Is There Really Anything Wrong With Amazon’s Culture?


Share on LinkedIn

newyorktimeslogoFollowing a widely read article in the New York Times purporting to show the true culture at, much has been written about how they need to change from their hard-driving, data driven culture. Poppy cock.

Amazon, like many successful companies has a strong culture. It’s not for everyone. Does it work? Of course it does. How do I know even though I don’t work there and have never talked to anyone who does? Simple: The company is successful and people are lined up to work there. Does everyone want to work there? Of course not. Does the writer of the article in the New York Times? I doubt it. He found people who had worked there and didn’t like it, so they talked about how it is, or at least how they want people to perceive that it is.

I had professional friends suggest that Amazon needed consulting help to “fix their culture.” Poppy cock. Their culture works for the reasons noted above. And everyone is not going to like it. Are there possibly some managers at Amazon that are toxic. Duh. That’s pretty much true everywhere. Should they be expelled. Sure. Maybe they will be.

W.L. Gore has a very different culture than does almost any other company. Is it bad or is it good? Depends on what you like; but it’s good by my definition because the company is successful, and people want to work there.

Amazon’s culture, as described, reminds me of a cross between Andy Grove’s Intel and T.J Rodger’s Cypress Semiconductor, two very successful companies. And hard to work for if you don’t like their approach. Many years ago Robert Swanson founded Linear Technology and was purported to rule with an iron fist and a foul mouth. And very smart and capable people worked in that culture. Did it work for everyone? Of course not. Did it work? By my definition, yes. They attracted the talent they needed and were very successful.

It’s sad and funny that anyone believes there is one “true” way to run a company, or one “best” culture. In my observational experience, if you have a stable, strong culture that produces a profitable enterprise and can attract and keep the talent you need, you have a good culture.


Republished with author's permission from original post.

Mitchell Goozé
Mitchell Goozé is the president and founder of Customer Manufacturing Group. His broad scope of business experience ranges from operations management in established firms, to start-up and turn-around situations and mergers. A seasoned general manager, he has headed divisions of large corporations and been CEO of independent firms, always focusing the company strategy on the most important person in business . . . the customer.


  1. This situation reflects that fact that CEO’s have the power to build, and also undermine, enterprise culture. We’ve seen that recently with Zappos, an Amazon subsidiary. The reality is that high-tech companies are also high pressure. They seek, and attract, employees who can handle that kind of environment. Companies like Intel, Microsoft, and Oracle are known to have kinetic, immersive cultures. So are major consulting organizations.

    Post hoc ergo propter hoc for employees; but, in Amazon’s case, customers see the company as providing excellent value and experiences. Employees contribute directly to that perspective. Bezos has some image and internal cleaning up to do; but, he’ll likely weather the media storm quite well.

  2. When Jack Welch ran the highly successful GE, friends within GE told me that managers sometimes lost their breakfast on the way to a meeting with the tough, in-your-face, super smart Welch. When Steve Jobs ran the highly successful Apple, friends at Apple told me managers where known to sit around a meeting room table while the mercurial, short-tempered, visionary Jobs sat on top of the table “holding court.” Larry Ellison at the highly successful Oracle is not famous for his easy-going leadership style. He is extremely driven, combative, impatient and tough.

    There may be draconian leadership practices at play within parts of Amazon. And, the report of employees in the NY Times article might be all completely accurate. So what? Do we bring in a blue-ribbon committee to tell Jeff how to lead his company? Do we pass new laws that tell senior leaders to be nice to employees or else? Do we force Jeff to hire consultants to help him “clean up the place?” Or, do we let the free enterprise system work? Caveat emptor applies to buyers as well as applicants. No one is being forced to work at Amazon and no Amazon employee is being forced to stay against her or his wishes.

  3. I’ll be the contrarian here. I think there’s too much hubris about “tough” cultures, “tough” leaders, and “tough” managers, and the value they allegedly create. I don’t think that making an enviable revenue growth or profitability target entitles any employer or person to behave unfairly, unethically or illegally toward its employees. That might not be the case with Amazon, but I think it’s appropriate to question any company’s practices by asking, ‘do the ends justify the means?’ And, yes, I don’t feel good about my elegant iPhone if it’s clear that the workers who produce it are unusually prone to jumping off buildings because they can’t handle the emotional and physical stress endemic to their workplace.

    I’ve seen plenty of bratty managers who lack the talent of Steve Jobs and Jack Welch, but follow their lead, believing that their academic pedigree or self-assessed brilliance entitle them to exploit those who work for them. If companies are up front about what it’s like to work there when they are recruiting and hiring – fine. New hires shouldn’t complain. But when an employer doesn’t share – or conceals – known risks about its culture or management practices, and when employees are miserable for it, that’s wrong.

  4. Hi Mitchell

    Your post is obviously a polemic. And as is their nature, has stimulated an interesting and somewhat polarising dialogue.

    Ask anyone and practically everyone will confirm that they don’t want to work for a ‘toxic manager’! They will tolerate one because they don’t have a viable alternative, or because they want to be associated with a successful company, or because the experience will do them some good. But given the chance they would prefer to work for someone more supportive. And given the chance, they will move to work for someone more supportive. Many of those who work for Amazon in seemingly inhumane conditions do not have a viable alternative. And as Jeff Bezos has explained, they only have jobs because Amazon has not yet found a way to fully automate the process of picking stock from its mammoth warehouses. They are ersatz automatons in a not quite fully automated operation.

    We tolerate toxic managers like Steve Jobs, Jeff Bezos and Jack Welch, because despite them being socially disfunctional, they are uniquely successful. As the 1985 Playboy interview with Steve Jobs – incidentally, the best interview he ever gave – makes patently clear, he was a design genius with a vision that extended far beyond the Apple Corp we see today. His social disfunction was a part of him, but it was not what made him so successful. Rather, it was an artefact of his obsession with design detail. Steve Jobs was an exception. But managerial toxicity is not something we should tolerate in others. As an article in Forbes magazine on ‘The Real Costs of Keeping a Toxic Employee’ shows, toxic managers can reduce team productivity by as much as 40%. More than enough reason to show a toxic manager the door.

    Do we have a reasonable right to be treated morally as fellow humans at work. Of course we do. No civilised person could reasonably argue otherwise. As Harvard philosopher Michael Sandell points out in his book ‘Justice: What’s The Right Thing To Do?, we have been fighting to be treated morally since the Enlightenment. Are we willing to override moral treatment in pursuit of greater goals? For many people the answer is Yes. But only for as long as they don’t have a better alternative.

    We should be careful of conflating the success of rare genius’ like Steve Jobs as it being a product of their social disfunction. The success and the disfunction are usually completely unrelated.

    Graham Hill


Please use comments to add value to the discussion. Maximum one link to an educational blog post or article. We will NOT PUBLISH brief comments like "good post," comments that mainly promote links, or comments with links to companies, products, or services.

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here