Bezos the Behemoth

He’s done it. In addition to all his other claims to fame – including being among the richest and most successful people on the planet – Jeff Bezos has catapulted his company, Amazon, to the top slot among the “Best-Managed Companies of 2019.”

Amazon was so anointed not by some fly-by-night fraudster, but by the Wall Street Journal, an establishment publication if ever there was one. Moreover, in order to legitimize its rankings, the Journal employed “a team of researchers at Claremont Graduate University’s Drucker Institute.” Named after the venerable management guru, Peter Drucker, the Drucker Institute, via the Journal, bestowed on Bezos, Amazon’s already legendary founder and CEO, an ostensibly well-deserved badge of honor for his exceptional leadership and management.

To determine the rankings, which were designed to “reveal how effectively a company is managed,” five criteria were invoked: customer satisfaction, employee engagement and development, innovation, social responsibility, and financial strength. Readers of the Wall Street Journal were not told how exactly these five criteria were weighted, but we were informed that Amazon shot to the top of the list by “earning an off-the-charts ranking in innovation.”

Hard to tell, in other words, how well Amazon did – or did not do – on other measures such as, to take a random – or not so random – example, employee engagement and development. Just so happens, though, that just as the Journal was trumpeting its “Management Top 250” report, there was another report, this one just a teeny-weeny bit less favorable to Amazon. This one, in fact, exceedingly critical of Amazon, specifically regarding its treatment of those in the lower ranks of its employ.   

Suffice to say here that an article just published in the Atlantic, written by Will Evans, is titled, “Ruthless Quotas at Amazon are Maiming Employees.” (The story was also featured on Public Television.) As the piece documents, Amazon’s ruthless drive for speed in addition to innovation led has to the rate of serious injuries in its fulfillment centers nationwide being “more than double the national average for the warehousing industry.”   

Which returns us to the previously mentioned rankings, those rankings proudly touted explicitly by the Journal, and implicitly by the Drucker Institute. The Journal writes that Drucker defined “effectiveness” as “doing the right things well.” What it does not go on to explore is what is, what constitutes, “right.”

Is speed – particularly same day delivery of a package – necessarily a right? Is innovation – even an “off-the-charts ranking in innovation” – necessarily a right? And, even if they are, do these rights transcend in importance other rights, such as the well-being, physical and mental, of those of who people Amazon’s ranks, at every level? You tell me.

Bezos has become so big a behemoth that his “leadership principles” are gospel. Principle number one? “Customer obsession.” Leaders, the behemoth insists, start with the customer and work backwards. For Bezos it’s paid off – and then some. As the article about Amazon by Scott Shane in today’s New York Times reminds us – this one’s titled “Prime Mover: How Amazon Wove Itself into the Life of an American City” – for several years now Amazon has been ranked by consumers either one or two among all American companies.

Which raises the question, which is the chicken and which the egg? Must we stop demanding instant gratification? Or is it up to Bezos to educate us? To tell us that because instant gratification extracts a price – a pound of flesh from Amazon’s warehouse workers – he is no longer able, that is, willing, to deliver our sweater, our book or our blender in less than a day? That we might, in other words, have to exercise the patience of saints – wait two.   

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