How is Jeff Bezos different from other top startup founders/CEOs? originally appeared on Quora - the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world.
I worked with Jeff, heading up hiring for Amazon. So I’ll tell you what it’s like to work directly with Jeff from my personal experience.
Jeff is unlike any other CEO you have ever met. Steve Jobs is probably the closest from a visionary perspective, yet they are very, very different. Jeff isn’t dictatorial or a tyrant, as some have suggested. Some of his directs might be, but not Jeff. Jeff is a visionary who deals with problems at a very high level. He has a vision of where he wants to take the company which is far beyond the view of most others, including the exec leadership team. There are plenty of “aha” moments where you finally get a glimpse of where he is going.
Jeff is probably one of the smartest, if not THE smartest, CEOs of the Fortune 500. He has a brilliance all his own. And he has very high standards for himself personally, which carry over to his team. He expects a lot out of people. Is that being a tyrant? No, not if you want to work hard and grow. If you’re lazy, don’t get anywhere near Jeff. He focuses on those who deliver.
While he may seem like he’s comfortable addressing large crowds or being on TV, he’s actually not. Many people think he’s this crazy extrovert, but that’s not really who he is. He’s a thinker. And a doer. He’s actually somewhat shy and introspective as a person. That’s why you will see lots of different laugh tracks of Jeff laughing. Here’s one compilation:
He has this crazy honking laugh that is one of the funniest laughs you will ever hear. Roaring loud and you can hear him through the walls or down the hallway. “Jeff is in the conference room next door.” It’s an infectious laugh that often starts others laughing. Often it’s Jeff laughing at himself or something he said. He often finds thing he has said to be very funny after he has said them, which is kinda funny in itself, when you think about it. But sometimes it’s simply Jeff being uncomfortable being in the spotlight. Laughing is his way out.
Jeff highly values the customer, probably more than any CEO I know, large company or small. If there is difficulty in making a decision, Jeff typically (although not always) comes back to doing what is best for the customer. That ends up being the tiebreaker of the tough decisions, which is really important in understanding how he’s wired.
He’s also very concerned with the company culture at Amazon. In one very tough meeting with his directs on a very difficult and contentious issue, Jeff just sat back listening, then we talked in the hallway afterward. Jeff commented on how it was a really tough decision and I agreed, but I said it was a culture decision. The light bulb went on with Jeff and he said, “You’re right, it is a culture decision!” When he framed the decision that way (instead of the financial impact view being presented in the meeting), he looked at it more as an internal customer. Getting the culture right drives a lot of his decision making.
Jeff is laser focused on talent acquisition and talent development. Few CEOs put as much time into talent as Jeff. He knows that the company is defined by its internal talent rather than its products. But, like most CEOs, he can only directly affect the next two layers (SVP and VP) directly. Beyond that, he delegates to each leader to build and grow their team individually to deliver results. The measurement consistently comes back to delivering results. Jeff is OK with a level of quirkiness in talent that most other CEOs wouldn’t be comfortable assimilating into the company culture. Part of Amazon’s culture is that quirkiness that doesn’t really exist at any other company.
Jeff can get down to the detail level, but rarely does so. He’s smart and has the technical chops to understand, he just doesn’t have the time to do so. He has an extremely competent group of directs surrounding him, people whom you rarely hear about, but these are the people driving the operational implementation of the vision Jeff has laid out for the company. He gives them plenty of opportunity to try new things, make errors, yet still survive. Not many CEOs are OK with failure. Jeff is. He knows that in order to innovate, you have to be accepting of failures along the way to success. And that’s a big difference between Jeff and Steve Jobs. Steve couldn’t and wouldn’t accept failure at any level, while Jeff is actually OK with it, as long as it brings you closer to success.
I loved working with Jeff. Probably my second favorite boss of my entire career.
I guess I can sum it up by saying I often ask “What would Jeff do?” when making a decision on how I run my company (CollegeGrad.com).
P.S. Jeff would really rather be flying rockets into outer space than running Amazon.
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