When Jeff Bezos stepped down as CEO of Amazon in July and handed over the reins to his longtime business lieutenant Andy Jassy, the succession quickly became one of the most-watched executive handoffs in recent memory.
In his first major challenge as CEO, Jassy is dealing with a massive exodus of leadership among Amazon’s top ranks. Longtime members of the elite senior leadership team (known as the S-team) have announced their retirement, such as retail CEO Jeff Wilke and SVP of physical stores Steve Kessel.
At the same time, around 50 VPs have left the company in the past two years. Many former employees have departed for executive level jobs at high-growth tech startups or other large public companies. Their reasons for leaving are varied, some claim the pay is better at other companies, others cite the growth opportunities and C-suite roles that are more easily available elsewhere.
The Org reviewed a select group of 50 key executives at Amazon who have departed the company in the past two years to see where they ended up in the next stages of their careers and what reasons they had for leaving.
Charlie Bell is the most recent VP to depart the online mega business. An instrumental figure in building up Amazon Web Services from its earliest days, Bell left his role on Amazon’s elite S-team on August 12 after 23 years.
Bell was considered a potential successor to run AWS after Jassy was promoted, though the job ultimately went to Adam Selipsky. Peter DeSantis, another member of the S-team, will take his place. Amazon has not disclosed where Bell is going next, though it is rumored Bell might be up for a C-suite role at another company.
Wei Gao is another recent loss for Jassy. As VP of Grocery Tech, Product and Supply Chain, Gao was Bezos’s last “shadow” advisor, and one of only two women to ever fill that position. Gao was able to follow the CEO and founder’s every meeting in the highly-coveted role, officially known as Technical Advisor to CEO.
She filled various other positions at the company during her 16 year tenure, including VP of Forecasting and senior positions on the Kindle team. According to Business Insider, her last day is September 17, and it is still unclear where she’s going next.
Those who have resettled into a new job fall into one of two camps: leading the way at a high-growth startup or nabbing a top executive role at a leading public company or tech giant.
One of the most prominent examples of the Amazon-VP-to-startup-exec pipeline is David Glick. He currently serves as Chief Technology Officer at logistics startup Flexe, but for 19 years he worked in supply chain and fulfillment roles at Amazon. He eventually moved his way up to VP of Transportation and Fulfillment Technologies, and most recently pioneered Amazon Tickets.
Scott Ruffin also found luck in the startup sector after Amazon. Formerly the Head of Amazon Air, Ruffin left in 2020 to lead e-commerce transportation for Walmart before starting his own logistics company, Pandion, in February 2021.
Another path former VPs have taken has been to join more established tech companies. Teresa Carlson built Amazon’s government cloud business as VP of Public Sector and Industries for AWS. After a decade working in the Washington office at Amazon, she left the company in April to become Splunk’s Chief Growth Officer. Mike Clayville is another example. He ran AWS’s field operations for over seven years but left to become Chief Revenue Officer at Stripe.
As more and more VPs head for the doors, Amazon’s competitors are taking notice. GameStop has been hard at work building up a new e-commerce strategy, pulling several former Amazon employees in the process. Big box store competitors like Walmart and Target have also been able to pull in top Amazon talent to help with their own logistics and supply chains. Jare’ Buckley-Cox left Amazon for a VP role at Walmart in 2018 after most recently working as Director of Logistics Shipping & Delivery Support.
The biggest theme to come out of Amazon’s exec exodus has been that seasoned executives who feel passed up for promotions are heading for the door and finding their own path. Several VPs who held the coveted “shadow role” have left the company to try and their skills elsewhere.
Greg Hart is an example of a Technical Advisor that ended up departing the company after a year of shadowing his old boss. While at Amazon, he helped launch some of the company’s most successful products such as Amazon Alexa and Echo. He now works as Chief Product Officer at real estate firm Compass.
Maria Renz, who started at Amazon in 1999, was the other woman to shadow Bezos in the Technical Advisor role. She’s responsible for building so many of the retail categories we are familiar with today on Amazon’s e-commerce platform, such as Health & Personal Care, Beauty, Grocery, Shoes and Jewelry & Watches. She now works at SoFi as EVP of Consumer Finance and Wealth Management.
If you were curious who has stayed at the e-commerce giant, take a look at the current org chart for Amazon here. The current S-team includes 28 people, slightly up from last year and it includes all the voices that will be guiding CEO Andy Jassy in Amazon’s new era.