Longtime Amazon CFO announces retirement after 12 years

Thomas Szkutak will step down after next summer, will be replaced by VP of Finance Brian Olsavsky

Financial trends and news by Steven Loeb
September 3, 2014
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When you think about Amazon, it’s hard to see it as anything but an amazing tech success story. Not only did the company survive the dot com bubble burst of the early 2000s, but was actually able to thrive and go far beyond the book retailer that it was known for being 15 years ago.

Now one of the men responsible for that growth and that success has decided to step down.

Amazon's long-time Chief Financial Officer, Thomas Szkutak, will be retiring from his position in June of next year, it was announced on Wednesday. He has held the CFO position for the last 12 years, since joining the company in October of 2002. 

Szkutak's replacement has already been named: Brian Olsavsky, Vice President of Finance for the company’s global consumer business, will take over the position once Szkutak leaves. He will report directly to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, and he will work with Szkutak over the next 10 months to help make the transition seamless.

Olsavsky has actually been working at Amazon longer than Szkutak has, coming to work there in April of 2002, when he joined the company as Vice President of Finance. Prior to that, he was worked at Fisher Scientific International for 7 years in a variety of financial and business management roles.

As CFO, Szkutak's responsibilities includes overseeing the controller, treasury, investor relations, tax, internal audit and facilities functions, as well as financial management of the company’s business units. 

“Tom’s impact over the past 12 years is evident in every part of our business. Under Tom’s stewardship, customers have benefitted from category expansion and geographical expansion, along with amazing new businesses like AWS and Kindle,” Bezos said in a statement. “The day Tom joined the company was a very lucky one for Amazon’s shareowners and customers and for all of us who’ve had the pleasure and fun of getting to work with him. We wish Tom and his family all the best in their next round of adventures.”

While Szkutak has obviously earned the right to take a break from his responsibilities, I can't help but wonder if there is more to this news than meets the eye.

As my colleague Faith Merino pointed out in her piece on how Amazon makes money, the company "has long been seen as something of an anomoly in the business world. The company is all over the map when Wall Street attempts to guestimate its quarterly earnings, and when Amazon does manage to make money on razor thin margins, it reinvests all of it back into the business."

And, as the company has ventured into new, and more risky territory, including launching set-top boxes,smartphones and unlimited e-book rentals, perhaps those margins have begun to get a little too thin. After all, Amazon’s after-tax margin currently stands at a mere 1%, where it used to be 6.6% in 2004.

In the company's most recent quarterly earnings report, it saw net sales increase by 23% to $19.34 billion, but also saw its net loss climb to $126 million compared to a net loss of only $7 million in the same quarter the year before. 

Whatever the case, Szkutak's legacy, as he helped shape the company into the one of the biggest online retailers in the world, is probably secure.

Shares of Amazon are currently down 1.02%, or $3.50, to $388.88 a share.

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