However, AMZN stock made Bezos and his investors a great fortune. With dividends reinvested, the broad market index returned a still-lagging 594%.
Amazon anticipates "lasting benefits" from the growth in its Prime subscriber base during the pandemic, Olsavsky said.
"He will be an outstanding leader, and he has my full confidence", Bezos added.
Bezos's stake gives him a personal fortune worth an estimated $196 billion, slightly more than Elon Musk, who had briefly captured the title of world's wealthiest person. He'll still have a hand on the wheel though, as executive chair of Amazon's board going forward.
"As much as I still tap dance into the office, I'm excited about this transition", Bezos wrote in the email to staff. "Millions of customers depend on us for our services, and more than a million employees depend on us for their livelihoods". He said he would have more time for side projects, including his space exploration company Blue Origin, his philanthropic initiatives and overseeing The Washington Post, which he owns.
Analysts said Bezos appears to have picked a successor who's up for the challenge.
He indicated that serving as CEO was becoming taxing.
The transition comes with Amazon and other large tech firms under heightened scrutiny from antitrust enforcers in the United States and elsewhere for their dominance of key economic sectors, which has become even more pronounced during the COVID-19 pandemic. Several U.S. states, as well as the Federal Trade Commission, are examining Amazon's conduct, though the status of those investigations is unclear.
This year, shares were up 3.78% year to date through Tuesday compared with the S&P 500's 1.87% gain and have gained 65% during the past 52 weeks. Earnings from that cloud-computing service also helped subsidize the company's online shopping operations as it cut prices so low that it lost money for many years.
Nearly lost amid the Bezos announcement was Amazon's fourth-quarter earnings report, which blew past Wall Street's forecast. But it was still able to post earnings per share of $14.09, almost double compared to analyst estimates. Revenue soared 44% year-over-year to $126 billion. The company expects to spend $2 billion between January and March addressing the impact of the coronavirus on its core business, according to Amazon's earnings release - substantially less than its COVID-19 spending in the previous three-month period.
Launched in 1995, Amazon was a pioneer of fast, free shipping that won over millions of shoppers who used the site to buy diapers, TVs and just about anything else. Five analysts have no opinion. Amazon saw growth across its businesses, ranging from its Amazon Prime media unit to its AWS Cloud business.
While Scott drove, Bezos wrote up the business plan for what would become Amazon.com.