Amazon: Do you love it or loathe it?

Posted: June 9, 2014 in Book review
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14199693780_3186d91c7b_zThe Everything Store – Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon
How ironic that the publisher of Brad Stone’s book on Jeff Bezos and his empire should be a division of Hachette, the group currently embroiled in a battle with Amazon over book prices.

It’s a war in which there will be only one winner – and it won’t be Hachette, despite an Amazon boycott call by one of its authors, the satirist and pundit Stephen Colbert.

Stone’s exhaustive research brings out the complexity of Bezos’ character, a brilliant visionary driven by the relentless pursuit of customer satisfaction – and a ruthless streak that will see him crush anything and anyone who gets in his way.

Like other tech gurus, the Amazon boss sees beyond the scope of less gifted rivals; he has both the imagination and creative flair to make things happen and an obsessive-compulsive grasp of detail to fashion the end product.

Recognizing genius is one thing, working alongside it quite another.

Bezos’ rants, known as “nutters” by staff, include delights such as: “Why are you wasting my life?” “This document was clearly written by the B team. Can someone get me the A team document? I don’t want to waste my time with the B team document.” And: “I’m sorry, did I take my stupid pills today?”

“Jeffbot” disciples accept this as part of the missionary nature of their work. Others leave, or are booted out, in droves. But even those that leave recall their time as some of the most productive, exciting and challenging of their careers.

Missionary zeal rather than mercenary conquest is supposedly at the heart of the company’s aims. The paradox is the predatory monster which Bezos has created; it bites the hand that feeds it and comes back for more.

The question of how Amazon is perceived is one of the most interesting parts of the book. Bezos cares deeply about reputation. He wants his company to be more than just a giant corporation reliably delivering goods; he wants it to be recognized for delighting its customers, to be seen as cool and, above all, to be loved.

It’s here that Stone reveals a Bezos memo he received from an anonymous source inside the company. Titled Amazon.love, and sent to top executives attending a retreat, it sets out the founder’s thoughts on firms that are well-liked by their customers (Apple, Nike, Disney, Google, Whole Foods, Costco) and those that tend to be feared (Microsoft, Walmart, Goldman Sachs and ExxonMobil).

Better still, Bezos analyses the qualities and values that define those held in high regard and includes things such as risk-taking, inventing, empowering and being authentic as attributes of coolness. On the other side of the coin, rudeness, defeating tiny guys, conquering, pandering and being mercenary are actions that relegate businesses to the uncool list.

The boss’s creed is commendable, the company’s execution questionable – and there’s a lot riding on the outcome: We all like convenience and low prices, we don’t like bullies.

Amazon is unveiling a new device in Seattle on June 18 and it has a great track record in the surprise and delight department. From its initial bet on the internet as a way to shop, through to the Kindle and cloud computing it has revolutionized many aspects of our lives. What comes next will shape its place in the loved or loathed columns and give us a steer towards its continued success in the longer term.

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