In a note to employees, titled “Hang the Flannel,” CEO Jeff Bezos called Wilke an “amazing teacher for all of us” and said Clark was well positioned to take on the role of Jeff early next year.
“Ever since Jeff joined the company, I’ve been fortunate enough to have him as my tutor,” Bezos said. “Jeff’s legacy and impact will last long after he leaves. He is simply one of those people without whom Amazon would be completely unrecognizable. ”
Wilke has worked for Amazon for more than two decades, joining the company in 1999 to lead global operations. He has since risen through the ranks and now oversees the company’s physical e-commerce and retail operations. Wilke is one of the closest executives to report to Bezos and is a member of his S-Team, a tight-knit group of more than a dozen senior executives. He was widely seen as a potential successor to Bezos if he were to step down.
Amazon declined to comment further on Wilke’s retirement plan.
Read Bezos’ full letter to Amazon employees below:
De: Jeff Bezos
To: Amazon Worldwide Employees
Subject: RE: Hanging the flannel
Date: August 21, 2020
After more than two decades, Jeff Wilke plans to retire from Amazon early next year. I have attached below the heartfelt note he just sent to his organization to share this news.
Since Jeff joined the company, I have been fortunate enough to have him as my tutor. I have learned so much from him and I am not the only one. He has been an incredible teacher to all of us. This form of leadership is used so much. When you see us taking care of customers, you can thank Jeff for that. And there is this important point: In the tough times and the good ones, it has been just plain fun working with him. Never underestimate the importance of this. It makes a difference.
Jeff’s legacy and impact will live on long after he leaves. He is simply one of those people without whom Amazon would be completely unrecognizable. Thank you Jeff for your contributions and your friendship.
Jeff also set us up to be successful in his absence. I can’t think of anyone better suited to play the part of Jeff than Dave Clark. Those of you who have worked with Dave know his incredible passion for serving customers and supporting our employees – I am thrilled that he leads our teams and continues to innovate for clients.
I also want to congratulate our new S-team members Alicia Boler Davis, John Felton and Dave Treadwell. I can’t wait to invent with you.
Here is the memo Wilke sent to employees:
De: Jeff Wilke
To: Consumer Employees Around the World
Subject: Hanging Flannel
Date: August 21, 2020
On the eve of my 22nd holiday season at Amazon, I once again look at the flannel shirts that fill my closet. This vacation with Amazon will be different in many ways. And this will be my last.
In December 1999, I left work almost every night – along with most of my colleagues on the half-story of Key Tower which housed the entire company operations team – to go to the Seattle distribution center. for wrapping boxes and gift wrap. We also visited our buildings in Nevada, Kentucky and Kansas. I’ve always packed flannel shirts for those trips to the colder parts of the country. Our main goal was to make sure we ship all customer orders in time for the holidays. But we took advantage of these visits in other ways. We were able to see how physical operations were connected to our digital store and I was able to personally inspect our safety culture. We made new friends (and a few of those friendships led to weddings). And, perhaps more importantly, we earned immense respect for the dedication and customer orientation of our colleagues who worked outside of the headquarters.
A few years later – with the help of a lean-based operational excellence goal, statistical process control, a clear understanding of our bottlenecks, and specially designed software – we didn’t need to to send company employees to distribution centers (CFs) to add the necessary bandwidth to support our associates. Everyone applauded the improvement in our operational capability, but I noticed that something had been lost. Vacation conversations in our frugal but cozy Seattle offices have turned increasingly to the holiday season and eggnog, and away from stories of FC heroism. I did not hear the same sharing of respect for the work done in our CFs and I was committed to reconnecting the company’s employees to operations.
We have created customer connections so that each new employee spends time in an FC or customer service. I doubled the representation of our operations team in the corporate environment, including starting each meeting with a safety board. And I started to wear my flannel shirts everyday of the fourth trimester. The flannel allowed me to talk about our operations and remind everyone how dedicated and customer-focused our colleagues in the field are.
