Amazon Tarbelled by Seattle Times, Bezos Deified by Forbes, Golden Compass Needed, part 2
Nick is a member of The Motley Fool Blog Network -- entries represent the personal opinion of the blogger and are not formally edited.
[continued from part 1]
As Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN) reaches maturity, it is worth examining one who came before. Consider Henry Ford – definitely one of the more intense and innovative captains of industry. Yet, as success built on success for Ford Motor Company (NYSE: F), Ford eventually became so encased in his bubble, that he built Fordlandia a city in the Brazilian jungle where only hamburgers could be served, and worked his employees so hard that he made militant unionism possible (despite the historic advances in labor relations he achieved earlier on). And then of course there was his book – "Start reading The International Jew: The World’s Foremost Problem on your Kindle in less than a minute."
Luckily for investors, Bezos has no reported anti-Semitic tendencies, and he isn’t forcing people to ride his space rockets just yet either. However, he does say that Kindles of color are still a long way out, and it does remain a mystery how labor relations are progressing within the company. Officially, Amazon does not even hint at its employee turnover, which anecdotally appears to be higher than the average for comparable multinationals. Still Bezos did score an 83% on Glassdoor.com’s employee satisfaction rating, though EcommerceBytes.com pointed out:
Amazon.com employees who rated the company on career site CareerBliss ranked CEO Jeff Bezos highly, earning him the number three spot on the CareerBliss list of the 10 Happiest CEOs for 2012. However, Amazon ranked lowest on that list for the "Company BlissScore," and failed to make CareerBliss' List of 50 Happiest Companies for 2012...Career site GlassDoor also analyzes employee ratings and said employees gave Amazon.com a 3.1 out of 5 [5 being low] based on 901 ratings. That compares to a 2.9 rating for eBay, which did not make it onto the CareerBliss list...
Forbes deemed the score “middling” which placed Amazon between Delta Air Lines and Burger King -- and tied it with General Motors.
Widely respected programmer and blogger Steve Yegge, the originator of Bezos’ pirate nickname, was actually a fan even after he left for Google, but by all accounts Bezos’ approach at Amazon has continued to intensify from when Yegge was a successful ’Zoner:
[Jeff Bezos] didn't (and doesn't) care even a tiny bit about the well-being of the teams, nor about what technologies they use, nor in fact any detail whatsoever about how they go about their business unless they happen to be screwing up...That's where the 'Dread Pirate Bezos' line came from. I worked hard and had fun, but every day I honestly worried they might fire me in the morning.
For Bezos, the platform and the services as perceived by the customers are what is paramount:
...Our version of a perfect customer experience is one in which our customer doesn’t want to talk to us. Every time a customer contacts us, we see it as a defect. I’ve been saying for many, many years, people should talk to their friends, not their merchants. And so we use all of our customer service information to find the root cause of any customer contact. What went wrong? Why did that person have to call? Why aren’t they spending that time talking to their family instead of talking to us? How do we fix it?
If only Amazon had the same standards for its PR and Investor Relations departments, then maybe it'd be more effective in answering questions raised by the media and others. Too often when the company chooses to respond, its information comes too late. This may in turn erode Bezos' ability to rely on third party advocates such as with his Slate and Seattle Times experiences. Fanatical devotion to a brand is not the same as begrudging acceptance -- moreover, Amazon knows it is only a matter of time before content originators have partnership options as good as Amazon and perception is going to play a role in their decision-making process. Perhaps superior customer service is the key -- but history is replete with great products and services that went under for having bad reputations. Already observers can see the beginning of this trend with Apple, and it is not hard to see something similar in the near future happening with Costco (which despite reams of lawsuits gets a media pass, right or wrong).
A more immediate concerns for Amazon comes from reading the Yegge memos (the accidental one and the follow up one) as well as interviewing current employees and other decision-makers at and close to Amazon, it is easy to have the impression that if Bezos were to disappear, the whole enterprise would slowly grind to a halt – not unlike the decline Apple endured during Jobs’ hejira or the disruption caused by Starbucks’ Schultz’s hiatus. While Amazon’s board is one of the better ones in corporate America today, it is not clear the company has reached the point where it could continue without its founder’s intimate, micro-managing presence.
While Ford offers a glimpse into possible Ghosts of Amazons Yet to Come, it can be helpful to conceive of Bezos as a hybrid of Vanderbilt and Sears – and his intensity and insistence that Amazon is still at Day One is understandable when reflecting on how easy it is to get a good parking spot in front of Sears locations these days.
The Seattle Times series offers a framework for investors to explore how the philanthropy, politics, vision, and management at Amazon will shape the company’s prospects as it goes back to the future:
Amazon's Prelude to Foundation - What the company's charity indicates about its business
Amazon on Foundation's Edge - The future of corporate philanthropy
"Who is Jeff Bezos?" - Probably not the Great Libertarian Hope
The Future with Amazon: Utopia, Dystopia, or Ecotopia? - Economics changes society which changes economics...
Has Amazon Duned Publishing? - Reasons for the backlash, and how Amazon could be next
Amazon: The Next Iteration - The future of publishing
A Wrinkle in Amazon Could Lead to a Swiftly Tilting Tax Bill of $2.1 Billion - The national tax gambit
Amazon Thrawn for a Loop? - Advantages other than sales tax exemptions
Amazon is a Harsh Mistress - Are we buying blood Kindles?
At Amazon, TANSTAAFL - Is retention Amazon's Achilles' heel?
John Carter of Amazon - One worker's perspective
Nick Slepko has no position in any company mentioned here at the time of publication. The Motley Fool owns shares of Amazon.com and Ford. Motley Fool newsletter services recommend Amazon.com and Ford. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy. If you have questions about this post or the Fool’s blog network, click here for information.