Amazon.com Inc. AMZN -0.60% Chief Executive Jeff Bezos says he recently thought a new show the Amazon Studios team was considering was too boring and complicated to produce. But he gave it the green light anyway because the team thought it had potential.
Mr. Bezos told his team, “I disagree and commit and hope it becomes the most watched thing we’ve ever made,” he wrote in a shareholder letter published Wednesday. “Consider how much slower this decision cycle would have been if the team had actually had to convince me rather than simply get my commitment.”
The letter, an annual exercise, offers a window into Mr. Bezos’s management philosophy, describing how he can disagree with employees but still back their projects, as well as his opposition to relying on market research and other core company tenets.
Amazon also released data on compensation, which showed Andy Jassy, who runs the Amazon Web Services cloud division, was the top earner at $35.6 million last year, including stock awards.
Here are some key Jeff Bezos quotes from past shareholder letters.
- 2015 shareholder letter: Failure comes from invention: “I believe we are the best place in the world to fail (we have plenty of practice!), and failure and invention are inseparable twins. To invent you have to experiment, and if you know in advance that it’s going to work, it’s not an experiment.”
- 2012 shareholder letter: Being proactive is better than being reactive: “When we’re at our best, we don’t wait for external pressures. We are internally driven to improve our services, adding benefits and features, before we have to.”
- 2009 shareholder letter: When setting goals, always keep these people in mind: “Start with customers, and work backwards. Listen to customers, but don’t just listen to customers—also invent on their behalf.“
- 2007 shareholder letter: Be comfortable with change: “We humans co-evolve with our tools. We change our tools, and then our tools change us.”
Mr. Bezos still earned a base salary of $81,840 last year, and because of his large stake in the company, has never taken stock-based compensation. His stake was down to 16.9% at the end of 2016 from 17.6% in 2015, according to company filings. He recently said he has sold about $1 billion a year in Amazon stock to help fund his rocket ship company, Blue Origin LLC.
Mr. Bezos does, however, receive benefits, including a security detail, that brought his total compensation to $1.68 million, the same as the previous year.
As he does every year, Mr. Bezos stressed the importance of putting customers first and keeping a startup mentality, attaching a copy of his original letter to shareholders from 1997. In his letter this year, Mr. Bezos cited the importance of focusing on customers, avoiding proxies, adopting outside trends and making fast decisions—themes he has hit on in the past.
“We can have the scope and capabilities of a large company and the spirit and heart of a small one. But we have to choose it,” Mr. Bezos wrote.
His immediate management team, including Mr. Jassy, all earned substantially more than the founder. Jeff Wilke, CEO of world-wide consumer, earned $33 million last year including stock awards, up from $175,959 the year before when he received none, while Diego Piacentini, senior vice president of international consumer business, earned $23.7 million.
Amazon in recent years has rapidly grown beyond pure online retail, building out a massive cloud-services business, moving into movies and other content, and developing devices like the artificial-assistant powered Echo, which Mr. Bezos said the company continues to struggle to keep in stock.
The Seattle-based online retail giant is also starting to build brick-and-mortar retail stores.
But that also means growing pains. Analysts are concerned Amazon has entered a new round of heavy investments, which could ding profits in the near term. The company has promised to add 130,000 full- and part-time jobs through mid-2018. And many older companies struggle to continue innovating.
The Amazon Studios example offers a glimpse into how Mr. Bezos tries to keep Amazon nimble. He says he thought there were better opportunities out there, but followed his team’s lead.
“And given that this team has already brought home 11 Emmys, 6 Golden Globes, and 3 Oscars, I’m just glad they let me in the room at all!” he adds.