- Amazon announced on Friday that it’s promoting Dave Clark, SVP of worldwide operations, to CEO of worldwide consumer when Jeff Wilke steps down early next year.
- That makes Clark one of the three CEOs at Amazon, alongside company founder Jeff Bezos and its cloud boss Andy Jassy.
- Clark has a unique background, having majored in music and working up the corporate ladder from a Kentucky warehouse manager to one of the most influential executives at Amazon.
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Amazon is turning to a 20-year company veteran with deep logistics chops for its new retail CEO position, a highly influential job that is widely considered the second most powerful after company founder and CEO Jeff Bezos.
On Tuesday, Amazon announced that Dave Clark, SVP of worldwide operations, will become CEO of worldwide consumer when Jeff Wilke, who has been seen as Bezos’s right-hand man, steps down from the position early next year. The job oversees everything from Amazon’s core retail business to its massive shipping and logistics arm, as well as its growing physical stores segment, including Whole Foods.
It’s one of the three CEO positions at Amazon, alongside Bezos and cloud boss Andy Jassy.
By promoting Clark, Amazon is entrusting a proven operational mastermind to lead its retail business that sold roughly $340 billion worth of products last year. A former warehouse manager, Clark has worked up the corporate ladder over the past two decades to become one of the most high-profile executives at Amazon and a close confidant of Bezos.
“I can’t think of someone more suited to step into Jeff’s role than Dave Clark,” Bezos wrote in an email to employees on Friday announcing the change. “Those of you who have worked with Dave know his incredible passion for serving customers and supporting our employees – I am excited for him to lead our teams and continue innovating for customers.”
‘I tested him’
Those who have worked with Clark describe him as a charismatic and visionary leader, who can be almost irrationally demanding at times. But his long experience in logistics, where Wilke also cut his teeth, and growing responsibilities that in recent years has expanded to include not just shipping and warehouses, but also marketing, Prime, and robotics, make him a perfect successor for the job, according to Craig Berman, a former Amazon executive who worked closely with both Wilke and Clark.
“It’s a very natural evolution,” Berman told Business Insider. “The torch is being passed to another extraordinarily capable leader.”
Clark’s rise to the top, however, may not have been easily predictable when he first joined Amazon more than 20 years ago. Unlike some of his peers who graduated from prestigious Ivy League universities or worked at big companies like Apple, Clark went to Auburn University, where he was a tuba-playing music major. After a brief teaching stint at a Florida middle school, Clark joined Amazon in 1999. He went on to become a warehouse manager in Campbellsville, Kentucky, in 2001 and was promoted to the vice president of North American operations in 2010. He was named senior vice president of worldwide operations three years later, joining Bezos’s elite group of executives called the “S-team.”
In his email to the company on Friday, Wilke said Clark earned the trust of Amazon’s leadership by passing the many “tests” he put on him. Some of the tests included building Amazon’s first warehouse in Japan and running operations in remote areas like Kentucky and Delaware. Clark continued to prove himself, Wilke said, showing his ability to think in bigger terms and inspire his team to have broader goals.
“I tested him,” Wilke wrote in his email. “Dave thinks and leads boldly.”
For those who’ve been following Amazon closely, Clark’s promotion may have been somewhat expected. He was already in charge of the largest team at Amazon, with wide-ranging responsibilities that include: Compliance and product safety; marketing; physical stores (including Whole Foods); shipping and delivery; warehouse management and worker safety; robotics (including Kiva and drones); Prime membership; supply chain management; sustainability; and fresh food delivery.
Still, the fact that Amazon picked Clark, an experienced logistics operator, over executives in other functions, like the marketplace or hardware, to be the de facto No. 2 leader shows where the company’s main priorities are: in the supply chain. In recent years, Amazon has been pouring billions of dollars into making one-day shipping the default option for Prime members, while using its own shipping service to handle a growing number of its package deliveries. Internally, Clark is considered to have handled the crisis well so far, according to people familiar with the matter.
“Amazon is becoming a massive logistics company,” Scott Mushkin, CEO of R5 Capital, told Business Insider. “And one thing about Amazon is it doesn’t lack the talent.”