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'Working Backwards' authors discuss the future of Amazon

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Two former Amazon executives and the authors of 'Working Backwards' sitdown with Yahoo! Finance to discuss the keys to the company's success and share some of Amazon's 14 leaderships principles.

Video Transcript

ADAM SHAPIRO: Allow me to plagiarize from a new book. "To say that Amazon is an unconventional company is an understatement." That is the opening line of "Working Backwards, Insights, Stories, and Secrets from Inside Amazon." And the authors, Colin Bryar and Bill Carr, are both Amazonians. They were there for several years. And they had some insight for all of us about what ways to run companies and do it well.

So welcome both. I'm going to start with you, Bill, because one of the things you talk about are the 14 leadership principles at Amazon. And one of those principles, bias for action, what is that? And how can a business person watching use it the way Amazon has?

BILL CARR: Well, bias for action is one of the many leadership principles. And one of the clever ways that the company actually enacted that in the early years was by creating an award called the Just Do It Award. And the way you won this award was by identifying an important problem, taking the initiative to go address it. Your solution didn't even have to have worked. And in fact, you didn't even have to ask permission of your manager.

And but it was basically saying-- for getting everyone to think like an owner and go and take action to fix important problems quickly. And the way you won this award, if you won this award, you got yourself an old, beat-up, like, size 15 Nike shoe handed to you by Jeff. And you'd be recognized at the end of the alliance meeting. So it was sort of part of that culture of that startup culture where we were getting big fast and having to do-- move mountains to get there.

SEANA SMITH: Colin, just describe to us what the culture is like inside Amazon. Because I think that's such a huge question for so many people. We know we have read certain media reports that don't really shed a favorable light on the company. But I'm curious just to get your experience and, I guess, what exactly you wish people knew about working inside Amazon.

COLIN BRYAR: You know, if you had to distill Amazon's culture, it would really be four things-- customer obsession versus competitor obsession, just a spirit of invention, and along with that is how you fail. So there are processes to handle failure within Amazon. Long-term thinking beyond the quarterly revenue targets that you need to hit, you know, thinking longer term than most companies do. And then, just taking a pride and operational excellence of everything you do.

Most of the work individuals and teams do won't make it out, and customers can't see it, but those little details matter. And that's what makes the customer experience a delightful customer experience, is getting all of the little details right. And so Amazon has processes inside to reinforce all of those. And it's an invigorating, fun, and challenging place to work. But you really make a material difference for customers.

ADAM SHAPIRO: So Colin, let me follow up with you. Is that a Jeff Bezos thing, or did that evolve over time? And what do you think of Andy Jassy?

COLIN BRYAR: Jeff, from day one, has said that he wanted to create Earth's most customer centric company and spent a lot of time figuring out how to do that and instrumenting processes within the company.

What I think of Andy Jassy, I think he's going to be a great second CEO for Amazon. He's well steeped in the Amazon culture. He's worked in very large organizations, but also is familiar of starting with small groups. You know, he built AWS from 0 to $10 billion faster than Amazon grew from 0 to $10 billion, starting in '94. So he's got all of the tools and knowledge. And I think he's going to do a fantastic job in this new role.

SEANA SMITH: Bill, I want you to elaborate a little bit on something that you did touch on. I know you spent 15 years at Amazon. You were vice president of their digital music and videos business. That includes Amazon Music, Prime Video, Amazon Studios. But this offhand remark that former Apple CEO Steve Jobs made I think led maybe to some of this digital creation that we saw at Amazon. So can you talk to us about that, and I guess, just where you see that moving forward?

BILL CARR: Well, the genesis of the digital media business really was at the end of 2003. -- Amazon 77% of Amazon's worldwide revenue was all physical media products-- books, CDS, DVDS. And Jeff had actually had a meeting with Steve Jobs around that same time, just before he released iTunes for Windows. And the notable thing about that meeting was that Steve-- Jeff didn't, you know, run back to Seattle and create a fire drill to create an Apple copycat product.

Instead, he tapped my boss and me to move off of managing Amazon's largest business to start a new business in digital media. And we spent weeks, months, thinking through how we could really create value for customers. And the first product we came up with to do that was the Kindle, which was a real breakthrough for customers. So Jeff really approached that problem differently than the way a lot of CEOs would have.

ADAM SHAPIRO: I think I owe you a thank you. I've got my Kindle. I'm going to pull it out of the drawer. I got my Kindle right here, and I'm loving the first season of Flack on Amazon Prime. But I got to let you go after that. Colin Bryar and Bill Carr, "Working Backwards, Insights, Stories, and Secrets from Inside Amazon," we appreciate your joining us.