Is Amazon’s Culture Really That Bad?


While Bezos claimed to not recognize his company in the Times story, the truth is that Amazon’s culture is also a function of many of the hard-charging MBAs inside it–including many in the upper reaches of senior management. Amazon MBAs include Stanford’s Jeffrey Blackburn (Senior Vice President, Business Development), University of Tennessee’s Dave Clark (Senior Vice President, Worldwide Operations and Customer Service), Harvard’s Andrew Jassy (Senior Vice President, Amazon Web Service), MIT’s Akash Chauhan (Vice President of Worldwide Supply Chain & Process) and Harvard’s Doug Harrington (Senior Vice President of North American Retail).


On a recent Payscale study ranking the Fortune 500 companies for the highest job satisfaction among employees, Amazon scores better than J.P. Morgan Chase, Starbucks, Morgan Stanley, Kraft, Best Buy, Hewlett Packard, PepsiCo, and IBM. The study found that 71% of the employees responding to the survey said their job satisfaction was high, compared to just 51% at Oracle, 58% at Xerox and Citigroup, and 64% at Starbucks.

While the article has generated a lot of commentary, it’s apparently having little impact on business school campuses. Read McNamara, assistant dean of corporate partnerships at Vanderbilt University’s Owen Graduate School of Management, says there’s “not much of a ripple here.” That’s largely because Amazon has set demanding expectations of MBA recruits. “About 90% of our graduates are operations concentrators who intern at Fullfillment Centers,” explains McNamara. “That’s tough duty and they know it. The Pathways Program that recruits here does a good job of exposing students to, then empowering them to run departments of hourly workers in a demanding environment.”

Of course, at many schools, the full-time students have yet to show up on campus, including Stanford University. “I can’t say whether the New York Times story will affect Stanford MBA students’ interest in working at Amazon since the academic year has not yet started and we haven’t had a chance to hear from them since Sunday,” said Maeve LJ Richard, assistant dean and director of Stanford’s Career Management Center. “That said, our students have had strong interest in Amazon as an employer; in the past, the company has been among our top 5% of recruiters who hire more than 1 student/graduate; and Amazon has branched out into areas–beyond retail–that our students view as innovative.

“On the other hand,” added Richard, “because our students do their due diligence in educating themselves about their options, and share with each other about their work experiences, both as summer interns and full-time hires, they enter the workplace with their eyes wide open. I would expect this to be the case whether the company is Amazon, a financial services company, a consulting firm, or a startup.”


Still how many employees would recommend working at Amazon to their friends? Among 25 leading companies that actively recruit MBAs at top business schools, Amazon employees are the least likely to recommend their company to a friend, according to (see below). Some 62% said they would tell friends to sign up for work at Amazon, versus 94% at Bain & Co., 92% at Google, and 91% at McKinsey. Even the investment banks, known for their high stress levels and weekend work days, fare better than Amazon. Some 74% of Goldman Sachs’ employees would recommend their employer to a friend, 73% at Morgan Stanley, 67% at J.P. Morgan Chase.

Ultimately, thinks Jeffrey Pfeffer, the prominent leadership guru at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business, Amazon’s culture is a reflection of “the addictive nature of the hard work and pressure…that often stems from a compulsive need to achieve status and success—something that almost all people can be susceptible to.”

In an essay on, Pfeffer notes that “in the end, “Amazonians” are not that different from other people in their psychological dynamics. Their company is just a more extreme case of what many other organizations regularly do. And most importantly, let’s locate the problem, if there is one, and its solution where it most appropriately belongs—not with a CEO who is greatly admired (and wealthy beyond measure) running a highly admired company, but with a society where money trumps human well-being and where any price, maybe even lives, is paid for status and success.”


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