Internal email: Amazon exec Steve Kessel to leave after leading massive push into physical retail

Steve Kessel announced his plan to leave Amazon in an internal email Friday. (Amazon File Photo)

Steve Kessel, the Amazon executive who oversaw the e-commerce giant’s landmark expansion into bricks-and-mortar retail, plans to leave the company early next year.

The 20-year Amazon veteran, who also led the launch of the original Kindle e-reader earlier in his career, informed his team of the news in an internal email Friday morning, obtained by GeekWire. He said he is leaving “to focus on community service, not for profit work, and other areas of interest.”

Dave Clark, Amazon senior vice of worldwide operations.

Amazon confirmed the news.

“It’s hard to leave something I’ve loved doing for so long, inventing alongside a fantastic group of people, but it’s a good time to make this change because of the teams and plans we have in place,” Kessel wrote in the email.

Kessel’s teams will report to Dave Clark, senior vice of worldwide operations, who oversees areas including Amazon Prime, transportation and fulfillment.

When Kessel returned from sabbatical in 2012 to work on what was then a secret project, Amazon had little to no bricks-and-mortar retail presence.

Today, Amazon’s physical retail footprint includes 23 opened or announced Amazon Go grocery stores; 20 open or announced Amazon Books locations; nine open or announced 4-Star stores; and multiple “Presented by Amazon” kiosks in malls.

Revenue from Amazon’s physical stores was $4.2 billion in the third quarter, representing 6 percent of the company’s overall $70 billion in revenue.

Kessel’s role leading the company’s physical retail initiatives also includes oversight of Whole Foods Market, with more than 500 stores, acquired by Amazon for $13.7 billion in 2017.

“Steve will be missed – he’s a customer obsessed leader who has helped build some of Amazon’s most innovative businesses, including Kindle, Amazon Go, and others,” an Amazon spokesperson said in a statement. “We wish him the best in his next chapter.”

Here is the full text of Kessel’s email.

I want to let everyone know that after 20 years at Amazon I’m closing this chapter (I started at Amazon in 1999 on the books team and spent 7 years working on Kindle so a book metaphor was a must!) and leaving Amazon to focus on community service, not for profit work, and other areas of interest. It’s hard to leave something I’ve loved doing for so long, inventing alongside a fantastic group of people, but it’s a good time to make this change because of the teams and plans we have in place.

I’ve been able to see and participate in a lot during the last 20 years, and it’s clear to me that it is still Day 1 – our recent announcements of free grocery delivery for Prime Members is a good example! It’s been a privilege to watch this organization innovate and build, and I look forward to seeing what comes next.

Beginning in January, our organization will report up through Dave Clark, who most of you already know. Dave is a 20 year Amazonian and an amazing leader and innovator. We will follow up with more org details with each of the teams, and I’ll be here through the beginning of next year. 

Last, but most importantly, thank you to everyone I’ve worked with. I’ve had a lot of fun, learned an enormous amount, and can’t imagine a better way to have spent the last 20 years.   

Steve