Horrible Boss?

By Lloyd Graff

Jeff Bezos, CEO of amazon.com. Photo courtesy of forbes.com

Jeff Bezos, the CEO of Amazon, is one of the most brilliant, innovative entrepreneurs in the world. In just 20 years as head of the company he founded from scratch, he has built the biggest, most efficient online retailer in the world.

And the New York Times just spent thousands of words on the front page hating on him for being a demanding boss.

Bezos is a zealot about his business. You don’t become a billionaire after being abandoned by your father as an infant in Albuquerque if you’re a pushover. He is absolutely driven and he does not suffer gladly slacker employees who watch the clock. He wants his people to buy into his vision for the company whether they work on the floor at one of the Amazon’s 90 fulfillment centers (enormous automated warehouses) or at its corporate office in Seattle as a software engineer or executive.

The company is remarkable in its ambition. Amazon just unveiled one hour delivery in Seattle for an extra charge, and two hour delivery for no extra charge for Amazon Prime members.

The problem the New York Times has, I would argue, is that it is pro union, pro $15 per hour minimum wage, and pro old school retailer like Macy’s and Lord and Taylor, who buy full page ads (which Amazon doesn’t do). The paper is jealous of Bezos’ success and his tough approach.

My question to you readers is, do you care whether Bezos is a warm and fuzzy boss when you order a Toto toilet, an audio book from Audible, or watch The Walking Dead on Amazon Prime video?

It is not a totally dumb question. If a boss is a racist, misogynist or a traitor it definitely would affect my choice to buy a TV from his company. If the boss was a Mafioso or a werewolf I probably would not buy from him, but a hard ass business guy probably does not bother me enough to shun the Charmin. That is my threshold for a national retailer like Amazon. On the other hand, if in person, I saw a manager of a local hardware store berate a poor kid trying to learn a summer job I might buy a screwdriver elsewhere.

Jeff Bezos is a heroic figure to me as an entrepreneur. I think he rocks. I love that he bought the Washington Post for $250 million, which is pocket change for him but probably a real irritant to its competitor The New York Times.

Jeff Bezos, keep the innovations coming. Maybe one day your drones will deliver my pizza. I wish you were a gentleman and a scholar, but if my Nikes from Amazon fit, I’ll wear them.

Questions: When making a buying a decision, do you care about the behavior of the company’s boss?

Do you judge entrepreneurs solely based their accomplishments?

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12 thoughts on “Horrible Boss?

  1. Emily Halgrimson Post author

    A truly “brilliant, innovative” entrepreneur would be able to see beyond his own company’s success and bottom line, and encompass in his vision what’s best for the country and people he effects. What Jeff Bezos is doing is absolutely ordinary and stereotypical American CEO behavior to me, and is nothing to be admired. What’s that famous conversation from the movie Wall Street 2 that you like, Lloyd?

    “JACOB: What’s your number?
    Bretton Woods: Excuse me?
    Jacob: The amount of money you would need to be able to walk away from it all and just live happily-ever-after. See, I find that everyone has a number and it’s usually an exact number, so what is yours?
    Bretton: More.”

    What is Bezos driven by? Ego, money, power. Totally typical. What would be brilliant and innovative to me is a CEO driven just as hard by the desire to help people, make their lives better, create happiness, find a way to connect Americans again. That would be impressive. Losing money each year so you can drive all your smaller competitors out of business until you have no competition left and you can jack them up? Typical.

    Everything about Bezos is underwhelming, even more so now that I know how he treats his own people.

    That being said, I am an Amazon Prime member, but I don’t feel good about it, and if I were offered a choice of companies that offered similar services I would definitely move away from Amazon. I’m sure Jeff Bezos will make sure that’s never an option.

    1. Randy

      There are 3.6 million retailers in the U.S. I don’t think you need to do business with Amazon if you don’t want to.

      1. Emily Halgrimson

        I don’t like factory farms or slaughtering animals either. Do I have to be a vegan to hold that opinion?

