The Cutting Edge: Amazon

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There is something shocking going on at Amazon (Kantor and Streitfeld). Expectations far exceed those of most companies and the white collar workers are leaning in. Those newly onboarded into the company meet for orientation to introduce them to Amazon’s unusual requirements for becoming one of them. They are basically told not to bring their old bad habit baggage acquired from working at other companies that were less than. Recruits should expect to be exhausted until they “hit the wall” and once that has transpired, they should expect to climb that same wall they hit (Kantor and Streitfeld). The newbies should follow the Amazon 14 principles of leadership, hardcoded on the laminated cards they receive. Several days later they are quizzed, and if they pass their leadership principles test with a 100% score, they are awarded with the beloved label, “I’m Peculiar” which likely means that they are in.  

Amazon’s 14 Principles of Leadership

So what are the Amazon 14 principles of leadership? All true “Peculiars” should be customer obsessed ("Leadership Principles"). The customer is the key, your goal should be to earn the customer’s trust, not in a mild-mannered way, but in the manner of an obsessed team member. The next principle is ownership, a leader is an owner and an owner looks at the company in its entirety. The expression, “that’s not my job.” is not one with which anyone at Amazon is familiar. Being inventive and knowing how to simplify is the next Amazon leadership tenet. Innovation is fundamental to successful businesses, thus innovations will occur, and everyone may not appreciate it immediately, but inventiveness is good. Leaders are right a lot of the time. Leaders have to think and make decisions quickly, consequently they develop good instincts over time. Be right. Curiosity is cool. Curiosity is the basis of leaning and learning is progress. Improvement helps everyone, so everyone should seek to be curious and improve. Recruit the best and develop them. A true leader identifies high quality talent and then coaches them to excel in their new role and beyond. A leader’s job is to promote and advance the very best. Expect high standards and be the standard. Leaders should continuously strive to raise the bar and live the high bar themselves. The goal is to always deliver quality services, products and processes. If something is broken, fix it for the long haul ("Leadership Principles"). 

Think big not small. Leaders inspire amazing results, find ways to “wow” the customer ("Leadership Principles"). Take action. Calculated risk taking is valued, they are worth the possible mistakes that might follow. Be frugal. A leader should always find ways to be economical. Big, expensive and bloated is not appreciated. Earn the respect and trust of others. Authenticity is crucial, transparency in the face of personal embarrassment or awkwardness is the best choice for a leader. Compete against bars that are extraordinarily high. Dive deep. A leader is not too big to deal with the minutia, leaders should always know the details, they should continuously check and verify and should remain skeptical when what they see and hear are not in accord. Leaders can sweep, too. Show backbone and fight for your beliefs. Leaders should be tenacious when their beliefs are violated. If they really believe then they should vigorously defend their position by way of commitment. Leaders deliver results. A leader should always rise to the occasion and deliver the best possible results, always ("Leadership Principles").

The Founder: Jeff Bezos

Jeff Bezos is the founder and chief executive officer of Amazon.com, the largest online retailer in the world (“Jeff Bezos”). In fact, Amazon recently surpassed Walmart as the largest retailer, period (Li). During the early years, Bezos developed a love of computers and while at Princeton, took computer science courses and electrical engineering classes. He graduated from Princeton summa cum laude in 1986, and ventured off into the world of Wall Street. He worked at Fitel, Bankers Trust and D.E. Shaw. Bezos found success at D.E. Shaw and became the youngest vice president in the history of the company in 1990. Despite his financial success on Wall Street, Bezos decided to give e-commerce a try and opened an online bookstore. He moved his small operation into his garage where he and a few employees worked on developing software. He invited several of his friends to test the new site and began Amazon.com in July 1995 (“Jeff Bezos”).

