Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos started the company in 1994 out of the garage in his Seattle area home. After almost 30 years at the helm, he's stepping down as CEO and into the role of executive chair in Q3 of 2021. Andy Jassy, head of Amazon Web Services, will become CEO.
Bezos, named by Forbes in 2018 as the most powerful CEO, and also currently the wealthiest person in the world, has become synonymous with the Amazon brand. However, rebranding for the new CEO shouldn't be necessary, Jennifer Mackin, the CEO of consulting firm Oliver Group, Inc., and president and partner of Leadership Pipeline Institute US, told HR Dive.
When choosing a successor, there should be a lot of coaching in the background, Mackin said. Jassy is someone that Bezos has worked with a long time, and the fact that Bezos is staying "part of the organization in a big way" may alleviate the need for a rebranding, Mackin said. However, when there's a CEO change, the messaging will change as a successor may bring "a very different personality to the table," Mackin said.
As Jassy prepares to take the helm at Amazon, the company faces complaints of poor worker treatment, particularly worker safety amid the coronavirus pandemic. New York Attorney General Letitia James has filed a lawsuit against Amazon for "failing to maintain a safe work environment by reasonably protecting workers from the spread of COVID-19," according to a Feb. 17 announcement.
"No matter who takes over [a company], they've got to show up strong," Mackin said. "'I've got this' and I've got you' in terms of employees," she said. The new CEO has the ability to redefine the role to meet the future requirements for business growth and sustainability, Mackin said. It's also important that the new CEO has an eye on the future — and that includes revisiting the company's strategy, she added.
An HR leader's role in CEO succession
The chief human resources officer role is increasingly shaping up as a model for future CEO candidates, according to Hanold Associates CEO Jason Hanold. And HR roles are becoming increasingly strategic.
"Ideally, the outgoing CEO [of a company] has a great relationship with the HR leader, and they can collectively decide who that person should be to succeed them," Mackin said. "Hopefully, a year or more" before succession takes place, "you're prepping the new CEO coming in," Mackin said. "I think a company's HR leader could be front and center in making that happen, or even being the coach, potentially."
An HR leader can define what the succession means for the rest of the team because "often there's a bit of change deeper into that team" when there's a new CEO, Mackin said. For example, it would be thoughtful to consider developing and coaching those who are leaving certain positions in a staffing change, she said. "I think they need to be coached out as well as someone coached into any new role." she added.
In addition, an HR leader could be that key person in getting resources to the right people once the new leadership team is in place, Mackin said. "A lot of team dynamics are going to shift and change, and they need to gel as a team again, right away," she said. In the first few weeks of the transition, HR could bring in a facilitator to work on team dynamics, get them to know the new leader, talk about strategy and communication planning, and really be "the driver of all of that activity," Mackin said.
A combination of transparency and the new CEO and leadership team equally communicating the "same amount of energy, passion and enthusiasm for the future," will rally a larger number of employees, Mackin said.
"Sometimes new CEOs feel like they have to put their mark on things really quickly," she said. "I don't think that's important, as much as it is helping everyone to feel secure in the current state where they are today, and then figuring out what's next."