Jeff Bezos’ Paradox: From Selling Books To Opening A Barber Shop, Employees Are Trying To Find Amazon’s Heart

Tech giant Amazon’s latest creation occupies two floors in a central London shopping district: a hair salon. Inside the 1,500-square-foot Amazon Salon, customers can view potential new hairstyles on company shelves, purchase shampoos and conditioners not available at drugstores, and order things like a hairstyle. kids ($ 20), a tint of roots ($ 62) or a thermal cut with heated scissors ($ 166).

When the company announced this initiative in the spring, I was probably not the only one who thought it might be April Fool’s Day. Hair coloring and conditioning appear to be particularly far removed from the company’s core business in e-commerce and cloud computing. And Jeff Bezos, the richest person in the world, hasn’t had a substantial topiary mane himself since the early 1990s.

But something about the show seemed appropriate given Amazon’s vast ambitions under Mr Bezos, who will retire as chief executive on Monday after leading the company for 27 years. He founded Amazon in July 1994 to sell books online, a deceptively innocuous goal that served as the beachhead of one of the most successful expansions in business history. Today, the company is a sort of corporate aeirogon – a form with endless sides – that steadily expands into new industries, terrifying potential competitors and sending explosions of anxiety through the antitrust establishment. .

Mr Bezos now hands over to his longtime successor and deputy Andy Jassy a company with the third largest market capitalization in the world. But there is an incongruity – call it the Bezos Paradox. As the fortunes of the company and its founder grew, their public images took a hit. As recent reports show, Amazon employees are often pushed to their limits by daunting goals, arbitrarily changing rules, and algorithmic masters, who seem to have little tolerance for human frailty.

I have written two books relating the history of Amazon and have come to regard both the endless expansion and declining reputation of the company as a byproduct of Mr. Bezos’ personality – his imposing intellect, as well as a notable deficit of empathy and fear of stasis.

Early on, Bezos believed that in an era of disruptive technological change, companies should keep trying new things at a rapid pace, even at the risk of failure and embarrassment. “Doing things at high speed is the best defense against the future,” he once told reporter Walter Isaacson in an interview. “If you move away from the future, the future will win every time.”

He therefore asked the company’s teams to regularly propose new projects. Mr Bezos wanted Amazon’s famous six-page documents, the atomic unit of its internal deliberations, to include not only financial results and projections, but also new product presentations and expansion plans. Often in the center of the action, he emailed MPs around the clock. The approach yielded stink bombs like the ill-fated Fire Phone, as well as more than a few triumphs. “We should be building a $ 20 device with its brain in the cloud that’s entirely controlled by your voice,” he wrote in 2010. Four years later, Alexa started tweeting from customers’ homes.

A few privileged executives could also generate ambitious extravagant initiatives, even if they were far from Mr. Bezos’ personal geek interests. Dave Clark, the executive who oversaw the company’s supply chain for a decade, wanted to break Amazon’s dependence on UPS and FedEx, in part by assembling a fleet of aircraft called Amazon Air. Likewise, the executives who lead the UK retail team have offered to open hair salons to sell more professional beauty products while showing off the company’s tablets and other devices.

Why not? Among other things, Amazon under Mr. Bezos has been an erroneous testing machine, in the broad sense. If the London hairdresser shows promise, Amazon will undoubtedly open more. The alternative, in the Bezosian lexicon, was to become a more conventional “Day 2” business. “The second day is stasis, followed by uselessness, followed by excruciating and painful decline, followed by death,” Mr Bezos wrote in his 2016 letter to shareholders. is still the first day. ”

But there were significant drawbacks to this approach. Mr Bezos’ roving attentions made the older divisions – and their clients – feel neglected. Selling books and publishing, once areas of obsessive interest, now seem to be an afterthought; Mr. Bezos’ interest is really in Prime Video and Alexa.

As a result, large parts of Amazon’s website now look like an unguarded border. Over the past few years, reporters have discovered counterfeits, fake reviews, and unsafe products on the store of everything. Domestic traders increasingly complain that they feel displaced by foreign sellers with lower costs and counterfeit products. When they seek redress, they struggle to get Amazon employees to take notice and come up with solutions. Often, change only comes after problems appear in the news stories.

Much of this is by design. Mr. Bezos has launched new initiatives with personalized care; but as they got bigger, he wanted to manage them with technologies that required less employee attention, reducing operating costs and improving bottom lines. The strategy has been excellent for investors, who have quadrupled their money in the past five years. It has even been good for customers, who appreciate low prices and fast delivery, until they inadvertently buy a cheap knockoff from Amazon’s website. For many employees, partners and small businesses caught in Amazon’s swirling ecosystems, not so many.

Amazon’s current criticism in the popular press often dates back to Mr. Bezos. Colleagues new and old testify that he has many talents, including a superhuman ability to focus on disparate problems and get to the bottom of complex problems. But empathy has never been one of them. “If you’re no good, Jeff will chew you up and spit you out,” a former executive once told me. “And if you’re good, he’ll jump on your back and knock you to the ground.”

This will be the defining challenge for Andy Jassy, ​​the new Managing Director: to sand down the rough edges of Amazon’s business tactics and formulate a more humble image of the company, especially in the face of the many antitrust authorities who are trying to unravel the dark sides. and nested Amazon. Empire. On Thursday, the company took a modest first step to position itself as a better corporate citizen. He added two corporate values, “Strive to be the best employer on earth” and “Success and scale bring broad responsibility” to the list of sacrosanct leadership principles that guide decisions. major at Amazon.

Mr. Bezos will remain executive chairman and head of the board. But the signs indicate that his daily involvement is diminishing. He leaves for suborbital space on July 20 aboard a Blue Origin rocket, to his magnificent sailboat and luxury homes, and to his philanthropic efforts, including the $ 10 billion Bezos Earth Fund, dedicated to the cause. of climate change. He’s likely to apply the same curiosity and stasis intolerance to his life outside of Amazon as he did to his career inside.

As for his colleagues, now is when the hard work begins: finding the heart of Amazon.

Jack Ma, Bezos, Travis Kalanick: the best bosses who promoted a hostile work culture

Leadership has gone bad

Being an industry leader is not easy. In addition to moving your business forward and dealing with the complications that come with it, instilling a healthy work culture is also extremely important.

Recently, Alibaba Group boss Jack Ma came under fire on social media for promoting a 12-hour-a-day, six-days-a-week work routine to be successful. However, he’s not the only one who, in an effort to be on top, has ended up promoting a hostile work culture.

Here’s a look at some of the top bosses who weren’t appreciated for their leadership qualities.

(In the photo on the left: Jeff Bezos, Jack Ma, Travis Kalanick)

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