COVID-19 has taken me back to my roots in operations as I work with the teams that are building antigen testing capability, which we will deploy to our frontline employees first. I am so proud of the dedication our employees have shown when selecting, packing, shipping and delivering to the hundreds of millions of customers around the world who depend on us. These employees deserve our full attention to keep them safe, which is why we have spent so much time and money to keep them healthy and safe. This testing work is very much in the spirit of Flannel and is the latest example of our commitment to the people in our distribution centers.
I plan to retire in the first quarter of next year. I don’t have a new job and am happier and more proud of Amazon than ever. I cherish the deep relationships we have forged in developing this business. From Jeff Bezos and my colleagues on Team S to the hundreds and hundreds of Amazon executives who apply our leadership principles every day. We have worked hard. And we had a blast. So why go? It’s just time. It’s time for Dave Clark to step in and lead the organization as CEO of Global Consumers. It is time for Russ Grandinetti and Doug Herrington to expand their already significant influence on the culture and performance of our company. It is time for me to take the time to explore personal interests that have taken a back seat for more than two decades.
As part of this transition, we are also adding John Felton, Alicia Boler Davis and Dave Treadwell to Team S. This ends years of efforts to develop incredibly capable leaders in our Consumer business.
John started out as a senior financial analyst in retail. He worked his way up the finance ladder to become head of finance for Dave Clark’s WW Operations team. In 2018, Dave asked John to move from finance to operations. He did so with enthusiasm, first as Head of Global Customer Service, and now Global Delivery Services, which includes our hugely successful AMZL expansion.
While at General Motors, Alicia and I were introduced by a mutual friend and agreed to have lunch. We immediately succeeded. I was very impressed by his leadership experience, his technical acumen and above all his dedication to the workshop workers. She wasn’t wearing flannel, but I was sure we shared the same instincts. She got off to a great start in managing global customer satisfaction.
I met Dave Treadwell during our first year of college. He was already much better than me at writing code. After spending almost 30 years working his way up the ladder at Microsoft, I asked him if he could consider joining Amazon. He was intrigued and I jumped at the chance to hire him. “Tread” has led our technical teams at the eCommerce Foundation since joining Amazon, driving huge architectural changes with Rolling Stone and our transition to native AWS, as well as significantly improving our infrastructure costs. Dave has an unusual blend of deep technical acumen and empathetic leadership, and he will be a great addition to the S team.
I didn’t hire Dave Clark. Our MBA recruiting team brought him on board months before I arrived. But soon after I arrived at Amazon, I knew he was special. He possessed a unique blend of raw intellect, systems thinking, quick wit and tons of leadership courage. I tested it. I “asked” him to go to Tokyo to start our first Japanese FC (which he did after getting his first passport). I “asked” him to go to Campbellsville, KY, to take on a senior executive role. I hoped that one day Dave could be my successor as the head of operations, but I knew he would need significant factory management experience to complement his mental models. After helping to dramatically improve operations at Campbellsville, I asked him to take on the role of General Manager of our Delaware FC. The operations there were relatively straightforward, so the leadership challenge was more to lead people than to optimize the process. Dave excelled again. From there, Dave returned to Seattle to stay there, assuming various roles in operations including the design of our next generation CFs. Seven years ago he took the helm of WW operations and joined the S team. Dave thinks and leads boldly. He is the Big Thinking energy behind the scale of Amazon Robotics, our Prime Air fleet, and AMZL deliveries. Over the past two years, we have transferred the Prime, Marketing and Stores organizations to Dave, which has allowed him to broaden his leadership beyond operations. Dave is now ready to lead WW Consumer, and I’ll be proud to hand him over early next year.
We have an important holiday season ahead as customers will depend on us more than ever. We have so much to do in the coming months, so I’m not leaving yet. After this holiday season, we’ll have time for Chime high fives and socially distant thanks and goodbye, and I’ll cherish each of them.
Thank you for caring about our customers and each other. Amazon is a very special business, and I have the honor and privilege to help keep it running for a little longer.
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