  2. David

    I don’t get it. You wouldn’t buy a screwdriver from a small (probably struggling thanks to Amazon and others) hardware store if you saw one bad interaction between the boss and an employee, but you don’t have a problem with a major corporate player who builds his business model on burning out his best and brightest.
    I have watched people punch a clock and figure the world owed them a living all my life. But most of the people I have worked with simply want the chance to do their job for a reasonable wage and some small sense of balance in their lives. Work, family and maybe a little time for play.
    I agree with Emily, Bezos is the prototype for our new corporate “leaders” and I applaud the Times for questioning his motives and method. Life has to be more than buying things. I just cancelled my Prime membership. I don’t need a new pair of shoes in two days that badly.

    1. Dean Smeltzer

      There is always two sides to every story and of course most people believe the one about the “big bad” CEO of a large company. As Lloyd pointed out, the New York Times had an agenda and the article was definitely one sided. I hope that people also had a chance to ready the rebuttal from a current employee – https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/amazonians-response-inside-amazon-wrestling-big-ideas-nick-ciubotariu
      Nick could very well have his own agenda, but at least take the time to look at both sides.

  3. David

    I worked for a “hard ass” boss for the first eighteen years of my career and during economic downturns we were all working while other plants around us were cutting work hours or laying off. The truth is, the so called “horrible” bosses of the world are usually the one’s that provide the majority of opportunity for people to put food on the table.

  4. Erik

    It can be done another way. That’s the thing, it’s not be a Jerk OR be a Pushover. I would think most people could modulate and be more nuanced.

    I have a couple hundred people working for me, nothing like Bezos. But still a challenge. As a younger man, I was more of hard-ass. I still can be, but now it’s for effect, when I have run out all other options. But generally, I find that if I take the time to talk to everyone in the company at least every couple of months, see how they’re doing, tell them where the company is heading, the good ones all pull at the same end of the rope. They feel informed and valued and can make decisions in keeping with our direction. They also tend to reject the occasional bad hire automatically. They feel like I care about them, and I honestly do. I also pay them well for our area, and as a consequence, we make less at the bottom line. Which is OK. We have stable, mostly happy workforce. We got through the recession with this model, too. So it doesn’t have to be Hard-Ass. It can be more nuanced.

    But the thing I don’t like about Bezos isn’t the hard-ass approach, it’s how his employees are treated on a personal level. You can be a hard-ass but still be respectful and look out for the well being of your people. Don’t work them to death, man it differently. You can afford it Jeff. How much more do you need? Coming from poverty, you’d think there would be more empathy. At some point, you have to realize that NOT everyone can do what you did. Some people will just be hourly, and you need them too.

    Long answer, but yes, those large corporations and their COO’s do effect my buying decision. I do buy from Amazon, but I try to buy locally first. I will pay more to buy a hammer from the hardware store, as opposed to “saving big money” at Menards.

    As a country, we’re not paying attention to the right things. Bezos is a self made Billionaire, which I admire. Should be easier to be a graceful human being if you are that well off.

  5. Jim

    I don’t know Jeff Bezos but I do know that I would not try to determine his character by reading the dribble that is printed in The New York Times.

  6. ed kays

    Amazon has thousands and thousands of employees. Finding a few who think the boss is too demanding or an SOB is not hard. I have been in business for 35 years and it’s not easy. I believe there was a quote from the movie Raising Arizona that fits this. The detective ask the boss if he had any disgruntled employees and his response was:

    “Disgruntled employees, hell yes I have disgruntled employees I ain’t runnin no Daisy Farm.


  7. Jason Zenger

    There are some interesting thoughts here. For me it becomes a question of loyalty. I will buy from Amazon, but I have very little loyalty knowing how they treat their employees, which the NYT only scratches the surface of. Amazon has people DYING in their warehouse. That says a lot to the extreme environment and culture at the company as cast by the vision of Bezos. With all that said, I still buy from them when it is convenient and I am a prime member, but I make every effort to buy from a local alternative where I trust and feel good about the business.

    The one thing that smaller competitors of Amazon should take note of is that at least Amazon has a vision and a culture that is clearly stated (whether we agree with it or not). That is a whole other subject, but every business should make sure that their vision and culture clear.

  8. Terry Donovan

    I do make purchases from Amazon because of price and delivery and Amazon is that way because Jeff demands his employees give him a honest days work and there is nothing wrong with that. The people that think he should do this or that are not Billionaires either and never will be, the employees that don’t buy into his vision can go work for his competition.


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