What is it like to work at Amazon? Is Jeff Bezos really as ruthless as his reputation indicates?
Amazon’s work culture is unlike any other technology company. Jeff Bezos is relentless about being frugal and expects every employee to work tirelessly to help build his company.
Learn what Amazon’s work culture is like below.
Amazon’s Work Culture
Jeff Bezos is famously frugal and at Amazon, work culture is a part of this method. Unlike technology companies that dote lavishly on their employees, Amazon is stingy. It believes that in the cutthroat low-margin world of retail, it needs to push for every possible advantage to reduce prices for customers.
“Frugality breeds resourcefulness, self-sufficiency, and invention. There are no extra points for headcount, budget size, or fixed expense.”
- Amazon’s first office was the garage of Bezos’s Seattle house, with desks made out of $60 doors from Home Depot. The door-desks are still a common office fixture and a symbol of frugality.
- Bezos made employees pay for parking and required all executives to fly coach. When flying on a private plane, he made a point of saying, “The company isn’t paying for this, I am.”
- His lieutenants carry this forward. Author Brad Stone had dinner with a senior Amazon exec, who picked up the bill and tore up the receipt, saying “The company is not paying for this.”
- At their early office building’s coffee stand, Bezos made a show of getting his loyalty card punched and handing his free drink to a colleague.
- When a new hire joins the company, she gets a backpack with a power adapter and laptop dock. When she resigns, she’s asked to hand in all that equipment – including the backpack.
- Bezos drove a Honda Accord in the 2000s and reportedly continues to drive a Honda minivan. Reportedly he was often dropped off by his wife (before their divorce), who also personally delivered their four children to school.
Relentless Work Ethic
- “You can work long, hard, or smart, but at Amazon you can’t choose two out of three.”
- Bezos expects employees to work tirelessly to build a lasting company and increase the value of their ownership stakes.
- At D. E. Shaw, Bezos kept a sleeping bag in his office, “as much a prop as it was actually useful.”
- Bezos refused to subsidize bus passes, not wanting employees to leave work to catch the bus. He’d rather them have cars there so there was no time pressure to go home at the end of the day.
- At an all-hands meeting: “The reason we are here is to get stuff done, that is the top priority. That is the DNA of Amazon. If you can’t excel and put everything into it, this might not be the place for you.”
- “If you’re not good, Jeff will chew you up and spit you out. And if you’re good, he will jump on your back and ride you into the ground.” – Employee
- The media has reported on deplorable fulfillment center conditions. Security monitors workers to discourage stealing; employees have 6 strikes (like calling in sick and arriving late) to be let go; Amazon made clear unionizing was not tolerated; insufficient cooling caused some workers to be hospitalized.
Energy and Conviction
- John Doerr: “I walked into the door and this guy with a boisterous laugh who was just exuding energy comes bounding down the steps. In that moment, I wanted to be in business with Jeff.”
- “He was so convinced that what he was doing was basically the work of God.”
- Bezos on motivation: “I’m very motivated by people counting on me. I like to be counted on.”
Missionary vs Mercenary
- Bezos: “I would take a missionary over a mercenary any day. One of those great paradoxes is that it’s usually the missionaries who end up making more money anyway.”
- Joy Covey, former CFO: “Personal wealth was never discussed or really thought about. I see companies these days where thoughts of exits are foremost in the minds of top management…this value will infect the decision making down to the smallest choice by the most junior employee…Jeff attracted people like me, who really need to work on things they can internalize and adopt as mission, who poured their hearts and souls and best efforts into building Amazon. Jeff’s style always read as completely pure, focused on the best outcomes for Amazon and our customers.”
- Early on, Bezos disliked when employees closely tracked the number of daily purchases. When they had its first $5000 order day, Bezos rejected a party: “there are a lot of milestones coming and that’s not the way I want to run things.”
- During their IPO, he asked employees not to over-celebrate the moment or obsess over the stock price.
- In January 2002, when Amazon posts its first profits, a publicist wants to frame some positive news articles. Instead, Bezos wants to frame negative stories like the Amazon.bomb cover, so employees remain scared.