Lessons from the CEO who Jeff Bezos called "His Teacher"

Welcome new subscribers! If you aren’t subscribed, explore new ideas and retain your childlike sense of wonder by subscribing here:

“I have been lucky enough to have him as my tutor. I've learned so much from him, and I'm not the only one. He's been an incredible teacher to all of us. That form of leadership is so leveraged. When you see us taking care of customers, you can thank Jeff for it….Jeff's legacy and impact will live on long after he departs. He is simply one of those people without whom Amazon would be completely unrecognizable.” — Jeff Bezos

Jeff Wilke (JAW), the former CEO of Amazon Worldwide Consumer Business, retired in Q1 2021 after 22 years at the company. He recently had an insightful conversation with NFX’s James Currier (link to podcast episode).

Below are the lessons I noted.

Lesson #1: A key part of the executive leadership’s role is to build mechanisms to ensure the culture thrives (e.g. stay Day 1 vs. Day 2) and continues to attract the best talent. Codify what makes your company special.

An example is the Amazon Steam being the steward of the Leadership Principles and ensuring the words get used everyday throughout the company (e.g. giving feedback, writing documents, goal setting, talking to customers).

Lesson #2: Spend time writing concise descriptions to avoid subjective definitions as the company scales. The words you choose matter.

Lesson #3: Be adaptable and revise your company values/Leadership Principles if you are missing things.

Lesson #4: JAW describes mechanisms as “a tool or process where you achieve adoption and periodically inspect to make sure the tool or process is being used as intended or can be improved (if it can, then improve it).” The key is to periodically inspect the tool or process to question if it is still working (uninspected data is always wrong). Build an obsession for inspecting the process.

Lesson #5: When you put someone in charge, make them single-threaded (aka that business is the only thing that person should focus on).

Lesson #6: Focus on Inputs > Outputs. When you do, you worry less about the inter-organizational outputs that lead to team infighting.

Lesson #7: Give your team the courage to think big by simultaneously letting them know you will hold them to high standards while supporting them if they fail.

Lesson #8: Ingredients of a great teacher (a) competence; (b) lifelong learner - the best teachers are often the best learners; (c) communication style and ability to relate to people in an authentic way; and (d) finding mechanisms to project teaching broadly as the company scales (critical in a virtual/remote world).

Additional lessons from Fact of the Day 1 by Danny Sheridan (I recommend subscribing).

JAW on Amazon’s Virtuous Cycle

JAW on Inputs and Mechanisms

JAW on Walking The Floor

*Amazon Easter Egg* — learn about JAW and his flannels by typing “Wilke’s favorite flannel” into the search bar on Amazon or the Amazon mobile app and click the top banner (or click here).

Thank you JAW for your Day 1 dynamism and Customer Obsession.

If you enjoy this content, join our community and sign up to receive future emails directly in your inbox. And, if you have ideas to share, tweet at me!

“Fly High, Burn Bright, Be Curious.”