In the world of eCommerce Amazon.com was one of the first in the game back in 1994. Clearly is has also become one of the largest online companies to date. Is it true that Amazon.com is the world’s most disruptive company? The jury may still be out on that. Several other companies would also certainly line up to claim that title.
A new book just out – The Amazon Way by John Rossman deciphers the leadership principles employed within the company that purports to put Amazon in the running for the top spot.
By way of a good sized network and broad career in eCommerce, recently I had the great fortune to meet John Rossman in his role as Managing Director at Alvarez & Marsal – a global professional services firm focused on performance improvement, turnaround management and business advisory services for companies and governments around the world. When I heard John had written a book capturing his perspective on what he learned working at Amazon, I asked for a copy – both for personal and professional consumption.
Previously, though unbeknownst to me at the time, John led the efforts to build out the 3rd party marketplace (the Merchants@ platform) on Amazon.com. This is significant because I spent one year of my career directly interfacing with a section of one of his teams building out JCPenney on that very same platform. What he describes throughout the book I saw as a mirror image as an outside partner. What he discusses throughout the book I can confirm were surely in use.
During John’s time at Amazon he was able to interact with all levels of the company; up to, and including, Jeff Bezos – the charismatic CEO of Amazon.com. Based on his interactions with Jeff, and working inside the structure of Amazon for multiple years, John’s immersion in the activities and learnings of Amazon during this critical time of growth and development led to him sharing these principles with the outside world. The 153 page paperback book is a quick read (a two hour plane trip for myself) and chock full of useful information, anecdotes and stories about the business and its principles.
14 principles are discussed throughout the book. The principles range from customer obsession to hiring and developing the best talent, on through delivering results. Sprinkled in are points about ownership, frugality and more – the reference to the Amazon flywheel is insightful. It is fair to say that these are points made in other management books related to other companies. In this case, Rossman pulls a thread through each principle and cinches them into a cohesive understanding of why Amazon commands the respect it does and why it does not appear to be slowing down. John even discusses his thoughts on Bezos’ infamous “drone interview” on 60 Minutes.
The one word that resonates throughout this first-hand look at the iterative process of success is “Action”. Leaders within Amazon are expected to act on ideas, work within teams and deliver free cash flow – the key metric within all business lines and departments. Most important in this vein is the command from Jeff Bezos – “Take a long-term view and the interests of customers and shareholders align”. Inside Amazon, failure is an option. That said, leaders are not expected to fail multiple times. Learning from action (success and failure) is very important.
Toward the end of the book there is a reference to building mental toughness. Based on the rigor and discipline in daily roles, replete with the passionate management style that we have all heard about Jeff Bezos, I was drawn to John’s callout for this need. All too often in books of this nature challenging circumstances can be overlooked or dismissed as “just the way things are”. Like an athlete training for a competition, strength comes from planning, practice and discipline. Building mental toughness also needs these things.
Not everyone has the desire, interest, or ability to work for Amazon.com. That does not mean that one cannot learn the principles that the company puts to use each day to continue to grow Amazon in new and innovative ways. “The Amazon Way” is destined to be one of those books on the shelf of people striving for success. The only thing I was left lacking was more background info on the Amazon logo napkin – if you see John, ask him about it. It may have some insightful meaning or was just a doodle formed during an intense meeting.