The Top Ten Leadership Lessons of Amazon’s Jeff Bezos

<April 4, 2012> In an upcoming issue of Forbes magazine, entrepreneur Jeff Bezos will be profiled and Forbes Cover with Jeff Bezosanalyzed as the technology-industry’s leading “philosopher-CEO.” As part of this coverage, Forbes contributor George Anders solicited the rule-breaking CEO’s lessons of leadership.

While Bezos’ advice was far-ranging (such as read the Declaration of Independence), he offered ten key lessons for leaders:

1. Base your strategy on things that won’t change…
Amazon.com has three constants: wider selection, lower prices, fast & reliable delivery.

2. Obsess over customers…
Earlier in his career, Bezos is said to have literally brought in an empty chair to staff meetings to represent the customer. Now, Amazon has specially trained employees known as “customer experience bar raisers.” Forbes says vice presidents fear them.

3. We are willing to be misunderstood for long periods of time…
Again earlier in his experience launching Amazon, Bezos engaged in expansions that many analysts and industry experts dubbed “money-losing distractions.” But Bezos tells Forbes that if an initiative is strategically sound, he’s willing to accept a 5- to 7- year payoff.

4. There are two kinds of companies: those that try to charge more and those that work to charge less. We will be the second…
According to Bezos, a lot of retailers talk about reducing costs to pass on the savings to the consumer. Amazon lives it and has made “frugality” one of its eight official company values.

5. Determine what your customers need, and work backwards…
Bezos says new products like its Kindle reader are defined by the customer…not the engineer. If customers don’t want a feature or a product – it’s gone.

6. Our culture is friendly and intense, but if push comes to shove we’ll settle for intense…
Apparently Amazon is a data-rich environment that Bezos says is a “culture of metrics.” The company conducts gladiator-style showdowns with data showing contrasting consumer preferences as encapsulated in data – dozens of them…each week.

7. If you want to be inventive, you have to be willing to fail…
Early on, Amazon used to hire boatloads of editors to write music and book reviews. Now they use customer-generated reviews. The company also once tried to conduct auctions, but failed. This is all part of a learning organization.

8. In the old world you devoted 30% of your time to building a great service and 70% of your time to shouting about it. In the new world, that inverts…
Amazon would rather spend their time coming up with process improvements that delight customers, than spend large sums on advertising. If you delight your customers enough, word-of-mouth will spread farther and wider than advertising anyway.

9. Everyone has to be able to work in a call center…
Thousands of Amazon managers, including Bezos, attend two days of call center training every year. Talk about staying close to the customer!

10. This is Day 1 for the Internet. We still have so much to learn…
In 1997, Bezos uttered the above quote. He still feels the same way.

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About Ted

A sales and marketing specialist - primarily in the technology industry - I've experienced a sort of "circle of life" in business. I've been a mass merchant retailer, a specialty retailer, a specialty manufacturer, a large volume manufacturer, a distributor, and even represented sales representatives. Now the owner of a marketing company that works with a variety of businesses on improving their strategic marketing and business development - I analyze issues from all angles to develop holistic solutions.

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