But the idea that the culture Mr Bezos has created is so demanding and abrasive that colleagues cannot stick it is not borne out by a look at his executive team, many of whom have worked with him for years
And for all his Wall Street drive, there’s more to Mr Bezos’ mentality than a desire to crush the competition through hard work and discounting prices. There is also an intellectual ambition to get to the bottom of knotty problems by the application of brainpower.
One of Mr Bezos’ ideas is that when hiring new staff, “Amazonians” should always pick someone smarter than themselves. That way the overall level of intelligence at the company will keep on rising. (Apparently he has not found anyone smart enough to replace himself yet.)
The focus on brainpower is seen daily in the way meetings are conducted. They typically consist of the reading and discussion of a six-page “narrative”, which is the distillation of an issue and a proposed solution put forward by one of the participants.
With narratives, arguments have to be made explicit in old-fashioned prose and figures, presented in detail so everyone can examine the case for themselves. So meetings often consist of people sitting and reading silently for 30 minutes, and making notes before cross-examining the author.
Former manager Dave Cotter says: “It’s a really intellectual exercise that, once you go through it a few times, you realise how powerful it is.” Now that he has left Amazon, Mr Cotter says he has discovered “most of the world does not follow that kind of intellectual rigour”.