Trending: It’s true: Amazon has been profitable for nearly two years, even without AWS cloud windfall


According to former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, people don’t really like working at Amazon.

In a wide-ranging interview with Bloomberg TV, which covered everything from Ballmer’s investment in Twitter to his ownership of the NBA’s Los Angeles Clippers, the 59-year-old had some harsh words about the working conditions at Amazon.

During the interview, Bloomberg’s Stephanie Ruhle talked about the widely read New York Times article about Amazon’s “bruising workplace,” which quotes Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos from 2003 saying that “if Amazon became like Microsoft we would die.”

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos.
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos.

Ballmer responded by noting how Amazon is a place “that people don’t want to work [at].”

“Anybody who ever left Microsoft [to Amazon] … we could count on them coming back within a year or two because it’s not a great place to work, to do innovative stuff as an engineer,” he told Bloomberg.

Amazon’s treatment of employees has become a hot topic in the tech world ever since the Times in August published its story titled “Inside Amazon: Wrestling Big Ideas in a Bruising Workplace.” The company has refuted many parts of the story, most recently challenging the Times in a Medium post written by Amazon exec Jay Carney that questions the reporting on multiple fronts.

Ballmer, meanwhile, noted today that “Microsoft’s culture is very strong.”

“Hard-driving, people are really focused on changing the world,” he said of Microsoft. “People work very hard. I believe the same is true at Amazon. But you’ve got to remember, there is intense competition between Microsoft and Amazon. Both AWS versus Microsoft Azure, but there’s also intense competition just in the city of Seattle over talent.”

microsoft12121Ballmer said that “many, many people” start at Microsoft, go work for Amazon, and then come back to Microsoft.

“At this stage I think it’s probably fair to say you see movement between the two companies,” he said. “Remember it’s not Silicon Valley where everybody’s moving between every company all the time. In Seattle there’s really some startups but mostly the two big tech employers, Microsoft and Amazon.”

This isn’t the first time Ballmer has critiqued Amazon, as the ex-Microsoft CEO told Charlie Rose last year that Amazon was not a “real business.”

“They make no money, Charlie,” Ballmer said last year. “In my world, you’re not a real business until you make some money. I have a hard time with businesses that don’t make money at some point.”

However, Amazon on Thursday reported its second consecutive profitable quarter on revenues of $25.4 billion. It also is on a hiring spree, adding 39,000 employees in the last three months alone — and reaching an all-time high of 222,400 employees — as it continues to expand its business into areas such as hardware, media, and cloud services. The company is also boosting its spending on fulfillment centers where the company sorts, packs and distributes products.

Ballmer also told Bloomberg that Microsoft will give Apple “a good run for their money.”

“Nobody else has really tried to compete with them anymore really seriously in hardware,” he said. “I mean who’s really going after the Mac? Who’s really going after the iPad? You could basically say Microsoft and Samsung. And Microsoft really is the only one that’s got a software and a hardware capability. So if there’s going to be any competition at all for Apple it will come from Microsoft.”

Microsoft reported $21.66 billion in revenue and profits of $5.38 billion on Thursday, beating analyst expectations. Its stock is up more than 10 percent today; shares of Amazon are also up seven percent today.

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