- In his last letter to shareholders as CEO, Jeff Bezos took a philosophical turn, touching on the nature of success and existence within the framework of the e-commerce empire he has led for nearly 30 years.
- As Bezos prepares to transition to the role of executive chairman, he wrote that Amazon would become "Earth's Best Employer" and safest place to work.
- The letter comes shortly after Amazon prevailed in a failed unionization effort at its Bessemer, Alabama, warehouse. Bezos wrote that the employee vote against a union gave him no comfort. "Despite what we’ve accomplished, it’s clear to me that we need a better vision for our employees’ success," he said in the letter.
As is tradition for Bezos, he referenced his first letter to shareholders, from 1997, in his most recent letter and last as chief executive. The company had 614 employees then and 1.5 million customer accounts. Its stock had recently gone public at $1.50 a share.
Today that figure is pushing $3,400. That means anyone who spent around $450 on Amazon stock in 1997 would be a millionaire today. In the letter, Bezos acknowledged the wealth the company has created for its shareholders as well as himself, while also writing, "Your goal should be to create value for everyone you interact with."
According to Bezos' math, the company in 2020 created $91 billion in "value" for its employees ($80 billion in wages plus benefits and payroll taxes), compared to $21 billion for shareholders. Those numbers smooth out some of the disparities within them. Bezos, for example, sold more than $10 billion worth of Amazon stock last year. By comparison, a warehouse staffer working full time at $15 an hour would need some 320 years to earn that amount.
Bezos pushed back against reports of Amazon's warehouses as overly demanding on its employees and pointed to internal surveys showing 94% of employees saying they would recommend Amazon to friends as a place to work. At the same time, he acknowledged the highly watched Bessemer union vote, which failed this month, though is unlikely to mark the end of the effort to unionize at least a portion of Amazon's U.S. warehouse employees.
"Does your Chair take comfort in the outcome of the recent union vote in Bessemer? No, he doesn’t," Bezos wrote. "I think we need to do a better job for our employees. While the voting results were lopsided and our direct relationship with employees is strong, it's clear to me that we need a better vision for how we create value for employees — a vision for their success."
He pointed to efforts to reduce workplace injuries by reducing repetitive work that can lead to muscle strains and sprains. Bezos also noted Amazon's environmental efforts, including renewable energy purchases and investments in electric vehicles.
In the months ahead, Bezos will leave the CEO post to be replaced by Andy Jassy, current chief of the company's AWS cloud services unit.