Amazon filed a long note to its investors this afternoon reviewing the state of its current businesses and explaining how it thinks about developing new products and services. As part of the letter, company CEO Jeff Bezos took time to comment on Amazon's corporate culture, providing a very late response to a New York Times' story from August that painted the company in an extremely harsh light. "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," Bezos writes. "Folks who find our approach energizing and meaningful."
Bezos essentially excuses Amazon because people can go elsewhere
Bezos never specifically mentions the Times' article, nor does he say anything even remotely negative of Amazon's corporate culture, beyond leaving the door open on the idea that it's possible some other company has a better approach. For the most part, he makes excuses for Amazon's culture, saying that it's ingrained in the company, having been built up over more than 20 years. Amazon's culture is fine, Bezos argues, because people who don't like it can just go elsewhere. "Someone energized by competitive zeal may select and be happy in one culture," he writes, "while someone who loves to pioneer and invent may choose another." Bezos intends to indicate that Amazon employees fall into the latter group, constantly striving to make new products — a through line of the letter. The Times' report, however, suggested a fiercely competitive edge is present within Amazon; it quoted one former employee saying they had seen many others "cry at their desk" from the pressure.
Bezos did respond directly to the Times' profile a couple days after its publication, saying it "doesn't describe the Amazon I know." Evidently, he felt the need to address the issue again while speaking with investors. Here are his full comments on corporate culture:
A word about corporate cultures: for better or for worse, they are enduring, stable, hard to change. 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. 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.
Correction August 6th, 12:45PM ET: This story has been updated to say that Bezos is referring to other companies when he mentions "competitive zeal," not Amazon, after clarification from an Amazon spokesperson.