A 15th Amazon leadership principle? Former exec floats new idea for tech giant’s next era

Andy Jassy will take over as Amazon CEO on July 5. (GeekWire File Photo / Todd Bishop)

Amazon is at a pivotal moment in its history, facing growing regulatory and legal scrutiny just as a new CEO, Andy Jassy, takes the reins from founder Jeff Bezos. Could a new leadership principle help to guide the company in its next era?

John Rossman, a former Amazon executive, is the author books including The Amazon Way and Think Like Amazon.

John Rossman, a former Amazon business leader, is floating the idea of a 15th leadership principle in a new edition of his book, The Amazon Way. His suggestion is based on the Golden Rule, supplementing but not tempering the company’s legendary customer obsession.

“Treat others as you’d like to be treated — employees, vendors, partners, brands, small companies, competitors, press, critics, community,” reads his suggested leadership principle, in part. “Contribute and be a leading steward of your community. Foster and lobby not for your best interests, but for future innovation and competition’s best interest.”

It concludes, “Conduct yourself, both personally and as an organization, in a way your mom and your kids would be proud of. Always.”

From the outside, it might sound like mere window dressing, but given the role that the existing 14 leadership principles play in Amazon’s day-to-day operations, Rossman says the addition could have a real impact.

“You actually have to insert them into how you hire, how you operate every day, how you evaluate, how you think about strategy and operations,” he says. “I think would push them to have to innovate in new ways, and would work in conjunction — not in conflict — with their other principles.”

The suggested addition is in line with the themes sounded by Jeff Bezos in his final shareholder letter as Amazon CEO, which came out after Rossman drafted the update to the book.

During his tenure at the company, Rossman played a key role in launching the Amazon Marketplace business before leading the company’s Enterprise Services business. He’s now a business advisor on strategy, leadership and innovation. He’s our guest on this episode of Day 2, GeekWire’s podcast about everything Amazon.

Listen above, subscribe in any podcast app, and keep reading for edited highlights.

A durable principle: Rossman’s suggested leadership principle resulted from a thought experiment: How would he advise Amazon to counter growing negative public perception?

“It wouldn’t be the only thing I would do, but one of the places I would start is, how do we reset the conversation?” he said. “I tried to create a durable principle, one that would work both for today, as well as for 10, 15 years from now. I came to something that’s based off of stewardship. They need to be a leading steward for all of those other stakeholders.”

Amazon’s leadership transition: While the passing of the baton from Bezos to Jassy is getting most of the attention, Rossman said another executive transition may be more significant: Jeff Wilke’s departure as Amazon’s Worldwide Consumer CEO. He has been succeeded by Dave Clark, who previously ran the company’s global operations and logistics division.

“Jeff (Wilke) was such an esteemed leader at Amazon, and influenced it both tactically and operationally, and strategically and culturally,” Rossman said. “It’ll be really interesting to see how Dave Clark and the rest of that leadership team steps up into running the commercial retail side of the business.”

Antitrust remedies? Asked about the growing government scrutiny of the company’s tactics, Rossman said he believes responsibility falls first on legislators and policymakers to update outdated laws and regulations.

“My opinion is Amazon doesn’t hit the bar or the triggers for any of the anti-competitive policies that we have in place. They absolutely live up to all their obligations,” he said. “But what that shows is that our policies are out of date.”

“Politicians are griping at Amazon, and they need to be looking at themselves,” he added. “Amazon is doing what every company does and should do, which is play the game, play the game hard, play the game to win for shareholders and stay within the boundaries.”

What’s next for Amazon? Healthcare and wireless communications are two of the most promising areas for the company, Rossman said.

Healthcare will become bigger and bigger component of Amazon’s strategy across its business, including Amazon Web Services, e-commerce, services for their employees, payments and other areas, he predicted.

Examples of Amazon’s move into wireless and mobile technology include its Project Kuiper satellite service and its Sidewalk neighborhood wireless network.

“Amazon’s a big company now, with big growth ambitions,” he said, “and so they need to tackle big markets.”

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Amazon Day 2 Andy jassy Jeff bezos John rossman