Is Jeff Bezos a Horrible Boss and Is That Good?

Discussion
Oct 18, 2013
George Anderson

One of the common themes since Steve Jobs passed away a couple of years back is that for companies to become ridiculously successful today, they need to have a tyrannical genius at the top. A new book, The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon by Brad Stone of Bloomberg Businessweek, reinforces that narrative.

According to Mr. Stone, Mr. Bezos thrives on confrontation and puts employees through "fire drills" when addressing an issue raised by a customer in which he has taken a personal interest. All it takes is a question mark in the subject line of an e-mail forwarded by Mr. Bezos for all heck to break loose.

Mr. Stone writes that Mr. Bezos is not dissimilar to other technology executives, including Mr. Jobs, Bill Gates, Steve Ballmer and Andy Grove, when it comes to making work difficult for employees. Mr. Bezos, Amazon employees say, sometimes explodes into what they call "nutters."

Most of his outbursts are a direct result of his total commitment to improving customer service and, in turn, his company’s performance. That doesn’t make them any less blistering. Here are a few of Mr. Bezos’ greatest hits:

"Are you lazy or just incompetent?"

"We need to apply some human intelligence to this problem."

"This document was clearly written by the B team. Can someone get me the A team document? I don’t want to waste my time with the B team document."

Are some leaders successful because they are intimidating and unpredictable? Would they be more or less successful if they combined their intellect and drive with a more even temperament? What talents are required to be a successful leader?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.

Join the Discussion!

24 Comments on "Is Jeff Bezos a Horrible Boss and Is That Good?"


Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
Paula Rosenblum
Guest
5 years 10 months ago

I sure hope this hypothesis is wrong. I’d like to think that they’re successful DESPITE being intimidating. Unpredictable doesn’t bother me so much.

All I know is, for myself, I worked for 2 intimidating (borderline psychotic) people in my career. Both were successful. I will never work for one again.

In fact, when we started our company, RSR, we stated as a core tenet we would not tolerate that type of behavior from clients or each other. It’s something I work on every single day.

You can have vision without being a jerk.

Zel Bianco
Guest
5 years 10 months ago

You need to have the right balance. There are situations where employees need to be called out for work that is sub-par or not the best it could be. Yes, Steve Jobs and Jeff Bezos were/are a little crazy at times, but name someone who has built not only a great company but — in the case of these two — industries who have been “easy” to work with. You have to take the good with the bad and most of these folks, the employees I mean, have become ridiculously rich from working and learning from these leaders.

Bob Phibbs
Guest
5 years 10 months ago

Then there’s that whole “luck” thing at the outset. Could someone start a business and deliberately try to be a jerk and get away with it? Doubtful. Sometimes people are at the right place at the right time and succeed despite their personalities. I wouldn’t want to draw the conclusion it pays to emulate being a jerk.

David Dorf
Guest
5 years 10 months ago

Jeff Bezos is similar to Steve Jobs in his disdain for anything less than “A” work. Big personalities, whether full of accolades or insults, seem to get more and better quality work from their employees. They truly set the tone for the company. Even temperaments don’t seem to garner this level of productivity as the motivation just isn’t as intense.

Tony Orlando
Guest
5 years 10 months ago
I worked for a major chain of supermarkets when I was much younger, and it was horrible. We were treated like we knew nothing from our superiors, with one exception, who happened to run the show. I was accused of things that never happened by supervisors who only cared about covering their own butts, and I resigned, after writing a letter to the CEO who personally had me hired. I explained to him that the behavior of his supervision team was terrible, and we talked about changes he needed to make in order not to lose every good store manager they had. It felt good to discuss the issue with him, and afterwards he apologized for the lack of communications from his store managers, and actually took steps to fix the problem. I am still friends with him to this day. No one needs to be bullied or dismissed as some fool, and there are times when I get upset, but screaming at someone solves nothing in my opinion, as you alienate some of your… Read more »
Ian Percy
Guest
5 years 10 months ago
After watching our government this week, this article only adds to the abject sadness about “leadership” in these days. No doubt about it, you don’t have to be a kind, considerate, encouraging person to make a ton of money and be hugely successful. Apparently such soft attributes are to be shunned by those determined to make it big. When we live, work, talk, relate in anger we are off course with our lives. In one of my books I describe the six stages we go through personally and corporately. They are “spiritual” phases actually and there is no way around them. The middle one, the one that determines whether we come to live life in joy, love, meaning and abundance is called “Irritation.” “Anger” would be a stronger word but all the stages start with an “I.” The determining factor in our lives is what we do with our anger. And we are all, in one way or another, angry. We can go in one of two directions in response. The phase before “Irritation” is… Read more »
Ed Rosenbaum
Guest
5 years 10 months ago

