Andy Jassy: Amazon's $6 Billion Man


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Amazon has built its entire business around the idea of moving quickly. Andy Jassy, senior vice president of Amazon Web Services, has taken this philosophy to a whole new level.

Jassy, who founded Amazon Web Services (AWS) in 2003 with a team of 57 people, has built a $6 billion-plus run-rate business with more than 1 million customers in 190 countries in less than a decade. That's even more impressive considering that Amazon itself was only a $5.26 billion business after nine years.

So just how fast is Jassy reshaping the computing landscape? Salesforce.com, often characterized as a cloud computing pioneer, took 16 years to reach the $6 billion run-rate mark. Deutsche Bank estimates that AWS is nearly 10 times the size of Microsoft Azure, its closest competitor, which launched five years ago.

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Jassy, who grew up in the New York suburbs and is a die-hard Big Apple sports fan, likes to think of AWS—which has legacy enterprise vendors scrambling to play catch-up—as the underdog equivalent of the New York Giants beating the favored New England Patriots in the Super Bowl, not once but twice.

In fact, Jassy sees similarities between the sneak attacks that both the Giants and AWS have executed on the competition. "I'm not sure that people would have guessed that AWS would have been the pioneer and the strong leader in the infrastructure technology space," Jassy told CRN in a recent interview at Amazon's Seattle headquarters.

"Lots of companies and teams can fill whiteboards full of ideas and possibilities, but at the end of the day, where the rubber meets the road is being able to execute on those ideas in a way that customers care about and that resonates, and then continue to evolve that offering."

AWS was an underdog in the computing space when it launched a platform of compute, storage, database and application services in 2006 that customers could rent by the hour and access over the Internet. Legacy enterprise vendors had long talked about delivering these kinds of services, but AWS, under Jassy's leadership, beat them all to the punch.

These days, given AWS' marketplace momentum, it's getting harder to paint the fast-growing business unit as an underdog. AWS generated $1.57 billion in sales and $265 million in profit in its fiscal first quarter—the first in which Amazon broke out results for the unit.

AWS followed that up with an even better performance in its fiscal second quarter, with revenue growing 81 percent year over year to $1.82 billion, and profit of $391 million compared with $77 million in last year's quarter.

Some enterprise vendors, like IBM and VMware, have tried to dissuade their partners from working with AWS. But Jassy told CRN it's time for solution providers—some of whom have found it difficult to align with AWS—to get on board.

"I totally understand—it's a hard decision for companies who have been successful in a different model to decide to embrace a newer model. But once you realize that model is succeeding, it's important for your future to do so," he said. "But when there's a big shift going on, you can howl at the wind all you want, but if the shift is going to happen because it's good for customers, it is going to happen."

Amazon faced a similar dilemma in its retail business when it decided to let third-party vendors sell products in its online marketplace, Jassy said. Although doing so was a major strategy shift—and one that risked upsetting its existing business partners—it ended up working out. Today, he said, third-party products make up around one-third of the products listed on Amazon.com.

"We did it both because we knew it was better for customers—because it gave them more selection and better choices on prices—but also because we realized you can't fight gravity," Jassy told CRN. "In any kind of big shift, you're better off embracing the change and trying to figure out how to be a part of shaping it than having it end up shaping you and having to chase it."

It's Jassy's job to monitor the market for near-term and long-term threats and to make sure AWS remains hungry despite its huge lead in the cloud market. As the public face for AWS, Jassy takes the stage at events to explain how new AWS products and services will benefit customers. As chief of the industry's most successful cloud vendor, Jassy is also a kind of ambassador for technology that, despite all its hype, is still in its early stages of industry adoption.

"What strikes me about Andy is his extreme focus," said Jeff Aden, executive vice president of marketing and strategic development at 2nd Watch, a Seattle-based AWS partner. "He's genuine, authentic and self-aware, and he's able to articulate the value of caring for the customer and being an advocate."

"We truly believe that cloud computing would be drastically different today without Andy Jassy's foresight, customer passion and ability to execute," said Garret Carlson, director of strategic alliances at Seattle-based AWS partner Slalom Consulting.

"AWS, under Andy's leadership, has recognized the value the channel provides to the cloud customer, and that having a strong partner ecosystem will help AWS grow faster," said Luis Benavides, founder and CEO of Day1 Solutions, an AWS partner in McLean, Va.
 

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