Any list of miraculous and unexpected CEO comebacks to take place in 2023 has to include Jeff Bezos, founder and former CEO of Amazon and one of the world’s richest men—but according to one analyst, such a return in the year ahead is a distinct possibility.
CEO comeback stories littered business news in 2022, with the high-profile returns of former leaders including Bob Iger to Disney and Howard Schulz to Starbucks, as the companies they formerly helmed navigated troubled waters.
Some returns like Iger’s to Disney were at least partially motivated by slumping stock values and a weaker profit outlook, as the stock market took a tumble last year.
Heading into 2023, with markets still volatile and earnings as uncertain as ever, another company whose CEO recently handed over the reins and might now need a steadying hand is Amazon, the e-commerce giant that lost $1 trillion in market value and saw its stock drop by 50% over the past year.
“There’s a lot of crosscurrents that Amazon is facing. There’s no doubt about it,” Michael Batnick, director of research at Ritholtz Wealth Management, told CNBC this week.
“Its stock fell 50% last year. That’s its worst year since 2000 when the dotcom bubble burst.”
With Amazon in dire straits, Batnick said a return of Bezos is a strong possibility considering the personal repercussions for the founder stemming from Amazon’s stock drop.
“Jeff Bezos is an extremely rich man who got a lot less rich last year because the company that he spent his life building is struggling big-time,” Batnick said. “I think it’s possible. I’m not going to pound the table on this, but I think it’s possible that he returns to the helm to steady the ship.”
Batnick pointed out CEO returns are “not without precedent” in today’s corporate world, citing the reversals of Iger and Schultz.
The analyst also said Bezos may have a personal stake in reviving Amazon’s fortunes this year, after his net worth shrank from over $200 billion at the time he left the company to around $100 billion today, a loss of wealth closely tied to Amazon’s decline.
Amazon missed its earnings estimates and downgraded sales expectations when it reported third-quarter earnings last October. The company’s losses over the past year have forced it to plan for mass layoffs over the next few months affecting more than 18,000 jobs—the largest workforce reduction in the company’s history.
Amazon did not immediately reply to Fortune’s request for comment.
Amazon’s troubled waters
Bezos left his role as Amazon CEO in 2021—while holding on to a position as executive chairman—to focus on side projects and other ventures, including his space exploration and rocket manufacturing company, Blue Origin.
Replacing him was Andy Jassy, former CEO of Amazon Web Services, the company’s cloud computing branch.
But Jassy’s tenure at the helm of Amazon has been rocky at best as the new CEO faced a number of challenges. In addition to the company’s plummeting value, Amazon has been battered by rising inflation and supply-chain constraints over the past two years that has dragged down consumer spending and stymied the company’s relentless rise over the past two decades.
Jassy has also had to handle increasing animosity from Congress, where bipartisan lawmakers threatened Big Tech companies with stricter antitrust regulation last year, while Amazon narrowly avoided a multibillion-dollar antitrust fine in Europe last month.
Jassy has been personally outspoken against Congress’s proposed antitrust ruling to rein in tech giants, calling multiple senators last June in a ferocious lobbying effort to oppose the bill.
To top it off, Amazon has had to deal with a rising wave of unionization efforts around the world under Jassy’s leadership.
A labor battle in Staten Island, N.Y., culminated in the company’s first U.S. union being formed last April, and the company lost initial efforts to overturn this unionization.
In November, a judge even ordered Amazon to “cease and desist” its retaliation against unionization efforts. Union troubles for Amazon have not been contained to the U.S. either, as U.K. warehouse workers voted to go on strike last month in response to rising costs of living and unsatisfactory pay raises from Amazon.
Batnick said that Amazon’s steep losses last year, compounded by the company’s ongoing struggles, are putting its leadership in doubt heading into the new year.
“While this is all certainly not Jassy’s fault—a lot of the decisions were put in place when Bezos was at the helm—there is some finger pointing that will go on next year if not already,” he said.
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