Is Amazon’s Culture Really That Bad?

Amazon Founder Jeff Bezos defends his company's culture

Amazon Founder Jeff Bezos defends his company’s culture

Few companies have been more aggressive at recruiting MBAs from highly ranked business schools than Amazon in recent years. The company has been hiring MBAs in the hundreds annually and typically brings in more than 200 MBA students as summer interns.

Last year, the dozen or so of Amazon HR officials who screen MBA candidates for jobs at the company carted away 27 MBA graduates from the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, making Amazon the largest single employer of the Class of 2014. Amazon hired 39 MBAs out of INSEAD’s class, making it the biggest non-consulting hirer, and 18 from the London Business School.

The Seattle company hired a dozen MBAs from Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, ten out of Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, and nine members of Chicago Booth’s Class of 2014. All told, the company is thought to be the fourth or fifth larger employer of MBAs behind only the global consulting firms. Amazon, moreover, currently lists 679 open MBA jobs on LinkedIn.


But if anyone is to believe the recently published expose by The New York Times of the company’s high-pressure, cut-throat culture, you might wonder why anyone would want to work at the e-commerce giant. In the article, co-written by the same journalist, Jodi Kantor, who did what was widely perceived to be a ‘hit job’ on gender issues at the Harvard Business School two years ago, Amazon is portrayed as having a survival-of-the-fittest environment where employees are often mistreated, encouraged to back stab each other, and routinely driven out for less than 24/7 performance.

At Amazon, reported the Times, workers are encouraged to tear apart one another’s ideas in meetings, toil long and late (emails arrive past midnight, followed by text messages asking why they were not answered), and held to standards that the company boasts are “unreasonably high.”

And the thousands of pro-and-con comments from the Times‘ own website to Facebook and LinkedIn have been tearing up the Internet since the publication of the article last Sunday (Aug. 16). “I didn’t see a whole lot of crying at desks. But I did see a lot of crying in bathrooms,” wrote Lisa Moffeit, a University of Dallas MBA, who worked at Amazon for nearly five years before leaving in 2012.

Courtney Hartman, a six-year veteran of Amazon with an MBA from the University of Edinburgh, wrote in an online comment for The Times that she was “surprised to see anyone saying they had no idea what they were signing up for. It was always clear to me.” Hartman said that she had been on two maternity leaves, absent for doctor appointments, and also dealt with child care emergencies without negative career consequences at Amazon.


The online furor the article has fueled forced Amazon CEO and founder Jeff Bezos to publicly address the issue. He deplored what he called the newspaper’s portrait of “a soulless, dystopian workplace where no fun is had and no laughter heard. I don’t think any company adopting the approach portrayed could survive, much less thrive, in today’s highly competitive tech hiring market. I don’t recognize this Amazon and I very much hope you don’t, either.”

Like most high-powered MBA employers, Amazon is an intense and competitive place to work. The standards are high and so is the turnover. But it is also known as a path-breaking company that gives MBA talent the opportunity to take ownership on projects that are large in scale and have a big impact. So to many MBAs, little in the Times article is all that surprising. Amazon is still able to hire great talent because, as one MBA graduate puts it, “It’s not just about money, it’s about the psychology of status and success. MBA programs are complicit in this and the industry is all too happy about it.”

That’s perhaps why the company has consistently scored high among MBA students as being one of the most desirable places to work. This year, for example, Amazon came in tied for fifth with Boston Consulting Group in Universum’s Top 10 MBA employers, behind only Google, Apple, McKinsey, and Disney (see below). The survey, in fact, found that nearly 12% of all responding MBAs wanted to work for Amazon, compared to nearly 30% for top-rated Google.

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