BREAKING: Jeff Wilke, Amazon CEO will retire

(Geekwire) – Amazon Consumer CEO Jeff Wilke to leave next year, will be replaced by operations chief Dave Clark
By Taylor Soper and Todd Bishop on August 21, 2020 at 6:38 am

Amazon Consumer CEO Jeff Wilke on stage at the 2017 GeekWire Summit. (GeekWire Photo / Dan DeLong)
Longtime Amazon executive Jeff Wilke, long considered a leading candidate to succeed Jeff Bezos as CEO, is leaving the company.

Wilke, the CEO of Amazon’s Worldwide Consumer business, will step down in the first quarter of next year, Amazon announced in an SEC filing on Friday, describing his departure as a retirement. He’ll be replaced by Dave Clark, currently senior vice president of worldwide operations.

“I don’t have a new job, and am as happy with and proud of Amazon as ever,” Wilke said in an internal memo to the company’s worldwide consumer employees on Friday morning. “So why leave? It’s just time. Time for Dave Clark to step in and lead the organization as CEO Worldwide Consumer. … Time for me to take time to explore personal interests that have taken a back seat for over two decades.”

Wilke, who joined Amazon in 1999, has led its consumer business through a period of unprecedented growth — stretching well beyond its origins in e-commerce and books to become a universal shopping destination. Amazon built physical retail stores, rolled out new devices, technologies and media, and expanded its fulfillment and delivery systems to reach customers around the world. The broader company has grown from 5,000 people to 1 million people worldwide during his tenure.

In his own memo to employees, Bezos called Wilke “simply one of those people without whom Amazon would be completely unrecognizable.”

“Since Jeff joined the company, I have been lucky enough to have him as my tutor,” Bezos wrote. 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.

Wilke, 52, took over Amazon’s North American consumer business in 2007 and was named CEO of Amazon’s Worldwide Consumer business in 2016. He oversees businesses that generated more than $200 billion in net sales in 2019, representing nearly 90% of Amazon’s overall net sales last year.

He grew up in Pittsburgh, studied chemical engineering at Princeton University, and did his graduate work in MIT’s Leaders for Global Operations program. His early operational roles in pharmaceuticals, chemicals and electronics gave him a unique perspective as he joined Amazon as Vice President and General Manager of Operations in September 1999, at the peak of the dot-com bubble.

During his Amazon tenure, Wilke became known for wearing flannel shirts during the fourth quarter of every year, in an effort to keep the company’s operations workers top of mind for the executive and headquarters teams. The subject line on Wilke’s Friday memo was, “Hanging up the flannel.” He wrote, “The flannel gave me a chance to talk about our operations and remind everyone of how dedicated and customer-focused our colleagues in the field were, too.”

Clark also joined Amazon in 1999. He became senior vice president of worldwide operations in 2013, running Amazon’s sprawling logistics arm.

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