Opinion: Why Jeff Bezos stepping down is no prime-time drama
Jeff Bezos, the world’s richest man worth an estimated U$$196 billion, did not face the toughest life choice of 2021 when he announced he was stepping back from his role of CEO of Amazon – the world’s third largest company by market capitalization.
At 57 years of age, Bezos is to become executive chairman in a move that he says will give him “time and energy” to focus on other ventures.
"Being the CEO of Amazon is a deep responsibility, and it's consuming. When you have a responsibility like that, it's hard to put attention on anything else," he said in an email to Amazon staff on 2 February.
"As Exec Chair I will stay engaged in important Amazon initiatives but also have the time and energy I need to focus on the Day 1 Fund, the Bezos Earth Fund, Blue Origin, The Washington Post, and my other passions."
Bezos is the latest leading executive to take a step back, following some high-profile similar moves in the last 12 months.
Bob Iger of Disney for one. He announced he was stepping down as CEO last February to take the executive chairman title.
“What I want to accomplish before I leave the company in ’21, getting everything creatively right would be my no.1 goal,” Iger said at the time. “I could not do that if I was running the company on a day-to-day basis.”
Due to the growing impact of coronavirus, Iger was unsurprisingly back helping steady the ship as first-mate to captain Bob Chapek.
Then in March 2020, Bill Gates stepped down from the Microsoft board to focus on his philanthropic activities – health, education and climate change. He also left Warren Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway board.
One thing that Bezos, Iger and Gates have in common is a sense of mission accomplished. Iger is 69 years old and Gates 65. Bezos moving on now, with Amazon in such good shape having fared well during the pandemic, gives him a decade head start on many of his contemporaries when it comes to pursuing other interests.
"I've never had more energy, and this isn't about retiring,” added Bezos in his email. “I'm super passionate about the impact I think these organizations can have.”
What this does highlight, however, is the changing role of the CEO. When Mark Weinberger was preparing to leave his position as EY Global Chairman and CEO back in 2019, he provided some prescient insight into how the business world had changed.
“As I reflect on my time at CEO, it’s remarkable to consider how much the world has changed – and how much the expectations of global businesses have changed along with it,” said Weinberger.
“Today, in an era of transformation and uncertainty, people around the world are looking to the business community for leadership. It’s time for next generation of CEOs to rise to the challenge. Our license to lead depends on it.”
What do you think? How has the role of the CEO changed?
Marketing matters: from IBM to Kyndryl
Prior to joining Kyndryl as Chief Marketing Officer, Maria had a 25-year career at IBM, most recently as the tech giant’s CMO where she oversaw all marketing professionals and activities across North America, Canada and Latin America. She has held senior global marketing positions in a variety of disciplines and business units across IBM, most notably strategic initiatives in Smarter Cities and Watson Customer Engagement, as well as leading teams in services, business analytics, and mobile and industry solutions. She is known for her work with teams to leverage data, analytics and cloud technologies to build deeper engagements with customers and partners.
With a passion for marketing, business and people, and a recognized expert in data-driven marketing and brand engagement, Maria talks to Business Chief about her new role, her leadership style and what success means to her.
You've recently moved from IBM to Kyndryl, joining as CMO. Tell us about this exciting new role?
I’m Chief Marketing Officer for Kyndryl, the independent company that will be created following the separation from IBM of its Managed Infrastructure Services business, expected to occur by the end of 2021. My role is to plan, develop, and execute Kyndryl's marketing and advertising initiatives. This includes building a company culture and brand identity on which we base our marketing and advertising strategy.
We have an amazing opportunity ahead at Kyndryl to create a company brand that will stand apart in the market by leading with our people first. Once we are an independent company, each Kyndryl employee will advance the vital systems that power human progress. Our people are devoted, restless, empathetic, and anticipatory – key qualities needed as we build on existing customer relationships and cultivate new ones. Our people are at the heart of this business and I am deeply hopeful and excited for our future.
What experiences have helped prepare you for this new opportunity?
I’ve had a very rich and diverse career history at IBM that has lasted 25+ years. I started out in sales but landed explored opportunities at IBM in different roles, business units, geographies, and functions. Marketing and business are my passions and I landed on Marketing because it allowed me to utilize both my left and right brain, bringing together art and science. In college, I was no tonly a business major, but an art major. I love marketing because I can leverage my extensive knowledge of business, while also being able to think openly and creatively.
The opportunities I was given during my time at IBM and my natural curiosity have led me to the path I’m on now and there’s no better next career step than a once-in-a-lifetime-opportunity to help launch a company. The core of my role at Kyndryl is to create a culture centered on our people and growing up in my career at IBM has allowed me to see first-hand how to prioritize people and ensure they are at the heart of progress in everything Kyndryl will do.
How would you describe your leadership style?
I believe that people aren't your greatest assets, they are your only assets. My platform and background for leadership has always been grounded in authenticity to who I am and centered on diversity and inclusion. I immigrated to the US from Chile when I was 10 years old and so I know the power and beauty that comes from leaning into what makes you different from other people, and that's what I want every person in my marketing organization to feel – the value in bringing their most authentic self to work every day. The way our employees feel when they show up for themselves authentically is how they will also show up for our customers, and strong relationships drive growth.
I think this is especially true in light of a world forever changed by the pandemic. Living through such an unprecedented time has reinforced that we are all humans. We can't lead or care for one another without empathy and I think leaders everywhere have been reminded of this.
What’s the best leadership advice you’ve received?
When I was growing up as an immigrant in North Carolina, I often wanted to be just like everyone else. But my mother always told me: Be unique, be memorable – you have an authentic view and experience of the world that no one else will ever have, so don't try to be anyone else but you.
What does success look like to you?
I think the concept of success is multi-faceted. From a career perspective, being in a job where you're respected and appreciated, and where you can see how your contributions are providing value by motivating your teams to be better – that's success! From a personal perspective, there is no greater accomplishment than investing in the next generation. I love mentoring younger professionals – they are the future. I want my legacy as a leader to include providing value in work culture, but also in leaving a personal impact on the lives of professionals who will carry the workforce forward. Finding a position in life with a job and company that offers me a chance at all of that is what success looks like to me.
What advice would you give to your younger self just starting out in the industry?
I've always been a naturally curious person and it's easy for me to over-commit to projects that pique my interest. I've learned over years of practice how to manage that, so to my younger self I’d say… prioritize the things that are most important, and then become amazing at those things.