02 Nov 2017
The tech firm on what drives its success: people and values
Amazon, the online retailer, has revealed that guiding principles and great talent are behind its global success.
Speaking to students and alumni at a London Business School (LBS) event, Amazon’s UK Country Manager Doug Gurr said: “We’re a values-led organisation. In no particular order, our four guiding principles are customer obsession, passion for invention, commitment to operational excellence and long-term thinking.”
He added that Amazon often turns to LBS when recruiting. “The UK is an amazing location to recruit great talent and LBS is somewhere we find the talent we need.”
• Discover why Amazon is one of the School’s biggest recruiters
Gurr is responsible for leading the company’s UK strategy, consumer e-commerce business, digital content and device offerings, as well as helping to guide Amazon’s UK innovation programmes.
He talked about Amazon founder Jeff Bezos sending out his strategic roadmap in a letter to shareholders in May 1997 when the firm went public. Bezos wrote: “This is Day 1 for the internet… We will continue to make investment decisions in light of long-term market leadership considerations rather than short-term profitability considerations or Wall Street reactions.”
Gurr said: “Our principles have remained pretty consistent over 20 years. I encourage you to read Jeff’s letter.”
Amazon focuses on unmet customer needs before anything else, according to Gurr.
“We have a process. We start by writing a press release.” Amazon employees script the compelling change they wish to make and work back from there. This mechanism has helped the tech firm create new products and services, for instance, the Kindle e-reader, which was introduced in 2007.
“The Kindle didn't exist so we built it,” said Gurr. “We'd never built anything before, but we had passion and conviction about the quality of the idea. That was the genesis of our move into manufacturing hardware devices.”
Passion for invention is also key, said Gurr. “Our people get excited about inventing. But launching big game-changers such as Alexa, our cloud-based voice service, and flying autonomous drones, is only part of what we do. We make hundreds of thousands of small incremental improvements. It’s the responsibility of every single person – research scientists, flight-test engineers, commercial leaders, warehouse product pickers – to make things faster, simpler and better.”
Julian Birkinshaw, Professor of Strategy and Entrepreneurship at LBS, questioned whether Amazon’s shareholders could expect profits to increase. He said: “In 2016, you generated US$136 billion (£102 billion) in revenues and a net income of US$2.4 billion (£1.8 billion), which is less than 2%. That’s small, but that has always been the story.
“Should shareholders expect exponential growth in revenues to continue indefinitely?”
Gurr said: “We optimise free cash flow over the long term. The simple answer is that we’re willing to take deep, long-term investments – we don't need an instant payback. We do what's right for the customer and what’s right for the business.”
In the UK, Amazon will have employed 24,000 people by the end of this year, and it supports 373,000 businesses with its marketplace, web and publications services. “We’re helping UK businesses scale in ways they couldn’t have imagined before,” Gurr said.
“Customer obsession, invention, operational excellence and long-term thinking come down to passionate people doing great jobs. The biggest constraint on our growth is finding the right leaders to join us.”