I’m still in shock at the news that Joy Covey, Amazon’s first CFO, passed away yesterday at age 50. She was in a tragic bicycle accident on Skyline Boulevard in California’s San Mateo County.
I knew Joy’s incredible story before I ever met her. From across the country, I admired how Joy, as an early thirty-something CFO, brilliantly guided infant Amazon.com through a successful IPO just two years after its founding. It’s truly remarkable that Amazon.com raised $54 million in an IPO in 1997. The commercial Internet was only a few years old, people were afraid to put credit cards online and no one understood the company’s business model. As Kleiner Perkin’s Mary Meeker said in this remembrance, “it [the IPO] was crucial for the company. It was aggressive and brilliant, just like Joy. I am not sure Amazon.com would have survived through its toddler stage if Joy had not been the right person in the right place at the right time.”
I identified with Joy. We are the same age, and like Joy, I was an accounting major and passed the CPA exam in one sitting. But, not until I met her in late 1998 did I realize that Joy was a whip smart, no-nonsense bull dog with much more chutzpah than I had at the time.
I had followed Amazon.com almost from its launch in 1995. I invested in the stock soon after it went public. I used its IPO as a finance case study in a Georgetown business school class I was teaching at the time. By mid-1998, I was convinced Amazon.com was onto a really big, game-changing idea. So convinced, in fact, that I wanted to leave my comfortable life and enviable career at DC-based International Finance Corporation, move to Seattle and work for the young “book” company. In the fall of 1998, I mined Kellogg’s alumni data base to for any Kelloggian-Amazonians. Up popped Dan Camacho. I cold called him from DC, and he said, “Get out here as soon as possible.”
When I arrived for my interview in late 1998, Amazon.com’s offices were on Second Avenue in the run down Columbia Building. Four people interviewed me: Jeff Bezos, Randy Tinsley, David Risher and Joy Covey. I was interviewing for was a loosely defined chief-of-staff type role working directly with Jeff.
I remember Jeff asked, among other things, how many windows I thought were in Seattle. I don’t remember much about my interview with Randy. David spoke very quickly and intelligently about all sorts of forthcoming product developments.
And, then, the Joy interview. She was focused and intense. She asked specific questions about my life and career. She inquired about an investment I made on behalf of IFC in the former Soviet Republic of Georgia. I remember thinking that she had thoroughly studied my background and knew exactly what she wanted to get from me. She wanted to know if I was up for the rocket ship ride she knew I was about to get on. Then, she went into sell mode: Amazon.com was indeed changing the world and I needed to come be a part of it.
Jeff Bezos impressed and intimidated me. I had confidence in his long-term vision.
But, it was Joy Covey who recruited me. She left me feeling as though I had to join the team, and that, if I did, I’d be part of making history.
In early 1999, I moved to Seattle and joined Amazon.com. Joy was there to greet me on Day 1. Though we didn’t work closely together (I ended up helping to launch Consumer Electronics at Amazon, and Joy left the company about a year after I arrived), I always admired Joy. As an early employee and stockholder, I was grateful that Joy’s strategic mind and financial acumen were so tightly tied into the early executive team.
Just a few months ago, Trae Vassallo told me that Joy had found her sweet spot in life as a mother, athlete and advocate for the environment. It seemed that Joy had channeled her limitless energy and big brain in things she loved. And, for that, Joy will be a role model to many.
My condolences go out to her family, especially her young son, Tyler.
May her memory be eternal.