Interview Transcript

To get into a little history, what was Amazon like when you joined?

I think if I take a huge step back, I don't think that the Amazon culture changed significantly from those early days, compared to where it is today. The things that really jumped out at me when I joined Amazon, which I would say were most different to other organisations, was that there was an incredible sense of teamwork and a real sense of ownership. Having worked in many organisations where you would have people who would turn up to a meeting but wouldn't take responsibility, Amazon had an incredibly strong culture of people taking ownership of things. I was reconciling why that would be the case in this company versus others. I think that the atmosphere at Amazon was: “If I try something and it doesn't work out, I'm supported by the organisation, because I'm trying things.” It wasn't a culture where if you tried something and it didn't work out, you would lose your job.

People at Amazon had the incredible confidence to say, “This is my responsibility, I'm going to take this on,” in the knowledge that they would do their best and they would feel supported. I think that was quite unique, because very quickly you had people who were highly engaged and taking ownership of things, which of course is one of Amazon's leadership principles. For me, it was just surprising that things could be run this way, where people say, “That's my responsibility. That's my job,” as opposed to sitting back and waiting to be told they had to do things.

Beyond that, the other thing that really resonated with me was how close to the business the senior leaders still were and how hands-on they were. It wasn't a question of guys sitting in offices. The leadership team was still highly connected to the business, and truly understood the business in as much detail as anybody else, if not more. That was really encouraging, that the guys that had been there a really long time absolutely knew the business in incredible detail. So that was very very rewarding.

Would that have been people like Allan Lyall?

Yes. Ralf Kleber was running the German business when I arrived. He actually still is. Even along those lines, you've got leaders who have been with the business for a very long time. When I joined, Ralf had already been with the business for 9 years. He's now been with the business about 20 years. So you've got senior leaders who stay with the organisation for an incredibly long time. That gives you a sense that it is a great place to work, because if your people are staying with your company for so long, then clearly there’s something that they are connected to. What I found that it almost felt like the senior guys were friends with each other. They'd worked together for so long, they knew each other and there was a huge respect of people's capabilities and how they worked together. Allan Lyall was one of the guys who I'd include in that group.

Amazon’s list of leadership principles is fairly long. Which principles stood out to you the most in your experience at the company? Is there an essence you could distill?

During the Amazon recruitment process, your first engagement with the company is competency-based interviews targeted around the leadership principles. I was interviewing, and I was doing it a lot because of the rate at which we were scaling.

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