Is Amazon Unstoppable? | The New Yorker
n 2017, a few months after Forbes named Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, the world’s richest man, a rumor spread among the company’s executives: Bill Gates, the former wealthiest person on earth, had called Bezos’s assistant to schedule a lunch, asking if Tuesday or Wednesday was available. The assistant informed Bezos of the invitation, and told him that both days were open. Bezos, who had built an empire exhorting employees to be “vocally self-critical,” and to never “believe their or their team’s body odor smells of perfume,” issued a command: Make it Thursday.
Bezos’s power play was so mild that it likely wasn’t noticed by Gates, but within Amazon the story sparked a small panic (and, later, an official denial). Such a willful act of vanity felt like a bad omen. At Amazon’s headquarters, in Seattle, the company’s fourteen Leadership Principles—painted on walls, posted in bathrooms, printed on laminated cards in executives’ wallets—urge employees to “never say ‘that’s not my job,’ ” to “examine their strongest convictions with humility,” to “not compromise for the sake of social cohesion,” and to commit to excellence even if “people may think these standards are unreasonably high.” (When I recently asked various employees to recite the precepts, they did so with alarming gusto: “ ‘Frugality breeds resourcefulness, self-sufficiency, and invention!’ ”) A former executive said, “That’s how we earn our success—we’re willing to be frugal and egoless, and obsessed with delighting our customers.”
Amazon is now America’s second-largest private employer. (Walmart is the largest.) It traffics more than a third of all retail products bought or sold online in the U.S.; it owns Whole Foods and helps arrange the shipment of items purchased across the Web, including on eBay and Etsy. Amazon’s Web-services division powers vast portions of the Internet, from Netflix to the C.I.A. You probably contribute to Amazon’s profits whether you intend to or not. Critics say that Amazon, much like Google and Facebook, has grown too large and powerful to be trusted. Everyone from Senator Elizabeth Warren to President Donald Trump has depicted Amazon as dangerously unconstrained. This past summer, at a debate among the Democratic Presidential candidates, Senator Bernie Sanders said, “Five hundred thousand Americans are sleeping out on the street, and yet companies like Amazon, that made billions in profits, did not pay one nickel in federal income tax.” And Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury Secretary, declared that Amazon has “destroyed the retail industry across the United States.” The Federal Trade Commission and the European Union, meanwhile, are independently pursuing investigations of Amazon for potential antitrust violations. In recent months, inquiries by news organizations have documented Amazon’s sale of illegal or deadly products, and have exposed how the company’s fast-delivery policies have resulted in drivers speeding down streets and through intersections, killing people. Company insiders were accustomed to complaints from rivals at book publishers or executives at big-box stores. Those attacks rarely felt personal. Now, a recently retired Amazon executive told me, “people are worried—we’re suddenly on the firing line.”
Amazon executives were also concerned about dramatic changes within the company. In 2015, Amazon had roughly two hundred thousand employees. Since then, its workforce had nearly tripled. Bezos, now fifty-five, had transformed as well, from a pudgy bookseller with an elephant-seal laugh to a sleek, muscled mogul whose empire included a television-and-movie studio. (Bezos declined to be interviewed for this article.) Amazon executives comforted themselves with the thought that, even if the story about the Bill Gates lunch was true, at least their boss wasn’t reckless, like, say, Elon Musk or Travis Kalanick or Adam Neumann. Many admired Bezos’s dedication to his wife and children, and saw it as an embodiment of the company’s integrity. Still, they whispered, what if his flywheel has gone off track?
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▻https://seenthis.net/messages/806389 via Articles repérés par Hervé Le Crosnier