The shake-up at the top of the company’s ranks comes at a pivotal time for the e-commerce business.

Author: Luca Ventura

Junior high schoolers, he said, taught him everything about his job—as vice president of worldwide operations and, as of the first quarter of next year, retail chief of Amazon.com. The surprise announcement in August that Dave Clark will replace Jeff Wilke, the retiring longtime lieutenant to Jeff Bezos, puts the former music teacher in line to run the giant online retailer should his boss ever decide to step down.

“Once you’ve taught 250 seventh graders to play instruments in unison, everything else is pretty straightforward,” Clark once said.

Clark started out as an operations manager of an Amazon fulfillment center right after business school at the University of Tennessee (the stint as a music teacher came earlier), and quickly rose through the ranks.

“Clark understands the company from the ground up and has been instrumental in aligning supply chain operations to accommodate Amazon’s tremendous growth,” says Beth Davis-Sramek, professor of supply-chain management at Auburn University’s Harbert College of Business. 

The shake-up at the top of the company’s ranks comes at a pivotal time for the e-commerce business. In his new role, Clark will be responsible not only for the retail website and the logistics of stocking and delivering items during the Covid-19 crisis, but also for addressing concerns about safety conditions for warehouse workers and aggressive competition from Walmart, Target and other retailers.

“While many traditional retailers are closing stores, Amazon is expanding its bricks-and-mortar presence, which requires even more supply-chain capabilities and coordination,” Davis-Sramek argues. “The lines between merchandising, order fulfillment and delivery processes are blurring.  Everything seems to indicate that the company’s goal is to control the shipment of goods across the entire supply chain.”

All that suggests to Davis-Sramek that asking why Bezos chose Clark as his number two is almost a non-question: “Why the guy who helped build Amazon’s distribution and delivery network was promoted to oversee the entire retail business? Because without Clark’s vision and leadership, there would be no Amazon as we know it today.”