When Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos launched Amazon back in 1994, he packaged orders from his garage and delivered the orders to the post office himself.
“I knew the UPS guy so well that he would let me in five minutes after closing,” said Bezos. “I hoped that one day we would be able to afford a fork lift.”
Under Bezos’ leadership, Amazon has grown into a household name, amassing $178 billion of sales and 500,000 employees and counting in 2017.
In a sold-out event last Friday night, Bezos took the stage at SMU’s Moody Coliseum to share his thoughts on leadership for the closing conversation of the George W. Bush Presidential Center’s Forum on Leadership.
The conference welcomed international thought leaders such as former First Lady Laura Bush, former Speaker of the House John Boehner and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to discuss current issues in the world.
Bezos’ Tips on Corporate Leadership
Find your support
“I think one of the precursors, one of the fundamental things to being able to take risks is having some sort of support from somebody,” said Bezos. “You have to have some mentors. You have to have some people who love you. These are the people who allow you to jump off into unfamiliar terrain.”
Find value outside of the market price
Early in Amazon’s history during the dot-com bubble, the company saw a substantial rise and fall of its stock price from a single digit price to over a $100 per share back down to the single digits. Bezos, however, recognized the need to look at more than just this price for company moral and daily growth.
“Don’t think about the daily stock price because those go up every day, and every employee had stock options, and I didn’t want them counting their success in that way,” said Bezos.
The 24-year old company did not see an exponential growth in its price until after 2012.
“If you’re going to do anything new or innovative, you have to be willing to be misunderstood. If you can’t handle this, don’t be innovative,” said Bezos.
At multiple times throughout Amazon’s decades-long history, the company has pivoted from serving strictly books to offering auction services to now offering services varying from cloud hosting, music, movies, food and household items.
“First you look in the mirror and decide is your critic right. If they are, then change,” said Bezos. “If you look in the mirror and decide that your critic is wrong, then do not change. Do the right thing.”
Define your values
In order to keep a large company with many moving parts, Bezos stressed the importance of defining the values that should lead every action taken within the business. Amazon has defined four core values: customer obsession, an eagerness to invent, long-term thinking and operational excellence, that define everything from the culture to the operations.
“If you look at each of the things that we do, you’ll see those run through everything,” said Bezos.
Keep your customers’ anecdotes close
“I’m actually a big fan of anecdotes in business,” said Bezos, referencing the black swan theory that describes the human tendency to reduce chaos to stories.
To this day, users can find a personal email address to have a direct line to address complaints, concerns or experiences with Bezos. Even if Bezos doesn’t answer all, he said he does see most of these.
Occasionally, a few stories will catch Bezos’ eye, and he will forward the message along to the appropriate executive with just a question mark, signaling actions are needed to address the concern.
Drop those Powerpoint meetings
At each of Amazon’s executive meetings, each person sits around the table and silently reads a memo for the first half hour of a meeting, which allows times for attendees to digest and understand information.
“Just like middle school kids, executives will bluff they way through the meeting like they read the memo,” said Bezos.