The fledgling company’s success was immediate. Bezos was able to sell books nationwide and in numerous foreign countries within a month (“Jeff Bezos”). After only two months, sales had reached $80,000 per month, which significantly exceeded Bezos’ expectations. The company’s IPO was May 15, 1997. The company continued to outpace everyone’s expectations becoming a true e-commerce forerunner. Diversification was the next strategic step for the company with the addition of videos and CDs. Later Bezos added electronics, clothes, toys and other products through affiliations with other companies. The 1990s dot.com busts did not stop Bezos. It seemed that his company flourished in spite of the difficulties experience by other online retailers. His sales in 1995 were half a million and became $17 billion by 2011. In 2006, Bezos started Amazon Instant Video, although it was known at that time by another name. Not one to waste time, Bezos introduced Kindle, an electronic book reader in 2007. The handheld digital device allowed its owners to purchase, download, read and keep their book buys (“Jeff Bezos”). At the time of launch, Amazon stocked over 90,000 books (McCarthy). One of Kindle’s key features was that book lovers could keep hundreds of titles on their Kindle, where as packing that many books would be impossible. In 2007, Bezos also invested in Blue Origin, his entre into the world of space travel for those that could afford the ticket. In 2011, Bezos made its first foray into the tablet market with the introduction of the Kindle Fire, a short while later the Kindle Fire HD was announced in an effort to compete with Apple’s iPad (“Jeff Bezos”). 

The Washington Post

Probably to everyone’s surprise Bezos announced his purchase of The Washington Post and its affiliated publications for $250 million (Kim). Somehow the purchase of the venerable newspaper was a bit shocking to most onlookers. Yet, it also made great business sense. Bezos and Amazon were fundamentally about people who loved to read or perhaps better stated, were obsessed with reading, and over time, the brilliant owner had managed to accumulate more obsessed readers with functioning credit cards than anyone else in the world. The Washington Post has been experiencing years of a downward spiral. Yet, post Bezos, readership has gone out of control. The legacy newspaper organization has been fully revitalized and is positioned to address the needs of the future and a digitalized readership. The news organization had been under the control of the Graham family for four generation. It was time for an infusion of new blood and innovation. The Internet has changed the news business and the way that news is distributed, and organizations that intend to remain viable must change, as well (Kim).

Amazon’s Next Steps

There simply are no limits in the world of Amazon. The company is now offering competition for supply chain partners FedEx and UPS, who have each benefited significantly from the growth of the behemoth (Saintvilus). On August 5th, 2016, Amazon Prime Air presented its first Boeing 767 at the Seattle’s Seafair Air Show. Amazon is preparing to make its own deliveries, at least for the short term. They may have other things in mind for the future. The jumbo, long-range, wide-body jetliner, named Amazon One will provide cargo service for some of its millions of deliveries per week. The company will lease the planes from partners Atlas Air and ATSG. So far the company is using 11 of the 40 cargo planes they have leased, but they are plans in the works to increase that number at the end of the year. Amazon's senior vice president of worldwide operations, Dave Clarke, indicated that their network will expand soon. Their goal is to seek efficiency and reduce package delivery times. Amazon wanted to make it clear that they do not intend to break ties with FedEx and UPS, but since the company is also experimenting with drone delivery, where a drone may deliver select light weight packages to customers within a small area of their distribution centers, the company is making it clear that if you want to remain partners, you will need to keep your feet to the fire (Saintvilus). 

In 2014, Amazon Studios, performed a victory dance in the production of original content (“Jeff Bezos”). The company had great success with its critically acclaimed Mozart in the Jungle and Transparent. The following year Amazon Studios released its first original feature film Spike Lee's Chi-Raq. As an homage to the expression “you can’t take the boy out of the man” (or did I just make that up?) Jeff Bezos played an alien in Star Trek Beyond (Farber). A long time Star Trek fan, the CEO will make a cameo appearance, and is listed in the credits as a Star Fleet Official, JJ Abrams and Justin Lin, producer and director, respectively, confirmed.

