When Jeff Bezos was Amazon’s chief executive, he took a fair stance on the company’s affairs in Washington. He rarely lobbied lawmakers. Under the threat of subpoenas, he testified before Congress only once.
Bezos’ successor, Andy Jassy, is trying a different approach.
Jassy, 54, has made at least three trips to Washington, crossing Capitol Hill and visiting the White House since becoming Amazon’s chief executive last July. In September, he met with President Biden’s chief of staff, Ron Klein. He called on Democratic Majority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer to lobby against antitrust legislation and spoke with Sen. Tim Kaine, a Democrat from Virginia, about Amazon’s new corporate campus in the state.
“He was very curious,” said Mr. Kane, who met Mr. Jassy at the Capitol in September and spoke with him by phone last month. Mr Jassy is a diplomat, not using the “force of personality” to “beat you”, Mr Kane said, and was prepared with knowledge of the mandate of the council of lawmakers.
Mr. Jassy’s actions in Washington are a sign that a new era for Amazon is taking shape. The executive, who joined the company in 1997 and built the Amazon Web Services cloud computing business, has followed in Mr. Bezos’s footsteps for years and is seen as one of his closest lieutenants. Last year’s succession was largely seen as a continuation of Mr Bezos’ culture and approach.
But Mr. Jassy has quietly made his mark on Amazon, making more changes than many insiders and company watchers expected.
He delved into key parts of the business that Mr. Bezos pushed to his lieutenants, especially logistics. He acknowledged that Amazon is overbuilding and needs to cut costs, close brick-and-mortar bookstores and put some warehouse expansion plans on hold. He began a turbulent leadership reform. While he reiterated the company’s stance against unions, he also took a more conciliatory tone with Amazon’s 1.6 million workers.
Perhaps the most notable departure from Mr. Bezos is the new CEO’s more hands-on approach to regulatory and political challenges in Washington.
Mr. Jassy was more involved in scrutinizing Amazon’s broader role as an employer and society than just serving customers, said Matt McIlwain, managing partner of Seattle-based Madrona Venture Group, which was an early investor in the company.
“I think these kinds of things are more important to Andy,” said Mr. McElwan, who has known Mr. Bezos and Mr. Jassy for more than two decades. “Jeff has a more liberal mindset.”
Mr. Jassy’s efforts may be out of necessity. Political leaders, activists and academics are watching Amazon closely because of its dominance. The company responded by expanding its lobbying arm in Washington, spending $19.3 million on federal lobbying in 2021, up from $2.2 million a decade ago, According to OpenSecretswhich tracks Washington’s influence.
Learn about Amazon’s unionization efforts
Its challenges are growing. The Federal Trade Commission, led by legal scholar Lina Khan, is investigating whether Amazon violated antitrust laws. Last year, Mr. Biden supported Amazon workers trying to unionize. He has since hosted a union organizer at an Amazon warehouse in the Oval Office. Congress could soon vote on an antitrust bill that would make it harder for Amazon to favor its own brands over those offered by competitors on its site.
Amazon spokeswoman Tina Pelkey pointed out previous company statement That said Mr. Jassy “meeted with policymakers on both sides of the aisle to discuss policy issues that could affect our clients.” The company declined to make Mr. Jassy available for an interview.
Mr. Bezos’ 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 workers at Amazon’s Washington office sometimes didn’t know when he was in town. The Amazon team, led by former White House press secretary Jay Carney, has worked to shield Mr. Bezos from the company’s critics.
Mr. Jassy — who worked in the Republican club as an undergraduate at Harvard and has donated to business-friendly Democrats in recent years — has made helping Amazon navigate the regulatory environment a priority from the start. After Bezos announced his resignation as Amazon’s chief executive last year, Jassy convened a group of company executives to be briefed on the antitrust fight, two of the people said.
In August, Mr. Jassy Appeared At the White House Cybersecurity Summit. In September, he traveled across Capitol Hill to meet with all four members of Congress’ leadership. He also called on Democratic senators from Washington state, home to Amazon, and Republican senators from Tennessee, where the company has expanded its logistics operations.
Some Democrats have urged Jassy to unionize Amazon workers and boycott state abortion restrictions, a person familiar with the matter said. through politicsRep. Kevin McCarthy, the Republican leader, told Mr. Jassy to focus on making products and stay away from contentious political and social issues, a person familiar with the meeting said.
A spokesman for Mr McCarthy declined to comment on the meeting.
That same week, Jassy met with Klein at the White House, two people familiar with the matter said. They discussed the state of the economy and other issues, one of the people said.
A White House official said Mr. Kline met with chief executives and labor leaders frequently, mostly by phone but sometimes in person.
Amazon’s most immediate regulatory threat is the proposed American Innovation and Choice Online Act, which would prevent the big digital platforms from giving their own products preferential treatment.
Virginia Sen. Mark Warner, one of the bill’s Democratic co-sponsors, met with Mr. Jassy in Washington in December and discussed China’s impact on technology. Mr. Warner said he told Mr. Jassy at another conference in Seattle this year that he was concerned about how Amazon could copy products from merchants using its site.
Mr. Warner said Mr. Jassy “may be more involved in these policy disputes with Washington than Bezos was when he was the founder.”
Amazon has opposed the legislation, arguing that the company already supports small businesses that sell products on its website. It has said that if the bill passes, it could be forced to abandon the fast-delivery promise at the heart of its Prime subscription service. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, the Minnesota Democrat behind the bill, called the idea of ”cancelling” Amazon Prime a “lie.”
Mr. Jassy also discussed Amazon’s opposition to the antitrust proposal with lawmakers and Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, who he met while attending Harvard at the same time, the people said. Mr Jassy told Ms Raimondo that Amazon was concerned about new European antitrust regulations, arguing that Amazon unfairly targeted its business, one of the people said. Ms. Raimondo criticized European laws, saying they disproportionately affect U.S. tech companies.
A Commerce Department spokeswoman said Ms. Raimondo supported the proposed U.S. antitrust legislation and had spoken to Mr. Jassy. The spokesman declined to comment on their conversation.
Daniel Auble, a senior researcher at OpenSecrets, said Mr Jassy could be a strong advocate for Amazon due to the potential for federal antitrust lawsuits and ongoing doubts about its power.
“There are simply not many lobbyists who can sit down with most members of the Congressional leadership — or even answer the phone,” he said. “But of course, the CEO of Amazon could have them all on the phone.”