Amazon’s hiring of former presidential press secretary Jay Carney might have seemed like an unusual move at the time, but it sure paid off for Jeff Bezos today.
At the company’s annual shareholders meeting in Seattle this morning, the Amazon CEO was peppered with questions from people representing causes including workers’ rights, the environment, urban development, and racial and gender diversity in the tech industry, in addition to a repeat appearance by a representative of a group opposing the company’s sale of foie gras.
After listening to an extended speech from Rev. Jesse Jackson, Bezos applauded, made brief remarks and handed the floor to Carney.
Using skills honed in front of the White House press corps, Carney assured the civil rights leader that Amazon is “working very hard on diversity,” outlining the steps the company has taken to disclose its workforce statistics and support technical education and training in underserved communities, among other initiatives.
Without agreeing to any of Jackson’s specific requests — such as searching for minorities to elect to the company’s board — Carney concluded by acknowledging that Amazon still has work to do, and saying that if any company has the “ingenuity” to figure it out, it’s Amazon.
During his earlier presentation at the event, Bezos implicitly countered some of the criticisms of the company on worker rights by showing an inspirational video about Amazon’s Career Choice worker retraining program, and another video about the company’s commitment to building and expanding within the city of Seattle.
Bezos noted that 15 percent of Amazon’s Seattle workforce lives in the same zip code as the company’s headquarters, and 20 percent of its Seattle workforce walks to work. (That’s prior to the company opening its new three-block campus, currently under development on the northern edge of downtown Seattle.)
The Amazon CEO also talked about the company’s work on renewable energy, including this morning’s announcement that Amazon will build a new solar farm in Virginia.
In the end, the Q&A portion of the meeting was dominated not by actual questions about Amazon’s business but by political statements from audience members, with cursory questions tacked on at the end.
Bezos’ prepared remarks left several important questions unanswered, including the fate of the Fire Phone and the status of the company’s drone delivery initiative, but if any shareholders were inclined to ask about those topics, they didn’t get a chance.