Amazon, Jeff-Bots and Shadows

Old School Leadership Style

For a supposed visionary, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos management style seems depressingly old school.

Bezos  in the past 19 years  has revolutionized shopping through the internet retail giant, Amazon.com,  and recently  paid $250 million for one of the nation’s top newspapers, The Washington Post.

However, a new book by Brad Stone,  the author of The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon, describes Bezos as an autocratic manager who surrounds himself with yes men and is  convinced that he is always the smartest guy in the room.

Stone writes that Bezos, 48, is “extremely difficult to work for … he is capable of the same kind of outbursts as Apple’s late founder, Steve Jobs, who could terrify any employee who stepped into an elevator with him. Bezos is a micromanager with a limitless spring of new ideas, and he reacts harshly to efforts that don’t meet his rigorous standards.”

Moreover, Stone writes that Bezos is surrounded by a coterie of “Jeff-Bots” who have “institutionalized the way Jeff thinks”  and mimic his behavior and sayings.  Bezos is accompanied everywhere he goes by an employee who is called Bezos’ “shadow” and does whatever is needed.

Bezos’ famous laugh  is described in sinister terms by workers, who call it a “heart-stabbing sound that slices through conversation and rocks its targets back on  their heels. More than a few of his colleagues suggest that on some level this is intentional – that Bezos wields his laugh like a weapon.”

Stone also writes that Amazon bullied large publishers as the company grew larger, demanding  steeper discounts, longer periods to pay and better shipping.  Amazon’s relationship with small publishers was called the Gazelle Project after Mr. Bezos said Amazon “should approach these small publishers the way a cheetah would pursue a sickly gazelle.”

Poor Working Conditions

Bezos also has very traditional views about the rights of workers.

In the past year,  some of Amazon’s 9,000 workers in Germany have walked off the job several times, most recently in September, in a dispute over pay. They are now threatening to disrupt Amazon’s Christmas sales.

Amazon’s dispute with its German staff focuses on how the company’s workers should be classified. German workers want Amazon to pay them in line with workers in higher -paid retail and catalog-order industries, but Amazon insists that employees at its distribution warehouses are properly classified as lower-paid “logistical” employees.

According to The New York Times, Amazon got into a “skirmish” with unionized German workers after a German TV broadcast of a documentary that  “implied that Amazon used neo-Nazi thugs to keep workers in line.”

Amazon also has been called on the carpet for deplorable conditions in some of its U.S. warehouses. None of Amazon’s 90,000 U.S. workers are union members

A high-profile investigation by the Morning Call revealed that Amazon distribution warehouse workers toiled in brutal heat and were required to work at a dizzying pace. Furthermore, Amazon is involved in more unemployment compensation appeal hearings than almost any other Pennsylvania employer – hundreds per year – even surpassing Walmart.

Amazon was sued in Nevada for allegedly miserly working conditions at two Amazon distribution warehouses there. An appeals court panel ruled last April that the Fair Labor Standard Act requires workers to be compensated for the time spent undergoing the security clearance at the end of their shift

Amazon cleared $61 billion in sales in 2012.

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