Amazon continues to be innovative not just in technology but with management thinking. Jeff Bezos has rejected the dictates espoused most vociferously by Wall Street mouthpieces and MBAs that encourage short term thinking and financial gimmicks which harm the long term success of companies.
Most CEOs and executives are too fearful or foolish to ignore what they are told they must do because Wall Street demands it. CEO’s and boards often ratchet up the poor management thinking by tying big bonuses to financial measures which are much more easily achieved by gaming the system than by improving the company (so companies get the games there boards encouraged through their financial extrinsic motivation focus).
Amazon does many good things focused on making Amazon a stronger company year after year. These innovative management practices seem to largely be due to the thinking of the strong willed founder and CEO: Jeff Bezos. Jeff was smart enough to see the great things being done at Zappos by Tony Hsieh and bought Zappos.
Jeff Bezos has added his letter to shareholders to Warren Buffett’s (for Berkshire Hathaway) as letters worth reading each year. In the latest Amazon letter he includes many worthwhile ideas including:
Career Choice is a program where we pre-pay 95% of tuition for our employees to take courses for in- demand fields, such as airplane mechanic or nursing, regardless of whether the skills are relevant to a career at Amazon. The goal is to enable choice. We know that for some of our fulfillment center employees, Amazon will be a career. For others, Amazon might be a stepping stone on the way to a job somewhere else – a job that may require new skills. If the right training can make the difference, we want to help.
The second program is called Pay to Quit. It was invented by the clever people at Zappos, and the Amazon fulfillment centers have been iterating on it. Pay to Quit is pretty simple. Once a year, we offer to pay our associates to quit. The first year the offer is made, it’s for $2,000. Then it goes up one thousand dollars a year until it reaches $5,000. The headline on the offer is “Please Don’t Take This Offer.” We hope they don’t take the offer; we want them to stay. Why do we make this offer? The goal is to encourage folks to take a moment and think about what they really want. In the long-run, an employee staying somewhere they don’t want to be isn’t healthy for the employee or the company.
A third inward innovation is our Virtual Contact Center. It’s an idea we started a few years back and have continued to grow with terrific results. Under this program, employees provide customer service support for Amazon and Kindle customers while working from home. This flexibility is ideal for many employees who, perhaps because they have young children or for another reason, either cannot or prefer not to work outside the home.
The first point reinforces Dr. Deming’s words encouraging companies to do exactly that – pay for education even if it wasn’t related to the work the employee was doing or would do for the company. Still quite rare decades after Deming’s advice.
In my experience, the way invention, innovation and change happen is [through] team effort. There’s no lone genius who figures it all out and sends down the magic formula. You study, you debate, you brainstorm and the answers start to emerge. It takes time. Nothing happens quickly in this mode. You develop theories and hypotheses, but you don’t know if readers will respond. You do as many experiments as rapidly as possible. ‘Quickly’ in my mind would be years.”
The newspaper business is certainly a tough one today – one that doesn’t seem to have a business model that is working well (for large, national papers). I figured the answer might be that a few (of the caliber of Washington Post, New York Times…) would be owed by foundations and supported largely by a few wealthy people that believed in the value of a strong free press and journalism. Maybe Bezos will find a business model that works. Or maybe he will just run it essentially as a foundation without needing a market return on his investment.
Amazon is acquiring the unique company – Zappos: we have written about Zappos previously: Paying New Employees to Quit. Jeff Bezos uses the webcast above to talk to the employees of Zappos. Excellent job. The letter from Tony Hsieh, the Zappo’s CEO, to employees is fantastic. This is a CEO that respects employees. These are leaders I would follow and invest in (and in fact I am glad I do own Amazon stock).
First, I want to apologize for the suddenness of this announcement. As you know, one of our core values is to Build Open and Honest Relationships With Communication, and if I could have it my way, I would have shared much earlier that we were in discussions with Amazon so that all employees could be involved in the decision process that we went through along the way. Unfortunately, because Amazon is a public company, there are securities laws that prevented us from talking about this to most of our employees until today.
Several months ago, they reached out to us and said they wanted to join forces with us so that we could accelerate the growth of our business, our brand, and our culture. When they said they wanted us to continue to build the Zappos brand (as opposed to folding us into Amazon), we decided it was worth exploring what a partnership would look like.
We learned that they truly wanted us to continue to build the Zappos brand and continue to build the Zappos culture in our own unique way. I think “unique” was their way of saying “fun and a little weird.” 🙂
Over the past several months, as we got to know each other better, both sides became more and more excited about the possibilities for leveraging each other’s strengths. We realized that we are both very customer-focused companies — we just focus on different ways of making our customers happy.
