The most highly paid Amazon executive isn't the CEO — it's the head of cloud

Key Points
  • Andrew Jassy, the CEO of Amazon Web Services, made about $35.61 million in 2016
  • The cloud business grew more than twice as fast as the overall business in Q4
  • CEO Jeff Bezos made almost $1.7 million in total compensation
Andy Jassy, CEO of Amazon Web Services and Infrastructure.
Source: Amazon Web Services

Amazon's top paid executive made about $35.61 million in 2016 — and it isn't CEO Jeff Bezos.

It's Andrew Jassy, the CEO of Amazon Web Services (AWS), the leading platform for cloud computing.

According to regulatory filings published on Wednesday, Jassy's paycheck trumps:

  • Bezos, who made almost $1.7 million in total compensation
  • Chief financial officer Brian Olsavsky (who got about $4.6 million)
  • Jeffrey Blackburn, senior vice president of business development (who got about $22.2 million)
  • Diego Piacentini, senior vice president of international consumer business (who got about $23.7 million)
  • Jeffrey Wilke, CEO of worldwide consumer (who got nearly $33 million.)

Most of the pay for the executives came in stock awards, which Amazon believes is the best performance measure for the company, according to the filings. The company's pay structure shows just how important cloud is to the future of the business.

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"In 1997, we could have adopted performance measures appropriate for an Internet bookseller, but those performance measures may have discouraged our employees from investing their time and energy into initiatives that later became AWS, Kindle, and Alexa," the filings said.

While best known for its online retail business, the cloud-computing unit provides a much more profitable business for Amazon. AWS had an operating margin of 31.3 percent of all AWS net sales in the fourth quarter, while the North American retail business has an operating margin of 5 percent of net sales. The cloud business grew more than twice as fast as the overall business.

To be sure, founder Bezos isn't doing too bad: He owns a giant chunk of Amazon, with nearly 17 percent beneficial ownership of the company's shares. Indeed, he's the second wealthiest person in the world, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

Because of his stock ownership, Bezos has never received annual cash compensation in excess of his annual base salary of about $82,000, and has never received any stock-based compensation from Amazon. He does receive travel and security services.

But Jassy's cloud computing division could be the key to Amazon's future earnings growth, Louis Navellier, chairman of investment firm Navellier & Associates, told CNBC earlier this year.

"It really helps ensure profitability every quarter now," Navellier said.

— CNBC's Ari Levy contributed to this report.

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