I would hate to believe this premise is correct. I come from the school where you get better results with less tyrannical bosses. It would appear the tyrannical bosses have the employees looking over their shoulders all the time rather than focusing on the task at hand. What good does that do? Certainly not worth the stress involved.

Todd Sherman
Guest
Todd Sherman
5 years 10 months ago

Two thoughts:

1) In my experience, companies that aspire to world domination have very hard-driving leaders that frequently push their employees in harsh ways. Those leaders demand (and get) a higher level of performance from their employees that translates into broader company success. But these leaders themselves need to operate at a higher level and demonstrate success. It’s much more complicated than a single characteristic.

2) It’s a personal and/or professional choice to work for such a company that depends on many criteria, including personal goals, professional goals, financial compensation, stage in life, and work/life balance (… or not).

Dick Seesel
Guest
5 years 10 months ago

It’s worth pointing out that the ten senior executives under Bezos have an average tenure of 11 years. How bad could it be, considering that these company leaders are probably among the most heavily recruited people in the industry?

Mark Burr
Guest
5 years 10 months ago

Leaders are successful because they lead. It is their success that creates the culture, sets the tone, and generates the behavior that those surrounding them follow.

Is anyone really willing to argue the success of Mr. Bezos?

Every single leader is different. Those that fit with them – fit with them. Those that don’t gravitate towards that style won’t fit and will find themselves elsewhere.

Ultimately, a successful leader cares. They care about their business and those that help them execute their business.

Mr. Seesel’s comments sort of say it all.

Herb Sorensen
Guest
5 years 10 months ago

Vision, energy and incredible drive is the key component. The nastiness is NOT a necessity, but does add a Darwinian selection process to the followers who WILL follow a leader. Nobody likes to sit on a parked train, and people like Bezos and the others WILL attract followings, period. If their vicious pruning is accurate, it can work – obviously. Having said this, I don’t think I would personally work for someone like this. It ISN’T THE ONLY WAY!

Lee Kent
Guest
5 years 10 months ago

All I can add to this is, I have seen too many people who have become successful, turn into major jerks. Because they can!

James Tenser
Guest
5 years 10 months ago

Just speculation, but I’d bet Bezos HATES being described as “the next Jobs” or “the next Gates.” I expect he’s not too keen either on hearing Amazon described as “the Walmart of the internet.”

I think Bezos would prefer to be perceived as an original jerk, not a derivative one. He began with a vision and gained affirmation from early successes. Now he justifies his management style on the basis of reach, frequency and monetary results.

I doubt I’d be happy serving as one of his VPs, but the role of consigliere might be satisfying.

Giacinta Shidler
Guest
Giacinta Shidler
5 years 10 months ago

I think people at the level of Jeff Bezos are held to different standards than the rest of us, when they’re in charge of a game-changing global company that has the influence of Amazon or Apple. The stakes are higher in achieving strong performance, and they’re given much more latitude in terms of how they make that happen. They are so influential and they’ve accomplished so much, they’ve earned the right to be a jerk. They demand results no matter the cost. People put up with it because they believe in the vision, they’re passionate about the company, and they’re proud to work with such an iconic brand.

At the smaller level, out here among the common people, inspiration and encouragement are always the way to go if you want to attract and keep good employees.

Doug Fleener
Guest
5 years 10 months ago

Let’s also remember that if Bezos was a super nice guy who also liked unicorns and rainbows there wouldn’t be much of a book to sell. He sounds like a passionate guy who sometimes gets upset.

