The best thing about Jeff Bezos, the founder, chairman, president and chief executive of Amazon, is that he doesn’t give a hoot what anybody else thinks. The worst thing about Jeff Bezos is that he doesn’t give a hoot what anybody else thinks.
Practically from the moment Amazon went public in 1997, Wall Street has pleaded with Bezos to generate more profits. He has ignored those pleas, and has plowed potential profits back into the company. Bezos believes that if Amazon puts the needs of its customers first — and no company is more maniacally focused on customers — the stock will take care of itself. That’s exactly what has happened. That is the good side of Bezos’s indifference to the opinion of others.
The bad side is the way he and his company treat employees. In 2011, the Allentown, Pa., Morning Call published an eye-opening series documenting how Amazon treated the workers at its warehouses. The newspaper reported that workers “were pushed harder and harder to work faster and faster until they were terminated, they quit or they got injured.”
The most shocking revelation was that the warehouses lacked air-conditioning, and that during heat waves, the company “arranged to have paramedics parked in ambulances outside” to revive workers who were overcome by the heat. “I never felt treated like a piece of crap in any other warehouse but this one,” said one worker. (After the exposé, Amazon installed air-conditioning in its warehouses.)
Last weekend, a lengthy front-page story in The New York Times examined how Amazon treats its Seattle-based white-collar employees. Although they have air-conditioning — and make good money, including stock options — the white-collar workers also appear to be pushed harder and harder to work faster and faster.
In the cutthroat culture described by The Times’s Jodi Kantor and David Streitfeld, a certain percentage of workers are culled every year. It’s an enormously adversarial place. Employees who face difficult life moments, such as dealing with a serious illness, are offered not empathy and time off but rebukes that they are not focused enough on work. A normal workweek is 80 to 85 hours, in an unrelenting pressure-cooker atmosphere.
Until last weekend, Bezos was unapologetic about the Darwinian work culture he created. “It’s not easy to work here,” he wrote in an early letter to shareholders.
Read more: Jeff Bezos and the Amazon Way
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