Bezos Offers His Take on Culture

I have no way of knowing the full extent to which last August’s New York Times’ blistering article about Amazon’s workplace irked founder and CEO Jeff Bezos. But if I’m correctly interpreting his most recent shareowners’ letter, I can’t help but conclude the story, though not mentioned by name, continues to weigh heavily on his mind.

Amazon.com Sign

As I’m sure most of you remember, the article—titled “Inside Amazon: Wrestling Big Ideas in a Bruising Workplace”—takes aim at Amazon’s hard-charging culture, one that reportedly encourages employees to “sabotage” co-workers.

Some of those interviewed by the NYT said “the culture stoked their willingness to erode work-life boundaries, castigate themselves for shortcomings (being ‘vocally self-critical’ is included in the description of the leadership principles) and try to impress a company that can often feel like an insatiable taskmaster.

“Even many Amazonians who have worked on Wall Street and at start-ups say the workloads at the new South Lake Union campus can be extreme: marathon conference calls on Easter Sunday and Thanksgiving, criticism from bosses for spotty Internet access on vacation, and hours spent working at home most nights or weekends.”

Soon after the NYT’s article appeared, Jeff Bezos sent a memo to employees expressing is disbelief in the article’s claims, noting that it doesn’t reflects the Amazon he knows.

Well, now roughly eight months later, Bezos obviously felt that further clarification or messaging was needed.

After noting that Amazon has now become the fastest company ever to reach $100 billion, Bezos went on to share his point of view on the topic of corporate cultures, pointing out that, “for better or for worse, [corporate cultures] are enduring, stable, hard to change.”

The letter explains …

“They can be a source of advantage or disadvantage. You can write down your corporate culture, but when you do so, you’re discovering it, uncovering it—not creating it. It is created slowly over time by the people and by events—by the stories of past success and failure that become a deep part of the company lore.”

It continues …

“If it’s a distinctive culture, it will fit certain people like a custom-made glove. The reason cultures are so stable in time is because people self-select. Someone energized by competitive zeal may select and be happy in one culture, while someone who loves to pioneer and invent may choose another. The world, thankfully, is full of many high-performing, highly distinctive corporate cultures. We never claim that our approach is the right one—just that it’s ours—and over the last two decades, we’ve collected a large group of like-minded people. Folks who find our approach energizing and meaningful.”

It’s anyone’s guess, of course, as to whether Bezos’ latest shareowners’ letter is his final volley at the NYT’s article—and certainly that was one of its intended targets. But a close reading of it certainly suggests Bezos wants the world to know he’s quite satisfied with the culture he’s built at Amazon.

And why wouldn’t he be? After all, whether Amazon is your cup of tea or not, Bezos now has 100 billion reasons to be satisfied.

One thought on “Bezos Offers His Take on Culture”

  1. As I learn more about HR executives and the issues they face with first time hires, an appreciation of the natures of candidate
    and company cultures would have a significant impact on the fit of one to the other. I find a great curiosity in that few companies appear to make their culture known to potential hires, and prospects are not given a pre-hire platform to share their personal preference. Is it any wonder that the 18 month failure rate of new hires is approaching double digit numbers.

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