I also agree with Dick’s comment that there would be a lot more turnover of his direct reports if there was an issue. Or is there something there that says with stock options and high pay you’re willing to tolerate bad behavior?

Lee Peterson
Guest
5 years 10 months ago
My experience with the intimidating founder of an apparel giant here in Columbus, ahem, was a life-changing epiphany for me. It struck me after a while that for someone like that, or Bezos, or Jobs, or Schultz, the right brand course for them is just so crystal clear…all the time. They know it. They live it. They ARE it. But for you, it’s not always that clear, especially at first. So, simply put, they can get frustrated with you easily because at times, us mere mortals just don’t get it. Hence the occasional blow up. Having said that, when (if) it does become as clear for you as it is for them, working for a person like that becomes the most rewarding job you’ll ever have. The feeling becomes, “we understand how the world works, and no one else sees it like we do.” I can feel that in the conversations with people who work for companies with driven founders and it’s exhilarating for all involved. They’re focused and driven, just like their leader. In… Read more »
Vahe Katros
Guest
Vahe Katros
5 years 10 months ago

What a lightweight – “Give me the “A” team document”? Look, with 1% margins an infinite P/E and expectations to grow like a software company – get Jeff the document! – the folks I know at AMZN love the intensity and the accountability.

Daryle Hier
Guest
Daryle Hier
5 years 10 months ago

I’ve seen that style of eccentric intimidation and as long as the business is successful, yes, it can work. However, in this day and age, there are too many in the employment world who are sensitive and/or don’t respond well to fanatical tendencies or strong-armed tactics.

There’s a certain level of control a leader must exude but being tyrannical isn’t necessary. Confidence, a forward motion and the ability to have those just below you translate and pursue your vision properly, are traits that will work yesterday, today and tomorrow.

Bill Hanifin
Guest
5 years 10 months ago

Comparing the boss in this question to an athletic coach, some players respond to strong, overbearing coaches who never give an inch. Others need cajoling and encouragement to perform at their best.

The best coaches in college basketball, Duke’s Coach K and Tennessee’s Pat Summitt, have been quoted as saying their success is linked to their willingness to invest time in each player to discern which type of treatment they respond to and what they need as individuals to develop.

Maybe this approach is just not possible in a company like Amazon which has almost 100,000 employees. Still, I find the Bezos approach at odds with everything I read about Millennials as they are reported to resist the tyrannical approach.

It’s not my style of choice, but it seems to work for Mr. Bezos.

David Livingston
Guest
5 years 10 months ago

Every successful leader has their own unique style. I had a few bosses like this. Since it took me 20 plus years in the business to get fired, I just figured they were just like actors in a play. Listen, learn, enjoy the show, but don’t take it personally.

Jerry Gelsomino
Guest
5 years 10 months ago

Read Jim Collin’s, “Good to Great and How the Mighty Fall.” There’s your answer.

Kate Blake
Guest
Kate Blake
5 years 10 months ago

Depends on the job, the size of the company, and the mission.

Bad bosses force you to move on. Don’t make it about their dream. Keep moving forward towards yours.

Barnaby Page
Guest
Barnaby Page
5 years 9 months ago

The real trouble with brilliant-but-moody business superstars is that they (unintentionally) encourage much lesser managers to believe that short temper and sarcasm are *signs* of leadership.

Erik Warner
Guest
Erik Warner
4 years 4 months ago

It is not necessary to be tyrannical or intimidating toward personnel working under you. To be truly effective as a leader one should lead by example and show their worth by way of efficiency and quality. Negative interactions with those working under an individual is a sign of being incapable of processing the level of responsibility one has and possibly maturity issues. The only time disciplinary interactions should be brought up is when there is a broken agreement between employee and employer. If motivation is the desired effect there are ways of achieving it without being tyrannical. One that the modern world is most attracted too is simple competition amongst those where the motivational focus is based.

wpDiscuz

Take Our Instant Poll

Are intimidating bosses more or less effective than those with more even tempers?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...