In his final letter to shareholders as Amazon's CEO, Jeff Bezos spends considerable time focusing on the company's treatment of employees, which has come under the microscope with criticisms of working conditions in its distribution centers and the recent failed unionization effort at its Bessemer, Alabama, warehouse.
While Bezos is quick to cite positives about the company's employees, he also writes that "it’s clear to me that we need a better vision for our employees’ success. We have always wanted to be Earth’s Most Customer-Centric Company. We won’t change that. It’s what got us here. But I am committing us to an addition. We are going to be Earth’s Best Employer and Earth’s Safest Place to Work.
"In my upcoming role as Executive Chair, I’m going to focus on new initiatives. I’m an inventor. It’s what I enjoy the most and what I do best. It’s where I create the most value. I’m excited to work alongside the large team of passionate people we have in Ops and help invent in this arena of Earth’s Best Employer and Earth’s Safest Place to Work. On the details, we at Amazon are always flexible, but on matters of vision we are stubborn and relentless. We have never failed when we set our minds to something, and we’re not going to fail at this either."
Bezos goes on:
"When we lead, others follow. Two and a half years ago, when we set a $15 minimum wage for our hourly employees, we did so because we wanted to lead on wages – not just run with the pack – and because we believed it was the right thing to do. A recent paper by economists at the University of California-Berkeley and Brandeis University analyzed the impact of our decision to raise our minimum starting pay to $15 per hour. Their assessment reflects what we’ve heard from employees, their families, and the communities they live in.
"Our increase in starting wage boosted local economies across the country by benefiting not only our own employees but also other workers in the same community. The study showed that our pay raise resulted in a 4.7% increase in the average hourly wage among other employers in the same labor market.
"And we’re not done leading. If we want to be Earth’s Best Employer, we shouldn’t settle for 94% of employees saying they would recommend Amazon to a friend as a place to work. We have to aim for 100%. And we’ll do that by continuing to lead on wages, on benefits, on upskilling opportunities, and in other ways that we will figure out over time.
If any shareowners are concerned that Earth’s Best Employer and Earth’s Safest Place to Work might dilute our focus on Earth’s Most Customer-Centric Company, let me set your mind at ease. Think of it this way. If we can operate two businesses as different as consumer ecommerce and AWS, and do both at the highest level, we can certainly do the same with these two vision statements. In fact, I’m confident they will reinforce each other."
In reeling off statistics about Amazon's performance over the past year, Bezos writes, "Last year, we hired 500,000 employees and now directly employ 1.3 million people around the world. We have more than 200 million Prime members worldwide. More than 1.9 million small and medium-sized businesses sell in our store, and they make up close to 60% of our retail sales. Customers have connected more than 100 million smart home devices to Alexa. Amazon Web Services serves millions of customers and ended 2020 with a $50 billion annualized run rate. In 1997, we hadn’t invented Prime, Marketplace, Alexa, or AWS. They weren’t even ideas then, and none was preordained. We took great risk with each one and put sweat and ingenuity into each one."
Bezos also offers an interesting construct when it comes to how Amazon calculates consumer value creation:
"Customers complete 28% of purchases on Amazon in three minutes or less, and half of all purchases are finished in less than 15 minutes. Compare that to the typical shopping trip to a physical store – driving, parking, searching store aisles, waiting in the checkout line, finding your car, and driving home. Research suggests the typical physical store trip takes about an hour. If you assume that a typical Amazon purchase takes 15 minutes and that it saves you a couple of trips to a physical store a week, that’s more than 75 hours a year saved. That’s important. We’re all busy in the early 21st century.
"So that we can get a dollar figure, let’s value the time savings at $10 per hour, which is conservative. Seventy-five hours multiplied by $10 an hour and subtracting the cost of Prime gives you value creation for each Prime member of about $630. We have 200 million Prime members, for a total in 2020 of $126 billion of value creation."
Bezos will be succeeded as CEO by Andy Jassy, CEO of Amazon Web Services, later this year.
- KC's View:
I've been saying for some time now that Amazon needs to behave like a 21st century company in every way, including how it treats its employees. I want to take Bezos at his word, but he's going to have to put points on the board. First step - go to Bessemer, sit down with employees, and get a real feel for how the reality of the situation diverges from perceptions … and don't be defensive. Bezos actually has a lot of personal and political capital that he's earned over the past half-century, and this would be a good time to spend some of it.
I'll also say this - the consumer value creation construct is brilliant. In fewer than 200 words, Bezos has explained to me why my first, best choice ought to be Amazon.
If I'm a physical retailer, I have to focus on those 168 words and figure out what my 168 words are. What is your consumer value creation construct?