The unintentional honesty of Amazon’s Jeff Bezos

His farewell as CEO recognizes the reality his enormous personal wealth so contemptuously mocks.

Jeff Bezos is stepping down as CEO of Amazon. He’ll stay on as the executive chairman of Amazon’s board, but he’ll no longer be managing the company on a daily basis. Editors and pundits worldwide are treating this news as an epochal event. The supreme giant of the Internet economy, goes the refrain, is moving on.

The Bezos decision to exit Amazon’s CEO suite, Bloomberg laments, at least partially ends “one of the most epic runs in modern business history.” Bezos, adds CNET, gave us “more than a quarter-century of shattering the status quo.” The man built, exclaims CNBC, “a $1.6 trillion company from nothing.” His “genius,” the UK Telegraph sums up, makes Bezos, “the Henry Ford of his generation.”

Look, Jeff Bezos certainly does rate as a smart guy. But smart people abound in the Internet economy. Many of them work at Amazon. Collectively, as a group, all these smart people have brought us the many innovations that have sped Amazon’s rise to global dominance, everything from personalized recommendations to “1-Click” shopping.

In other words, Jeff Bezos individually didn’t create an enterprise hundreds of millions of people worldwide now depend on. The employees at Amazon, working together, created this enterprise. They deserve the credit, not one individual named Jeff Bezos. We ought to be recognizing their collective achievement.

And who couldn’t agree more that the “1.3 million talented, dedicated people” who work for Amazon have “done crazy things together” that lie at “the root” of Amazon’s success? None other than Jeff Bezos himself. All these noble sentiments appear in the February 2 letter Bezos emailed to Amazon employees on the day he announced his decision to step down as CEO.

“I hope you are as proud of our inventiveness as I am,” the Bezos email smiled. “I think you should be.”

Now on one level, of course, the sentiments in this Bezos salute to Amazon’s staff merely follow the standard departing-executive magnanimity playbook. Tell your folks you couldn’t have done it without them. We’ve each heard this line—from those at the top—a hundred times over. But that doesn’t make the line false. Enterprise success does reflect a collective effort. Always has. Always will.

So kudos to Bezos for following that standard playbook and recognizing—in his farewell words as CEO—the enormous contributions that Amazon’s employees have made over the past 27 years. But hisses and boos for his abject failure, over those same 27 years, to recognize those contributions in actual deed. Amazon’s employees should have been sharing in the company’s success all along. The rewards, instead, have flowed overwhelmingly to Bezos himself.

eff Bezos is stepping down as CEO of Amazon. He’ll stay on as the executive chairman of Amazon’s board, but he’ll no longer be managing the company on a daily basis. Editors and pundits worldwide are treating this news as an epochal event. The supreme giant of the Internet economy, goes the refrain, is moving on.

The Bezos decision to exit Amazon’s CEO suite, Bloomberg laments, at least partially ends “one of the most epic runs in modern business history.” Bezos, adds CNET, gave us “more than a quarter-century of shattering the status quo.” The man built, exclaims CNBC, “a $1.6 trillion company from nothing.” His “genius,” the UK Telegraph sums up, makes Bezos, “the Henry Ford of his generation.”

Look, Jeff Bezos certainly does rate as a smart guy. But smart people abound in the Internet economy. Many of them work at Amazon. Collectively, as a group, all these smart people have brought us the many innovations that have sped Amazon’s rise to global dominance, everything from personalized recommendations to “1-Click” shopping.

In other words, Jeff Bezos individually didn’t create an enterprise hundreds of millions of people worldwide now depend on. The employees at Amazon, working together, created this enterprise. They deserve the credit, not one individual named Jeff Bezos. We ought to be recognizing their collective achievement.

And who couldn’t agree more that the “1.3 million talented, dedicated people” who work for Amazon have “done crazy things together” that lie at “the root” of Amazon’s success? None other than Jeff Bezos himself. All these noble sentiments appear in the February 2 letter Bezos emailed to Amazon employees on the day he announced his decision to step down as CEO.

“I hope you are as proud of our inventiveness as I am,” the Bezos email smiled. “I think you should be.”

Now on one level, of course, the sentiments in this Bezos salute to Amazon’s staff merely follow the standard departing-executive magnanimity playbook. Tell your folks you couldn’t have done it without them. We’ve each heard this line—from those at the top—a hundred times over. But that doesn’t make the line false. Enterprise success does reflect a collective effort. Always has. Always will.

So kudos to Bezos for following that standard playbook and recognizing—in his farewell words as CEO—the enormous contributions that Amazon’s employees have made over the past 27 years. But hisses and boos for his abject failure, over those same 27 years, to recognize those contributions in actual deed. Amazon’s employees should have been sharing in the company’s success all along. The rewards, instead, have flowed overwhelmingly to Bezos himself.

Content licensed under a Creative Commons 3.0 License

Sam Pizzigati co-edits Inequality.org. His latest book, The Case for a Maximum Wage, has just been published. Among his other books on maldistributed income and wealth: The Rich Don’t Always Win: The Forgotten Triumph over Plutocracy that Created the American Middle Class, 1900-1970. Follow him at @Too_Much_Online.

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