Replacing a Leader

You won’t have missed the news last week that Jeff Bezos is preparing to stand aside as chief executive of Amazon. The move will come into effect in the third quarter of 2021 when he will hand over the reins to Andy Jassy, who heads up Amazon’s cloud computing arm. So how do you prepare? Are you thinking of standing down as leader for a slower pace of life or are you preparing yourself to lead? What does a business need to do to prepare for such a change to ensure the wheels keep turning, or is it a great opportunity to make fundamental changes?

Pro Vice-Chancellor and Dean at Oxford Brookes Business School, Tim Vorley was joined by fellow B4 members, sports psychotherapist Gary Bloom and Principal of Cherwell College, Stephen Clarke to discuss the above and more.

For football lovers out there, ‘big shoes to fill’ is a well worn phrase…or should it be ‘boots’? The biggest shoes of all belonged to Sir Alex Ferguson when he departed Manchester Utd after a career littered with trophies and it was down to David Moyes to fill them….he barely filled half of one shoe! So is Andy Jassy destined to fail or has he been recruited, from within I hasten to add (Moyes was clearly Sir Alex’s ‘pick’), with strings still firmly in the hands of the founder, Bezos?

Jeff Bezos hands over the Amazon reins to Andy Jassy, or does he?

The conversation began with Tim Vorley stating that he’s taken over a new role at Brookes during one of the toughest periods the education sector has ever faced…and he’s not even been able to visit Oxford yet! “Taking on the role remotely has been incredibly difficult in terms of how we’ve had to restructure, how we’ve had to reorganise and the impact of all of that on the employees within Brookes, but also on our students. There has been a pressure to succeed immediately. Not only have I had to take over the reins from Chris Blackburn, who’s had a hugely successful career at Brookes, but I’ve had to figure out how I can make my mark. I need to position Brookes and the Business School particularly as an instiution that is forward facing and future ready, whislt still dealing with the fires that all organisations are dealing with as a result of COVID.”

“It’s interesting that, despite Amazon’s successes over 20 plus years, Bezos is stepping down at a time when the Federal Commission is looking at some of the company’s practices and how they are treating their employees.”

Gary Bloom

Turning to the catalyst for the conversation, Bezos’ stepping down, Gary focused on the negative publicity surrounding Amazon’s internal practices as a possible reason for the change. “It’s interesting that, despite Amazon’s successes over 20 plus years, Bezos is stepping down at a time when the Federal Commission is looking at some of the company’s practices and how they are treating their employees. There are concerns over COVID compliance within Amazon premises across the world, concern over wages paid to delivery drivers and also the running sore of the low taxes that Amazon pays, particularly here in the UK. When I was training as a psychotherapist, my trainer once told me ‘once is an accident, twice is a coincidence, three times is a signal’ and we’ve had three big incidents of employee unrest at Amazon. It’s not for me to comment, the point is, the most important people in your organisation are your people…if you get that right then you’ve got a chance. I get frustrated when CEO’s tell me it’s the clients…they’re wrong…get the right people and they’ll get you the clients.”

Tim Vorley, Oxford Brookes Business School
Stephen Clarke, Cherwell College
Gary Bloom
Gary Bloom, Psychotherapist & Sports Broadcaster

“There are lots of examples of the number two taking over from the number one….it doesn’t work!”

Stephen Clarke

Stephen Clarke belives appointing a number two is a recipe for disaster. “There are lots of examples of the number two taking over from the number one….it doesn’t work! The number one is always the driver and the number two is never the same calibre or has the same charisma or drive. Andy Jassy is also going to be compared every day to Jeff Bezos and that’s not good. With Tim, he’s stepped in from outside. He’s new, he’s fresh and he’ll get a different type of respect from day one. Jassy’s appointment won’t give the employees, those that Gary quite rightly pointed out are the key to success in any organisation, that lift…they’ll think it’s business as usual, nothing will change for the better. Had someone new come in, they’d have had new ideas and would inject new energy which will encourage them to hope the things that need changing will be changed.”

So what one piece advice would our guests give a client looking to appoint a new leader?

“Be honest where you are”, commented Tim, “and admit to the challenges you’re facing. In Amazon’s case, there are some very clear issues to address. Those looking for a new leader need to find someone who can face those challenges head on.”

Jeff Bezos made Amazon one of the biggest global businesses

Stephen added that the board needs to be able to identify someone who can fulfil their vision. “The board need to appoint someone who can deliver their five year and ten year ambitions.”

What advice would our guests give to Andy Jassy?

“Be authentic. If you try to be something you’re not, then you’re never going to make it. In my role at Brookes I am myself, and if I was not in a position to say that then I’d not be the right leader.”

Tim Vorley

“Don’t lead, walk alongside the people you employ. Support the people who can help your business grow.” Gary Bloom.

“Just listen….to your staff and to your customers.” Stephen Clarke.

MORE ABOUT

Tim Vorley – Pro Vice-Chancellor and Dean at Oxford Brookes Business School

Pro Vice-Chancellor and Dean at Oxford Brookes Business School where he leads the Executive Team, and is part of the University’s leadership team. 

As a social science researcher, Tim’s work focuses predominantly on entrepreneurship, innovation and regional development, 

He has recently edited a book titled ‘Productivity and the Pandemic’.

Gary Bloom

Gary Bloom is a leading clinical psychotherapist working with a Harley St clinic, private clients and corporate organisations. 

He is the only sports psychotherapist working in professional football and is an author and broadcaster.

His first book, ‘Keeping your Head in the Game’ about his work is published by Penguin Books in Feb 2021. 

Stephen Clarke, Principal at Cherwell College, Oxford

Principal of Cherwell College, Stephen is a former British Diplomat and First Secretary for the UK Government responsible for education and social development in Southern Africa, Eastern Europe, South Caucasus and Central Asia. He also acted as a policy analyst on Education Skills and Conflict Resolution for intergovernmental relations. Stephen also has extensive experience on advising businesses and NGOs on democracy, education and human rights issues.

Stephen holds a BA (Hons) in Politics and Sociology from the University of Southampton, and is a member of Mensa, Institute of Directors, Royal Overseas League, the Oxford Union, the University Club, and a former member of World Bank Supervisory Board and Regional Development Agencies.

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