In December 2009 Mark Onetto, chief of operations and customer relations at Amazon and a close collaborator of Bezos, gave an hourlong lecture on the Amazon Way to master’s of business administration students at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business.
Onetto is a disconcerting figure, because once he starts talking, style and substance are in sharp contrast.
He is French born, and he still speaks with the rather faded insouciance of Maurice Chevalier and “Gay Paree,” and he makes much of this in his lecture.
With this twenty-first-century Taylorism, management experts, take the basic workplace tasks at Amazon, such as the movement, shelving, and packaging of goods, and break down these tasks into their subtasks, usually measured in seconds; then rely on time and motion studies to find the fastest way to perform each subtask; and then reassemble the subtasks and make this “one best way” the process that employees must follow.
Amazon is also a truly global corporation in a way that Walmart has never been, and this globalism provides insights into how Amazon responds to workplaces beyond the United States that can follow different rules.
In the past three years, the harsh side of Amazon has come to light in the United Kingdom and Germany as well as the United States, and Amazon’s contrasting conduct in America and Britain, on one side, and in Germany, on the other, reveals how the political economy of Germany is employee friendly in a way that those of the other two countries no longer are.
Amazon, like General Electric and Walmart, prides itself as a self-consciously ideological corporation, with Jeff Bezos and his senior executives proclaiming an “Amazon Way” that can illuminate the path forward for less innovative businesses.
Within the corporate world, Amazon now ranks with Apple as among the United States’ most esteemed businesses.
Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s founder and CEO, came in second in the Harvard Business Review’s 2012 world rankings of admired CEOs, and Amazon was third in CNN’s 2012 list of the world’s most admired companies.
Amazon is now a leading global seller not only of books but also of music and movie DVDs, video games, gift cards, cell phones, and magazine subscriptions.
Like Walmart itself, Amazon combines state-of-the-art CBSs with human resource practices reminiscent of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.