Commentary

Amazon's Retail Chief, Whom Bezos Calls A 'Tutor,' Is Leaving In 2021

Jeff Wilke, 53, who heads Amazon’s ecommerce and physical retail businesses and was considered a possible successor to Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos, is instead retiring early next year. 

“‘So why leave? It’s just time,’ Mr. Wilke wrote in an email to staff. He said he did not have another job lined up and had been ‘as happy with and proud of Amazon as ever.’ He added that he was ready to have ‘time to explore personal interests that have taken a back seat for over two decades,’ Karen Weiss writes  for The New York Times.

“Since Jeff joined the company, I have been lucky enough to have him as my tutor,” Bezos, 56, said in an email to his staff. “I've learned so much from him, and I'm not the only one. He's been an incredible teacher to all of us. That form of leadership is so leveraged. When you see us taking care of customers, you can thank Jeff for it. And there's this important point: in tough moments and good ones, he's been just plain fun to work with. Never underestimate the importance of that. It makes a difference.”

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Dave Clark, 47, will succeed Wilke. He currently serves as Amazon’s senior vice president of retail operations.

“Clark also has a storied history at Amazon, joining the company in 1999 as an operations manager. In 2013, Clark was tapped to become Amazon’s global logistics chief, overseeing the company’s growing network of warehouses, along with last-mile delivery operations spanning trucks, vans and airplanes. Clark’s attention to detail and tough management style has earned him the nickname ‘The Sniper,’ due to his tendency to spot and fire workers slacking on the job in the name of ensuring fast delivery,” Annie Palmer writes  for CNBC.

“Both Wilke and Clark are members of Bezos’ S-Team, a tight-knit group of over a dozen senior executives from almost all areas of Amazon’s business, such as retail, cloud computing, advertising and operations. The S-team rarely sees its members depart and if they do, their roles aren’t always replaced,” Palmer adds.

In his memo to employees Friday, Bezos also welcomed three new S-team members: Alicia Boler Davis, vice president of global customer fulfillment; John Felton, vice president of global delivery services; and Dave Treadwell, vice president of ecommerce foundation.

 “Wilke steps down in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, a period when Amazon has wrestled to meet customer expectations and struggled at times to keep its warehouse workers safe. Bezos has called the period ‘the hardest time we’ve ever faced,’” Jay Greene and Abha Bhattarai write  for The Washington Post, which Bezos owns.

“The executive, though, who has been most responsible for Amazon’s response to the virus has been Clark. … And while the virus continues to create challenges for the company, Clark’s promotion suggests that senior leaders and the board believe he’s proven himself, said a former executive who requested anonymity to maintain a relationship with the company,” Greene and Bhattarai add.

“Wilke’s surprise departure comes as demand for Amazon deliveries has surged during the pandemic. Last month, Amazon's revenue during the three months ended in June blew away Wall Street projections,” Nathaniel Meyersohn writes  for CNN Business.

“Bezos last month testified on Capitol Hill alongside the CEOs of Apple, Facebook and Google  as part of a congressional antitrust probe. During the hearing, Bezos acknowledged that Amazon may have improperly used third-party seller data to inform its own product decisions -- a key concern over the company's approach to competition,” Meyersohn adds.

“The network Mr. Wilke oversaw was once so small and ad hoc that it required senior Amazon executives to spend much of the end-of-year holiday season helping to ship packages. Now it accounts for most of Amazon’s more than one million employees and is capable of delivering millions of products into the homes of consumers in less than 24 hours,” Sebastian Herrera writes  for The Wall Street Journal.

“Early on, Mr. Wilke would visit Amazon facilities and even pack some boxes himself. He steered Amazon as it ran into logistics bottlenecks, especially during the Christmas rush. He is known to wear flannel shirts every fourth quarter, a nod to the company’s warehouse workers filling holiday orders,” Herrera adds.

Indeed, the subject line of Wilke’s email to Amazon’s worldwide consumer employees reads: “Hanging up the flannel.”

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