Business · Cloud

One theory on Amazon interest in a second headquarters

Amazon announced that they are in search of a location for their second headquarters. The new headquarters facility is expected to create 50,000 jobs and bidders are welcome to submit their proposals to woo the Amazon opportunity. While that, in itself, sounds great, there may be more in the works than just a new headquarters. Let me share my theory on what this may indicate.

THE LOCATION SHORTLIST

First, companies like Amazon do not go into major decisions like this without already having a pretty good idea of how it will end. There is just too much risk at stake. In this specific case, the physical location of the second headquarters. Prior to making the announcement, I suspect Amazon already done their due diligence and has an internal shortlist of potential locations they would accept.

When evaluating Amazon’s two core businesses, Amazon.com and Amazon Web Services (AWS), both rely heavily on technology. Therefore, a headquarters location must have a strong technology ecosystem that can support their separate growth trajectories.

While just about any major city in the US could support a new headquarters, tech-centric locations on the shortlist may include Silicon Valley, Las Vegas, Phoenix, Austin, Atlanta, New York or Boston. One outlier may include Washington DC/ Virginia. Why? As Amazon continues their spectacular growth, innovation and acquisition of competitors, it will need stronger ties to government in-circles.

So, which location? My theory is that the process is more of a formality and the decision is between a couple of locations that will come down to local/ state tax incentives. If true, the shortlist is a few locations less than outlined above.

IS A SPLIT ON THE HORIZON?

It is not common for companies to suggest a second ‘headquarters’ location. It does happen, but not often. There may be an undercurrent driving this move. Amazon has two core businesses; Amazon.com and AWS. Almost two years ago, Amazon announced that Andy Jassy would be promoted to CEO of AWS. This may be the first market in a longer-term strategy for Amazon.

One challenge Amazon continues to face is conflict between their core Amazon.com business and Amazon Web Services (AWS). Major customers of AWS continue to flee when Amazon.com moves into a competitive role. Essentially, Amazon.com gains are negatively impacting AWS. For example, Walmart is just one of the latest customers to do so. In the enterprise space, prospective customers have expressed concern that AWS (historically) is not Amazon’s core business. The distribution business is their core. Of course, in the past few years, AWS has grown significantly. However, it still presents a challenge. Splitting Amazon into two companies with Andy Jassy taking on new AWS entity could be the solution.

SPLIT DECISIONS

But there is a potential problem with splitting AWS from Amazon. When they operate as a combined company, Amazon is not required to disclose their significant AWS customers as they are not material in revenue to their core business. However, if the two companies were to split, this disclosure could be required and would bring focus to who AWS’ material customers are…in a very public way.

Now, if none of AWS’ customers are material, or contribute a significant amount of value (individually) to their financial revenue, this issue is not relevant. However, I suspect that Amazon.com is a major consumer of AWS’ services. And there may be a couple of other major customers.

If there are significant, material customers in the mix, it could present concerns among shareholders of AWS. Today, we don’t have clarity to this issue due to the economic halo effect of the core Amazon.com business. Splitting the companies brings this potential issue to light…and may be the reason Amazon has not split the two companies yet.

IMPACT TO SEATTLE ECOSYSTEM

The last driver may be the Seattle ecosystem itself. Seattle is a vibrant, technology metropolis that supports several major technology companies like Microsoft and Amazon. In addition, major companies like Boeing and Costco consume a significant footprint too. Big companies bring great opportunities and economic growth to communities. However, they can have a downside too. Cost of living increases, risk of losing a company, limited skilled people are all risks that offset the opportunities. One can look to the SF Bay Area/ Silicon Valley to see how this is playing out, how competitive it is for talent and how hard it is to relocate someone to the Bay Area.

It is probable that with Amazon’s success and growth trajectory, they may feel that the Seattle ecosystem is starting to become limiting or incapable of handing the entirety of a company like Amazon today and moving forward. If this were the case, I suspect the shortlist of potential suitors may not include Silicon Valley, New York or Boston.

MY TAKE

All that being said, my theory is that there is an impending split on the horizon for Amazon. The move of Jassy to CEO, AWS’ continued growth and secondary factors point to this as a possible outcome. That coupled with the ability for AWS having proved it can stand on its own without the core Amazon.com business further support the perspective.

I look forward to hearing what you think. Share your thoughts in the comments below!

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