At Amazon, Corporate Culture Is Stronger Than Jeff Bezos Himself
Asked how dependent Amazon is on him, Bezos emphasized the power of the company’s corporate culture:
“I can do some things at Amazon that would be hard for other people to do only because of my history with the company. As the company has grown, of course, my job has changed very much.
My main job today, I work hard at helping to maintain the culture – a culture of high standards, of operational excellence, of inventiveness, of willingness to fail, of willingness to make bold experiments. I am the counterbounce to the institutional ’no’ who can say ‘yes.’ But I’m not going to be here forever.
Many of the traits that make Amazon unusual are now deeply ingrained in the culture. In fact, if I wanted to change them, I couldn’t. If I decided tomorrow that I wish Amazon did less pioneering and more following, I couldn’t do it. Cultures are self-reinforcing, and that’s a good thing.“
Two and a half years ago, I wrote about corporate culture:
“Edouard Herriot famously said that culture is what remains when one has forgotten everything. Applied to a different meaning of the word culture, this quote is still relevant in the business world. The culture of a company, in fact, is what is left to its employees when they have forgotten everything else: Their skills, the projects to which they contribute, their KPIs… Regardless of skills, projects and KPIs, culture is the substrate of human relationships within a company. Therefore, it influences its entire business.“
Like Steve Jobs at Apple, Jeff Bezos shows us what the litmus test of a corporate culture is.
If a company’s values and principles survive its founder, they actually constitute a culture, that is to say, what remains when employees have forgotten everything, including the presence of their iconic boss.
If a company’s values and principles fade away when the founder steps down or dies, they represented nothing more than a Pavlovian imitation of the leader or a management-by-fear approach.