Amazon focuses on low prices, vast selection and convenience to make their customers happy, while Zappos does it through developing relationships, creating personal emotional connections, and delivering high touch (“WOW”) customer service.
Jeff Bezos, Amazon CEO, is working for a week in Amazon’s Kentucky distribution center. I hope, and based on his past, I believe, that he is going to the gemba (Genchi Genbutsu) to learn more about how Amazon operates. That would be great.
He worked on wall street and understands the fake constraints they attempt to put companies (you must focus on short term profits, you must focus on pleasing wall street analysts not customers…). He understood the importance of managing cash flow and the unimportance of short term profits. And he understands the importance of customer focus. He understands lean thinking. We need more CEO’s like him.
“Thanks so much for your interest in speaking with our CEO Jeff Bezos,” said spokeswoman Patty Smith. “Unfortunately, I’m not going to be able to arrange any interviews or photos this week while he is in Lexington.
“He is there to work,” Smith said, “and, unfortunately, we are just not scheduling any interviews while he is in town.”
Local Amazon employees say Bezos is working in the warehouse with the company’s hourly employees to see what they do and hear their comments about their work. Most CEOs would benefit from spending a few days on the shop floor.
There are several things amazing about this experience:
Jeff Bezos cared enough about an hourly associate and his family to spend time discussing his situation.
Jeff properly facilitated the 5-why exercise to arrive at a root cause.
He involved a large group of stakeholders, demonstrated by example, and arrived at a root cause and he didn’t focus on symptoms of the problem.
He is the founder and CEO of Amazon.com, yet he got involved in the dirt and sweat of his employees’ situation.
In that simple moment, he taught all of us to focus on root causes — quickly — not heavily relying on data or overanalysis of the situation, and yet he was spot-on in identifying the root causes of the safety incident.
Using quality tools really works. Lots of people don’t use them. Improving is often not any more difficult than just applying tools that have been used for decades. Improving does not require rocket science. Just do the simple things and you are well on your way to great success. Of the 10 stocks in my original 10 stocks for 10 years post Amazon is one of 4 that are up.
The webcast shows Jeff Bezos, Amazon.com founder and CEO, speaking at TED on the internet boom. He compares the boom to the gold rush highlighting the similarities. But then he compares the internet to the development of industry around electricity. I think he is exactly right on the internet: “there’s more innovation ahead of us than behind us.”
And, he hopes, making money. With its Simple Storage Service, or S3, Amazon charges 15 cents per gigabyte per month for businesses to store data and programs on Amazon’s vast array of disk drives. It’s also charging other merchants about 45 cents a square foot per month for real space in its warehouses. Through its Elastic Compute Cloud service, or EC2, it’s renting out computing power, starting at 10 cents an hour for the equivalent of a basic server computer. And it has set up a semi-automated global marketplace for online piecework, such as transcribing snippets of podcasts, called Amazon Mechanical Turk. Amazon takes a 10% commission on those jobs.
In my view Amazon is doing some very interesting innovation. As with most true innovation it is not easy to understand if it will succeed or not. I believe Amazon uses technology very well. They have done many innovative things. They have been less successful at turning their technology into big profits. But I continue to believe they have a good shot at doing so going forward (and their core business is doing very well I think). Innovation often involves taking risks. Bezos is willing to do so and willing to pursue his beliefs even if many question those beliefs. That means he has the potential to truly innovate, and also means he has to potential to fail dramatically.
Time: Here’s a question you probably hear all the time: read any good books lately?
Bezos: [Laughs.] I read a book recently about Toyota’s lean production methodology, which is very interesting
Jeff Bezos is the founder and CEO of Amazon.com. He really understand many quality management ideas: customer focus, long term thinking, process improvement, innovation. He also understands finance much better than most. I believe that knowledge is a large part of the reason he is not intimidated into going along with the short term thinking prevalent on Wall Street (as so many CEO’s are). His huge ownership interest in Amazon and his decision to raise large amounts of cash for Amazon (by issuing bonds) during the tech boom, don’t hurt either.
Amazon was one of the 10 companies selected in the 10 stocks for 10 years post. I created a Marketocracy portfolio to track that long term portfolio. The rules, at the time (for a Marketocracy portfolio), required more diversification so I added several stocks to the portfolio. I added positions in YHOO, MSFT, EMF, WMT, and BP. You can track the results of the Sleep Well portfolio.
You can also view results of another portfolio I have managed, through marketocracy, for several years: the Darvamore Fund. This fund is much more aggressive using the ideas of Darvas and Livermore as well as core positions that are selected for long term appreciation. Since the inception, in 2000, it has a annual rate of return 6.55% (655 basis points) higher than the S&P 500 index, as of today.