Jeff Bezos Demonstrates the Power of Storytelling for Your Business

Steve Anderson

Steve Anderson

Risk and Growth Expert

This newsletter issue is part of the Return on Risk LinkedIn Newsletter Series, designed to help you to better understand the exquisite tension between risk and growth.

Last week the CEOs of Amazon, Apple, Google, and Facebook testified before the House Judiciary’s subcommittee on antitrust. Each was invited to present a written opening statement. The statement by Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon, was 4,540 words long. I encourage you to read the full statement which is available on Amazon’s website.

As the hearing started, each CEO was given five minutes to summarize their written statement. It would have taken Bezos over 30 minutes to read his entire statement, so I was especially interested in what he felt were the most important points to include in his limited five-minutes. You can tell he practiced what he wanted to say as he only went 3 seconds over his allotted time. Here is what he said:

Following is the full text of his 5-minute statement.

Thank you, Chairman Cicilline, Ranking Member Sensenbrenner, and members of the subcommittee. I was born into great wealth. Not monetary wealth, but it was the wealth of the loving family, a family that fostered my curiosity and encouraged me to dream big.

My mom, Jackie had me when she was a 17-year-old high school student in Albuquerque. Being pregnant in high school, was not popular. The school tried to kick her out. But she was allowed to finish. After my grandfather negotiated terms with the principal.

She couldn’t have a locker. No extracurriculars and couldn’t walk across the stage to get her diploma. She graduated and was determined to continue her education. So she enrolled in night school, bring me her infant son to class with her throughout.

My dad’s name is Miguel. He adopted me when I was four. He was 16 when he came to the US from Cuba by himself. Shortly after Castro took over.

My dad didn’t speak English, and he did not have an easy path. What he did have was grit and determination. He received a scholarship to college in Albuquerque, which is where he met my mom. Together with my grandparents, these hardworking resourceful and loving people made me who I am.

I walked away from a steady job on Wall Street into a car garage to found Amazon fully understanding that it might not work. It feels like just yesterday I was driving the packages to the post office myself, dreaming that one day, we might afford a forklift.

Customer obsession has driven our success. And I take it as an article of faith that customers notice when you do the right thing.

You earn trust slowly over time. By doing hard things well, delivering on time, offering everyday low prices, making promises, and keeping them and making principal decisions, even when they are unpopular. And our approach is working. 80% of Americans have a favorable impression of Amazon overall. Who do Americans trust more than Amazon to do the right thing? Only their doctors and the military.

The retail market we participate in is extraordinarily large and competitive. Amazon accounts for less than 1% of the $25 trillion global retail market, and less than 4% of US retail. There’s room in retail for multiple winners. We compete against large established players like Target, Costco, Kroger, and of course, Walmart, a company more than twice Amazon’s size.

20 years ago, we made the decision to invite other sellers to sell in our store. To share the same valuable real estate, we spend billions to build, market, and maintain.

We believe that combining the strengths of Amazon store with the vast selection of products offered by third parties would be a better experience for customers, and the growing pie of revenue and profits would be big enough for all.

We were betting that it was not a zero-sum game. Fortunately, we were right. There are now 1.7 million small and medium-sized businesses selling on Amazon.

The trust customers put in us every day has allowed Amazon to create more jobs in the United States over the past decade, than any other company. Hundreds of thousands of jobs across 42 states.

Amazon employees make a minimum of $15 an hour, more than double the federal minimum wage. And we offer the best benefits. Benefits that include comprehensive health insurance, 401k retirement, and parental leave which includes 20 weeks of paid maternity leave.

More than any place on earth entrepreneurial companies start to grow and thrive here in the US. We nurture entrepreneurs and startups, with a stable rule of law, the finest university system in the world, the freedom of democracy, and a deeply accepted culture of risk-taking.

Of course, this great nation of ours is far from perfect, even as we remember congressman John Lewis and honor his legacy. We’re in the middle of a much-needed race reckoning.

We also face the challenges of climate change and income inequality. And we’re stumbling through the crisis of a global pandemic.

Still, with all of our faults and problems, the rest of the world would love, even the tiniest sip of the elixir, we have here in the US.

Immigrants like my dad see what a treasure this country is. They have perspective and often can see it even more clearly than those of us who are lucky enough to be born here.

It is still Day 1 for this country, and even in the face of today’s humbling challenges, I have never been more optimistic about our future.

I appreciate the opportunity to appear before you today. I’m very happy to take your questions.

Storytelling Sets Bezos Apart

One of Jeff Bezos core competencies is storytelling. It started early with his 1997 letter to shareholders where he told the story of his vision for what Amazon was going to become. In 2004 he sent an email to the s-team (senior leadership team) stating that slide oriented presentations would no longer be allowed at steam meetings. Instead, a written narrative would be required and read at the beginning of the meeting.

Amazon’s Writing Culture

The importance of writing can best be explained by this description on Amazon’s job recruiting website:

“For some roles, we may ask a candidate to complete a writing sample. Why? At Amazon, we don’t do PowerPoint or any other slide oriented presentations. Instead, we write narratively-structured memos and silently read one at the beginning of each meeting in a kind of “study hall.” These papers generally range from one to six pages and articulate the project goal(s), approach to addressing it, outcome, and next steps. Given this unique aspect of our culture, and the impact these papers have on what decisions we make as a company, being able to articulate your thoughts in written format is a necessary skill.”

It is still Day 1 for this country, and even in the face of today’s humbling challenges, I have never been more optimistic about our future.

What can your business learn from the power of telling a story about what you do and what you offer to your clients, vendors, and employees?

Steve Anderson

Learn more about best-selling author Steve Anderson and how he shows business owners, executives, and leaders how to apply Bezos’ same practices to their businesses.
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