a Republican senator from Tennessee and two Democratic senators from Washington State, the state where Amazon is headquartered and has expanded its logistics operations.
According to a person with knowledge of the conversations, which were first reported by Politico, some Democrats pressured Mr. Jassy to permit Amazon workers to unionize and to oppose state restrictions on abortion. Republican leader Representative Kevin McCarthy advised Mr. Jassy to concentrate on developing products and to steer clear of divisive political and social issues, according to a person with knowledge of the meeting.
McCarthy’s spokesman declined to respond to questions about the meeting
Two people with knowledge of the meeting claimed that Mr. Jassy and Mr. Klain met at the White House during the same week. According to one of the people, they talked about the economy’s state and other topics.
According to a White House representative, Mr. Klain frequently held phone and occasionally in-person meetings with business owners and labor leaders.
The American Innovation and Choice Online Act, which would forbid major digital platforms from giving their own products preference, poses the greatest immediate regulatory risk to Amazon.
Senator Mark Warner of Virginia, one of the bill’s Democratic sponsors, spoke with Mr. Jassy in December about China’s influence on technology. In a different meeting this year in Seattle, according to Mr. Warner, he expressed his concerns to Mr. Jassy about how Amazon might copy the goods of retailers who made use of its website.
According to Mr. Warner, Mr. Jassy “will be someone who will probably be more engaged in these policy disputes with D.C. than Bezos was as founder.”
Amazon has opposed the legislation, claiming that it already supports the small companies that are involved in the sale of goods on its website. It has stated that if the bill is passed, it might have to give up the promise of speedy delivery at the core of its Prime subscription service. The bill’s sponsor, Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, has referred to the notion that it would “outlaw” Amazon Prime as a “lie.”
According to people with knowledge of the situation, Mr. Jassy has also spoken with lawmakers and Gina Raimondo, the secretary of commerce, about Amazon’s opposition to antitrust proposals. The two met while attending Harvard together. According to one of the people, Mr. Jassy informed Ms. Raimondo of Amazon’s worries regarding new antitrust laws in Europe that the company feels unfairly target its industry. The laws in Europe, according to Ms. Raimondo, have a disproportionately negative effect on American tech companies.
Speaking with Mr. Jassy, a spokeswoman for the Commerce Department claimed that Ms. Raimondo agreed with the proposed antitrust legislation for the United States. The spokesperson refrained from commenting on their discussions. According to a person familiar with the call, when Mr. Jassy called to lobby Mr. Schumer, Mr. Schumer declared his support for the antitrust bill.
According to Daniel Auble, a senior researcher at OpenSecrets, Mr. Jassy could be a strong ally for Amazon as it contends with the prospect of a federal antitrust lawsuit and ongoing skepticism of its authority.
Few lobbyists would be able to speak with or even schedule a meeting with the majority of the congressional leadership, he claimed. However, it stands to reason that the CEO of Amazon can call everyone.