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AWS CEO Andy Jassy at the Pacific Science Center Foundations of Science Breakfast in Seattle. (GeekWire photo / Todd Bishop)

Before Andy Jassy rose through the ranks of Amazon.com to lead the company’s powerful AWS cloud computing unit, the executive served as Jeff Bezos’ technology assistant. It was an unusual experience to say the least, but Jassy got a one-of-a-kind look at the long-term thinking entrepreneur and what makes him tick.

“It was unlike any experience I’ve ever had, or ever will” said Jassy, who spoke Wednesday at the Pacific Science Center’s 14th Annual Foundations of Science Breakfast. “Jeff is so unusual, that he’s such an amazing thinker, and I learned so much in the role.”

Here are the four things that Jassy, who originally wanted to be a sportscaster but ended up joining Amazon right after college with a plan to stay in Seattle for just two years, learned from Bezos as his technical assistant.

1. Big Thinker

“He’s an unbelievably big thinker. There aren’t too many other bigger thinkers than Jeff Bezos. It was amazing to watch how many ideas came to him from teams — that I thought were really good ideas, and they were really good ideas — where Jeff kind of listened to them, thought about them and then really looked around corners and helped figure it out and said: ‘Well, shouldn’t we extend this idea? Shouldn’t we look around this corner naturally to advance the idea beyond what we are thinking just now to really change the shape of what we’ve built. The reality is that, if you are looking a few years out, to try to look around corners, the design of what you build and launch initially needs to consider some of that look-around-corners… He always had a way of getting teams to think bigger.”

2. High Standards

“He has very high standards. When I started the job, I had been at Amazon for five years and I had led a lot of different teams, and I think most people on my teams would argue that I had reasonably high standards, but it turned out I didn’t. Watching Jeff, I have never seen anybody with higher standards. One of the things you learn in watching … is that you actually can ask teams for a lot more than he thought was possible. And really smart, motivated, talented, ambitious people will stretch to those goals. He had a way of having really high standards, and then having everybody really stretch and aspire to those standards, which it turns out, when you run a big organization and you can’t attend all of the meetings, you can set reasonably high standards — I’ll say maybe even unreasonably high standards, reasonably high standards that people stretch to — it gives you a lot of leverage across the organization where you are not in all of those meetings…”

3. Strategically Patient, Tactically Impatient

“He is also really thoughtful around being strategically patient, and tactically impatient. And what I mean by that is that his conviction about long-term vision and where he wants to take something — and even when people tell him it is not possible, which by the way, all of the time people tell him it is not possible — he has a conviction about it and believes it is possible and is stubborn about that vision. But, in the interim, even though it may take us a long time to get to where we want to go, he understands that speed disproportionately matters. And really it is true in startups, and it is true in big companies. Speed always matters a lot.”

4. Amazing Learner

“I would say the last thing I’d say is that he’s just an amazing learner. I have never met someone who learns the way he does. I mean, he comes with a lot to begin with. But the way that he is open and curious about learning about new areas and new topics and opinions. I think in politics, we really fault our leaders for flip-flopping or changing their opinions. And, I think, one of the values that we believe strongly about inside Amazon is that great leaders keep listening to additional inputs — people inside of the company and outside the company — and keep adjusting their opinions and their ideas as they learn more…. You shouldn’t have one opinion, and stick with that forever…. He’s just an amazing learner that way.”

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