- Clark resigned after Amazon’s shares plunged about 35% from their peak in July.
- It’s unclear who will take Clark’s job leading Amazon’s retail division.
- Insiders described a tense relationship between Clark and Amazon CEO Andy Jassy.
Amazon’s worldwide consumer CEO Dave Clark lost his job after a series of missteps by the business he ran, including warehouse overexpansion, overstaffing, spiraling costs, and a bruising loss to a union, according to company insiders and former executives.
The move is a clear signal that Amazon CEO Andy Jassy was unhappy with the performance and direction of the retail business under Clark. In a companywide email on Friday, Jassy wrote that Amazon has “more work in front of us to get to where we ultimately want to be in our Consumer business.”
Amazon is grappling with a slowdown in e-commerce spending following torrid online sales during the pandemic. The company opened warehouses at a record pace, and hired thousands of new workers to handle surging orders from consumers stuck at home. Now, the company has admitted that it has overcapacity and is even sub-leasing and shutting down some fulfillment centers. Amazon’s online retail sales fell 3% last quarter, the first year-over-year decline since at least 2015.
When Amazon revealed these problems fully in April, the company’s stock plunged. That added to other problems, such as surging costs from inflation and employees demanding better pay. The company has also been rocked by unionization campaigns at three warehouses, and congressional and regulatory scrutiny of its e-commerce business.
Where “the buck stops”
Most of these issues were the responsibility of Clark, a 49-year-old executive who spent over two decades at the company. He was paid handsomely for doing the job. His most recent compensation package was valued at $ 56 million, almost entirely in Amazon stock. By resigning, he’s foregoing roughly $ 71 million in unvested shares, according to regulatory filings and Insider estimates.
Amazon “can’t ignore” a falling stock price, “firing employees for speaking up about sustainability and not stopping union progress,” one former Amazon retail executive said. Clark is where “the buck stops for all of that,” this person added.
Jassy took over the Amazon CEO role from founder Jeff Bezos last year. Jassy came from the company’s cloud business, Amazon Web Services, so he relied on Clark to oversee the consumer operations, at least initially.
Tension between Amazon CEOs
Clark has had a tense working relationship with Jassy, who is known as a micro-manager, according to two Amazon insiders.
Jassy is also “AWS biased,” one of these people said. Meanwhile, Amazon’s falling share price “isn’t just a market correction – the company is losing money and market share on e-commerce but AWS is still printing money,” the person added.
The company’s most recent financial report positioned Amazon’s warehouse overexpansion as a mistake, another insider said, “and the implication of whose mistake that seemed clear.” All three insiders asked not to be identified discussing sensitive topics.
An Amazon spokesperson declined to comment on reports of tension between Jassy and Clark.
However, a former Amazon VP highlighted another possible source of friction between the two executives. “Clark was brilliant, but he was soul-less, like a machine, ruthless in a certain sense, and didn’t have the human connection part,” this person said. “Jassy has a different approach, kind of trying to shape a kinder, gentler Amazon that can be successful with the scrutiny they’re under.”
“It felt like Dave got thrown under the bus”
Other insiders and former employees highlighted Clark’s talents and argued that he has either been targeted unfairly or is less suitable for the new challenges Amazon faces.
“It felt like Dave got thrown under the bus around the network expansion,” one of the Amazon insiders said. “Much of that expansion was driven by a push for one-day delivery,” a pet project of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, “combined with COVID unpredictability.”
Another former employee said Clark knew how to build a business with seemingly endless resources, but not how to control costs and that is what the e-commerce operation needs now. “Add unions, Amazon’s safety reputation, multiple class-action lawsuits and lack of trust in the marketplace for his revenue generating attempts (ship with Amazon; Amazon Freight), and they probably think it’s time for a change,” this person added.
“It’s time for me to build again”
Clark’s resignation is the latest in a string of executive departures at Amazon since Bezos announced he would step down as CEO last year. At least 50 vice presidents left Amazon in 2021, a turnover rate of more than 10% at that level, according to people familiar with the matter and Insider’s analysis from January. The exodus included departures of other significant executives, including Charlie Bell, considered a cofounder of Amazon’s cloud business, who defected to Microsoft.
In an email announcing his resignation, Clark said the decision to step down had been in the works for “some time.” Clark has been less-involved in day-to-day matters in the past several months, according to insiders. It’s been months, for instance, since the notably in-the-weeds Clark emailed an internal team responsible for addressing customer complaints, according to one current employee. Clark previously emailed the team on a weekly basis, this person said.
Clark sold his Seattle-area mansion and moved to Dallas with his family late last year, Insider previously reported, thousands of miles from Amazon’s global operations headquarters in Bellevue, Washington.
Clark hinted at future plans in a tweet announcing his resignation, writing that after leaving Amazon, “it’s time for me to build again.” His last day at Amazon will be July 1, according to Jassy’s email. The company will announce a replacement in the “next few weeks,” the CEO wrote.
Replacing Clark, who some former Amazonians have described as a visionary leader, could prove difficult.
“In my time there, I never saw a clear successor,” said one former Amazon logistics executive. “Dave is exceptional.”
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