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Amazon CEO Andy breaks up with Jesse Bezos on his way

When Jeff Bezos was the chief executive of Amazon, he took an arms-long approach to the company’s affairs in Washington. He has rarely lobbied MPs. He testified only once before Congress under threat of summons.

Mr Bezos’ successor Andy Jassi is trying a different approach.

Since becoming Amazon’s chief executive last July, Mr. Jassi, 54, has visited Washington at least three times, crossing Capitol Hill and visiting the White House. In September, he met with President Biden’s chief of staff Ron Klein. He has called on Senator Chuck Schumer, the Democratic majority leader, to lobby against the antitrust law and spoke with Democrat Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia about Amazon’s new corporate campus in the state.

“He was very curious,” said Mr. Kane, who met Mr. Jesse at the Capitol in September and spoke to him on the phone the previous month. Mr. Jay was diplomatic rather than “bending you” by “force of personality”, Mr. Kaine said, and prepared with knowledge of the actions of the lawmaker’s committee.

Mr. Jesse’s actions in Washington signal the shaping of a new era in the Amazon. The executive, who joined the company in 1997 and built its Amazon Web Services cloud computing business, followed in Mr. Bezos’s footsteps for years and was seen as one of his closest lieutenants. Last year’s succession was largely seen as a continuation of Mr. Bezos’s culture and methods.

But Mr. Jesse has quietly made his mark on Amazon, leading many insiders and company watchers to change more than expected.

He’s drilled into key parts of the business that Mr Bezos pushed to the deputy, specifically the logistics operations. He has acknowledged that Amazon overbuilt and needs to cut costs, shutter its physical bookstores and put some warehouse expansion plans on ice. He has started a leadership turmoil. And while he has reiterated the company’s opposition to unions, he has also struck a more sociable tone with Amazon’s 1.6 million employees.

The biggest difference with Mr Bezos may be the new chief executive’s far more pragmatic approach to regulatory and political challenges in Washington.

Mr. Jesse has done more with an investigation into Amazon’s wider role as an employer and in society, said Matt McElwen, managing partner at Seattle’s Madrona Venture Group, who was an early investor in the company.

“I think things like this mean more to Andy,” said Mr McElwen, who has known Mr Bezos and Mr Jesse for more than two decades. “Jeff has a liberal mindset.”

Mr. Jassi’s efforts may arise out of necessity. Political leaders, activists and academics are taking a closer look at the Amazon because of its dominance. The company, expanding its lobbying mechanism in Washington, spent $19.3 million on federal lobbying in 2021, compared to $2.2 million a decade earlier, according to OpenSecrets, which tracks influence in Washington.

Its challenges are increasing. The Federal Trade Commission, led by legal scholar Lina Khan, is investigating whether Amazon violated antitrust laws. Last year, Mr. Biden threw his support behind Amazon employees who were trying to unionize; He has since hosted a union organizer out of an Amazon warehouse in the Oval Office. And Congress could soon vote on an antitrust bill that would make it harder for Amazon to favor its own brands offered by competitors on its site.

An Amazon spokeswoman, Tina Pelkey, pointed to the company’s previous statement, which said Mr. Jassi “meets with policymakers on both sides about policy issues that may affect our customers.” The company declined to make Mr. Jassi available for an interview.

Mr. Bezos’s ambitions in Washington used to be largely social. His ownership of The Washington Post brought him to the city, where he bought a mansion in the Kalorama neighborhood. But employees at Amazon’s Washington 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 protect Mr Bezos from the company’s critics.

Mr Jesse – who was in the Republican club as an undergraduate at Harvard and has donated to business-friendly Democrats in recent years – helped Amazon prioritize the regulatory landscape right out of the gate. After Mr Bezos announced he was stepping down as Amazon chief last year, Mr Jesse called a group of company executives for a briefing on the antitrust battle, two people with knowledge of the gathering said.

In August, Mr. Jassi appeared at the White House Summit on Cyber ​​Security. In September, he crossed Capitol Hill to meet all four members of the Congressional leadership. He also met with 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 Jesse to unionize Amazon employees and oppose state abortion restrictions, said a person with knowledge of the conversation, previously reported by Politico. Representative Kevin McCarthy, the Republican leader, told Jesse to focus on manufacturing 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 Jesse met with Mr Klein at the White House, two people with knowledge of the meeting said. One of the people said that they discussed the state of the economy and other issues.

A White House official said Mr Klein regularly met with chief executive officers and labor leaders, mostly over the phone but sometimes in person.

Amazon’s most immediate regulatory threat is the proposed American Innovation and Choice Online Act, which would block large digital platforms from giving preference to their products.

Senator Mark Warner of Virginia, one of the bill’s Democratic co-sponsors, met with Mr Jesse in Washington in December to discuss China’s impact on the technology. At another meeting in Seattle this year, Warner said, he told Jesse he was concerned about how Amazon might copy products from merchants who use its website.

Mr. Jesse “is going to be someone who will probably engage more in these policy disputes with DC than the founder of Bezos,” Mr. Warner said.

Amazon has opposed the law, arguing that the company already supports small businesses selling products on its site. It has said that if the bill passes, it could be forced to abandon the promise of quick delivery at the heart of its Prime subscription service. Senator Amy Klobuchar, the Minnesota Democrat behind the bill, has called the idea that it would declare Amazon Prime a “lie.”

Mr Jesse has also discussed Amazon’s opposition to no-confidence motions with lawmakers and Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, whom he knew from attending Harvard at the same time, people familiar with the matter said. Mr Jesse told Ms Raimondo about Amazon’s concerns with new antitrust rules in Europe that he believes unfairly target his business, one of the people said. Ms Raimondo has criticized the European laws, saying they adversely affect US tech companies.

A Commerce Department spokeswoman said Raimondo supported the proposed US antitrust law and spoke with Jesse. The spokesperson declined to comment on their conversation.

As Amazon faces the prospect of a federal antitrust lawsuit and continues to cast doubts over its power, Mr. Jesse could be a powerful advocate for the company, said Daniel Auble, a senior researcher at OpenSecrets.

“Many lobbyists will not be able to sit down – or even make calls – with most members of the Congress leadership,” he said. “But of course the CEO of Amazon can get them all on the phone.”

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