Last year Amazon's cloud computing business, Amazon Web Services (AWS), brought the company $3.8 billion in revenue.
As LinkedIn CEO Reid Hoffman, along with entrepreneurs Ben Casnocha and Chris Yeh, illustrate in their new book "The Alliance," this multibillion-dollar business wasn't the brainchild of CEO Jeff Bezos or even an executive. It came from Benjamin Black, an employee who had been with the company a little over a year.
It was 2003, and Black was recently promoted to website engineering manager. As Black explains in a blog post, he wrote a short paper that outlined a way to restructure Amazon's infrastructure, and at the end "mentioned the possibility of selling virtual servers as a service."
He writes that he worked on the paper with his boss, vice president of IT infrastructure Chris Pinkham, and that they drew from the ideas they had discussed with their team.
"We presented the paper to Bezos (he doesn't do slides), he liked a lot of it, and we went back to work," Black writes.
Bezos put Pinkham in charge of leading the project that would become AWS, and championed the unorthodox idea. Bezos was "on board from the beginning," Pinkham's former employee Christopher Brown previously told Business Insider.
"When Amazon's board questioned whether the company should tackle something so unrelated to online retail," Hoffman, Casnocha, and Yeh write, "Bezos defended the idea and pushed it through."
AWS launched in 2006 and today, Brown says, "it's part of Amazon's culture" and "the way they stay ahead of the competition."
The authors of "The Alliance" think this story is a great case study in good management, since Bezos listened to and recognized a smart idea, no matter whose it was.
Disney missed this opportunity when it fired animator John Lasseter in 1995 for wanting to pursue computer animation. He joined the team that eventually became Pixar and now serves as the studio's chief creative officer.
The authors explain how managers can learn from Bezos' example:
Unlike John Lasseter's bosses at Disney, Bezos was open to the entrepreneurial contributions of Amazon's individual employees — even when those ideas were outside what Wall Street (and even his own board of directors) considered the company's core business. AWS represents precisely the kind of value creation any CEO or shareholder would want from their employees.
Want your employees to come up with multibillion-dollar ideas while on the job? You have to attract professionals with the founder mindset and then harness their entrepreneurial impulses for your company. As Intuit CEO Brad Smith told us, "A leader's job is not to put greatness into people, but rather to recognize that it already exists, and to create the environment where that greatness can emerge and grow."
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