5 fun and terrifying things about working for Jeff Bezos

Amazon Kindle Fire HDX 8.9 Jeff Bezos

“If I hear that idea again, I’m gonna have to kill myself.” This, according to Brad Stone’s upcoming book The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon, is one of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’s favorite motivational lines, along with “Why are you wasting my life?”

For the book, excerpted in Bloomberg Businessweek this week and set to be released October 15 by Little, Brown, Stone interviewed hundreds of Bezos’s friends and family members and Amazon senior executives. Bezos himself, however, declined to be interviewed, “saying that it’s ‘too early’ for a reflective look at Amazon’s history.”

According to the excerpt, here’s what it’s like to work for Jeff Bezos:

  • Watch out for “nutters.” That’s what employees call Bezos’s responses when “an employee does not have the right answers or tries to bluff, or takes credit for someone else’s work, or exhibits a whiff of internal politics, uncertainty, or frailty in the heat of battle.” These situations lead to lines like the ones above, or my personal favorite: “Do I need to go down and get the certificate that says I’m CEO of the company to get you to stop challenging me on this?”
  • He may know more about your job than you do. A former supply chain executive recalled the time that his team delivered a presentation, nine months in the making, to Bezos. “Bezos read the paper, said, ‘You’re all wrong,’ stood up, and started writing on the whiteboard.” According to the executive, “He had no background in control theory, no background in operating systems… [but] every stinking thing he put down was correct and true. It would be easier to stomach if we could prove he was wrong, but we couldn’t… He had this unbelievable ability to be incredibly intelligent about things he had nothing to do with, and he was totally ruthless about communicating it.”
  • There’s no such thing as a free backpack. “New hires get a backpack with a power adapter, a laptop dock, and orientation materials. When they resign, they’re asked to hand in all that equipment — including the backpack.” (P.S. Haha. An Amazon employee tells me no one ever actually returns the backpacks.)
  • Bezos likes bloggers! Stone writes that Bezos “is a fan of email newsletters such as veryshortlist.com, a daily assortment of cultural tidbits from the Web, and Cool Tools, a compendium of technology tips and product reviews written by Kevin Kelly, a co-founder of Wired.” In 2011, Bezos decided that “Amazon should be sending a single well-crafted e-mail every week — a short digital magazine — instead of a succession of bland, algorithm-generated marketing pitches.” But the idea never progressed beyond planning and testing stages. “Some of this is just bad writing,” Bezos told the team working on the newsletter. “If you were doing this as a blogger, you would starve.”
  • Working for Jeff Bezos is tough, but being his competitor is worse. Stone tells the story of Quidsi, the company behind Diapers.com, which Amazon acquired in 2010. Quidsi’s cofounders originally didn’t want to sell to Amazon, but months of intense competition from the company — including the launch of Amazon Mom and deep discounts on diapers and baby products — wore them down. The Quidsi cofounders rejected a higher bid from Walmart after Amazon executives told them “that ‘sensei’ was such a furious competitor that he would drive diaper prices to zero if they sold to Bentonville.” Oh, also, Quidsi execs privately referred to Bezos as “sensei.”
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