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How the Bezos cult of personality drives Amazon

Pras Subramanian
Producer/Reporter

Amazon (AMZN) customers want to have it all. From TVs to diapers to the company’s original shipped goods - books, the company likely has most Americans covered. But is there another ‘hidden’ cost for getting your copy of Go Set a Watchman with Amazon Prime same-day delivery?

The New York Times, in an expose of sorts, depicted a company and culture with a “bruising” work culture, fueled by confrontation and casting aside of those who weren’t deemed grade A employees. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos responded to the New York Times article that described his company as having a harsh and back-stabbing work environment. He wrote in a letter to employees: “I strongly believe that anyone working in a company that really is like the one described in the NYT would be crazy to stay. I know I would leave such a company.” He then asked employees to report any abuse they witness directly to him or HR.

Many critics of the company believe Bezos simply does not know what’s happening at the company he founded 20 years ago. Yahoo Finance’s Mike Santoli says it’s hard to say whether Bezos is out of touch, but that it would be difficult for even a man like Jeff Bezos to have a hold on every possible situation that arises from an HR perspective.

Santoli believes the bigger issue is the culture that arises in corporate settings where a charismatic founder is in charge, where culture could be taken to extremes. “It becomes a ‘this is the way Jeff wants it, this is the way Jeff told us to do it,’ and that gets carried as the organization gets big,” he says. “I do think you probably have extreme examples of this cutthroat, peer competition and very harsh anecdotes that [Bezos] is referring to.”

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While a cutthroat culture makes things great for Amazon customers, there is a price to be paid when it comes to recruiting, and retaining, talent. “The takeaway for me is that he did respond, Santoli notes. “It was important enough, as a competitor for talent in the marketplace to say ‘this isn’t us, we don’t want to be spending this message’ and maybe it is going to be publicly a little bit of a softening of tone by Bezos and the organization.”

Shifting from workers to, well, labor that could be pushed without hurt feelings - Bezos told the Telegraph of London that he believes seeing drones deliver goods will soon be "as common as seeing a mail truck."

Santoli notes it is interesting that for Amazon, delivery by drone isn’t just a pipe dream, it’s “technological destiny” - it’s not a question of whether Amazon should do it, it’s when is it going to happen.

But how soon could that be? Most likely years away because of regulations, but Santoli believes it will most likely come down to a financial decision as to when it’s feasible. “I don’t know where the threshold is that it makes sense to deliver all this stuff by drone, rather than UPS truck where the driver is making $25 an hour to sit in traffic, but all those things go into the calculation.”

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