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Outgoing Amazon Consumer CEO Dave Clark leaves a logistics legacy

Clark was the architect of the company's sprawling fulfillment and delivery network.

Dave Clark headshot

Amazon Consumer CEO Dave Clark. (Photo via Amazon)

Dave Clark led a massive expansion of Amazon’s logistics network, and rose to be the head of the company’s division focused on selling consumer goods. Now, after 23 with the company, he is moving on.

Amazon announced on Friday that Clark will step down in July from his role as worldwide CEO of Amazon’s consumer business. It’s a position he held since January 2021, when prior consumer CEO Jeff Wilke retired. Clark hinted at a “new journey” in his own message, but did not elaborate on where he is heading.

“I've had an incredible time at Amazon but it’s time for me to build again,” Clark wrote on Twitter. “It's what drives me.”

A 23-year employee with the company, it’s that role as a builder that has earned Clark a place in Amazon lore. Specifically, Clark led the company’s logistics operation at a time when it underwent a big expansion. Amazon’s ecommerce business brought the ability to click and order a package that showed up at a customer’s doorstep. But behind the scenes, there are lots of steps to get an item between those two endpoints. As Amazon sought to move an ever-growing number of goods in ever-faster delivery times, it built a sprawling network of its own. In doing so, just as it did with AWS and cloud computing, Amazon created one of the country’s largest shipping businesses inside a company that’s known primarily for selling goods.

The company’s complex network is made up of a variety of components, many of which were stood up or dramatically expanded when Clark held a series of VP roles in operations and fulfillment: Fulfillment centers, planes, entrepreneur-run delivery companies and Flex drivers. Over time, it aimed to reduce dependence on companies like UPS and the Postal Service in favor of its own operations. This gave Amazon an equally sprawling workforce at its warehouses, and the growth came coupled with employees speaking up about working conditions. Clark’s reputation as a defender of Amazon in public showed up on this front. After comedian John Oliver spotlighted warehouse issues on his HBO show in 2019, Clark tweeted that Oliver was “wrong” on Amazon, arguing it has a "safe, quality work environment in our facilities.”

Along the way, anecdotes painted Clark as a bold executive who became the architect of the logistics network. In 2012, he pushed for the acquisition of warehouse robot company Kiva Systems. From Bloomberg:

Clark also distinguished himself by taking big risks, rare in logistics since most executives aren’t allowed to lose money to the extent tolerated at Amazon. A defining moment came in 2012 when Amazon was thinking about buying robot-maker Kiva Systems to make its warehouses more efficient. Workers were walking miles each day fetching products; instead Kiva robots would bring them the products. But the $775 million price represented Amazon’s second-biggest acquisition at the time behind online footwear seller Zappos, so executives were hesitant. Breaking the silence in a meeting, according to an attendee, Clark said, “I only know one way to play poker and that’s all-in,” then pushed an imaginary pile of chips to the center of a conference table.

Clark is also credited with launching Amazon Air, the company’s fleet of airplanes. The air cargo operation “has become a symbol of Amazon’s logistics ambitions and highlights Bezos’ faith in Clark,” Bloomberg noted.

The logistics buildout only continued in the pandemic. In 2020 alone, the company expanded fulfillment capacity by 50% as it raced to respond to the massive uptick in pandemic demand. At the same time, Amazon is conducting pilots that indicate a particular focus on last-mile delivery. In one, drivers are delivering goods directly from malls to customer doorsteps. In another, small businesses in rural areas are making deliveries for the company.

“The past few years have been among the most challenging and unpredictable we’ve faced in the history of Amazon’s Consumer business, and I’m particularly appreciative of Dave’s leadership during that time,” Amazon CEO Andy Jassy wrote.

Clark is leaving Amazon at a time when it actually has too much space. Executives said the company overbuilt during the pandemic, leading to additional costs in the first quarter. While the company plans to shed some warehouse space, leaders have said they believe the company will be able to grow into it. Amazon’s streak of invention in the consumer business hasn’t seemed to let up. The company recently debuted Buy With Prime, a service that will allow any website to embed Amazon Prime’s checkout and delivery guarantee, and use its logistics network. The announcement of the service in April appeared to herald another era that would feed the growth of Amazon’s fulfillment and delivery business, as more companies would appear likely to opt into it. But if that comes to pass, further buildout will be led by others at Amazon.

Jassy did not name a successor for Clark, writing that he expects to have an update in the next few weeks.

“While change is never easy, I’m optimistic about the plan that the Consumer team has built and have confidence that if we stay focused on executing it, we’ll deliver the right experiences for customers and results for the business,” Jassy wrote.

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