The company that furnishes almost everything, also provides Amazon Web Services, an array of cloud computing services that help businesses achieve a more robust computing capacity requiring less cost, than would be the case if they developed their own suite of processes (Limer). Among the services like Compute, Networking and Content Delivery, the company offers Amazon Mechanical Turk, a crowdsourcing platform and marketplace, allowing businesses to request, and individuals to provide the performance of often rudimentary and/or repetitive internet tasks which organizations need to be executed, but do not want their own staff to implement. One example of such a task is to provide the worker with images of cash register receipts and have that person look for anomalies that a machine or computerize scan would not be able to detect (Limer). Another would be a company that needs to have tapes or mp3s of information transcribed into readable transcripts. Some companies ask workers to look at an array of photos and select a photo based on information provided and provide an explanation for why that image was selected, which could help with marketing tasks. Interested companies can get tasks performed for very little expenditure, since the workforce is composed of workers from around the globe. If a company were to ask someone from the United States to perform the task, they would have to pay significantly higher rates than they would for a person in Sri Lanka. The workers have to take online tests to certify that they are capable of performing certain tasks, and display their proficiency with the English language, or whatever language the requestor is seeking (Limer). 

Since lemons are a part of life, Amazon was not so successful with the introduction of its Fire Phone in 2014 (“Jeff Bezos”). The device was perceived by customers as too gimmicky and was shelved in 2015.

The Amazon Brand

The company is listed on the Forbes World’s Most Valuable Brands list as #12, with a market capitalization of $292.6 billion. On other Forbes lists, for example, the Sales list, Amazon is #44 in sales, on the Market Value list and the Innovative Companies list it is #8. Simply put, the company is performing amazingly in just about every sector.

Works Cited

Farber, Madeline. "Watch Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos Try to Eat and Drink Dressed as a 'Star Trek' Alien." Fortune. Time, Inc. 21 July 2016. Web. 8 July 2016. <http://fortune.com/2016/07/21/jeff-bezos-star-trek-alien-eat/>.

"Jeff Bezos." Biography. A&E Television Networks, LLC. n. d. Web. 10 April 2016. <http://www.biography.com/people/jeff-bezos-9542209>.

Kantor, Jodi and Streitfeld, David. 'Inside Amazon: Wrestling Big Ideas in a Bruising Workplace." The New York Times. The New York Times Company. 15 August 2015. Web. 10 August 2016. <http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/16/technology/inside-amazon-wrestling-big-ideas-in-a-bruising-workplace.html?_r=0>.

Kim, Eugene. "How Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos reinvented The Washington Post, the 140-year-old newspaper he bought for $250 million." The Business Insider. Business Insider, Inc. 15 May 2016. Web. 10 August 2016. <http://www.businessinsider.com/how-the-washington-post-changed-after-jeff-bezos-acquisition-2016-5>.

"Leadership Principles." Amazon. Amazon.com, Inc. n. d. Web. 10 August 2016. <https://www.amazon.jobs/principles>.

Li, Shan. "Amazon overtakes Wal-Mart as biggest retailer ." Los Angeles Times. Tribune Publishing. 24 July 2015. Web. 10 August 2016. <http://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-amazon-walmart-20150724-story.html>.

Limer, Eric. "My Brief and Curious Life As a Mechanical Turk." Gizmodo. 28 October 2014. Web. 8 July 2016. <http://gizmodo.com/my-brief-and-curious-life-as-a-mechanical-turk-1587864671>.

McCarthy, Caroline. "Amazon debuts Kindle e-book reader." CNET. CNET Interactive, Inc. 19 November 2007. Web. 10 August 2016. <http://www.cnet.com/news/amazon-debuts-kindle-e-book-reader/>.

Saintvilus, Richard. "Amazon's Prime Air Cargo Jets Set to Take Off." Investopedia. Investopedia, LLC. 7 August 2016. Web. 8 July 2016. <http://www.investopedia.com/news/amazons-prime-air-cargo-jets-set-take-amzn-fdx/>.