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Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos spoke to a small group of startup CEOs in Seattle last night
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos. (GeekWire File Photo)

Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos has a special relationship with Madrona Venture Group, the venerable Seattle venture capital firm.

In 1995, Amazon took a small seed investment from Tom Alberg, one of the earliest investments in the online bookseller and one of the first by the newly-assembled team at Madrona Venture Group. (More on that story here).

Venture capitalist Tom Alberg led the discussion with Jeff Bezos
Venture capitalist Tom Alberg led the discussion with Jeff Bezos

Given that rich history, it was only fitting that Bezos made a surprise appearance at Madrona’s 20th anniversary celebration Monday night at the Museum of History & Industry, not far from Amazon’s headquarters in the South Lake Union neighborhood.

Bezos darted out before many of the guests arrived, but he did address a small group of tech leaders from Madrona portfolio companies before the party started.

Many of the tech CEOs were buzzing about Bezos’ appearance — a rarity for the tech executive who shuns the public limelight in his relentless drive to please customers.

“Normally ‘fireseide chats’ are interesting but not deep enough to be actionable,” said one of the tech CEOs who heard Bezos speak.  “This was’t the case.  The room was full of of startup CEOs, so the topics were well targeted and we covered a lot of ground.”

The discussion between Alberg — an Amazon board member — and Bezos was touted as “off the record,” and those in the room were discouraged from Tweeting or sharing anecdotes via social media. No video or audio was taken of the talk.

While GeekWire was not in the room for the talk, nor told about the appearance in advance, several tech leaders who heard Bezos speak said that he addressed a number of leadership and business issues.

He talked about the diversification of Amazon’s business, and how the company moved beyond online retailing into cloud computing and other areas. And he discussed how to work with managers, according to people who heard him speak.

The billionaire tech exec also was asked what advice he’d give to a 30-year-old Jeff Bezos.

The answer: Listen more.

Bezos even addressed the blistering New York Times story about Amazon’s workplace culture — a story that resurfaced on Monday after Amazon’s global public affairs chief, Jay Carney, ripped into the story as a bad piece of journalism.

Bezos, who spoke for about an hour, told the CEOs that he typically does not address outside criticism of the company. But in the instance of the NYT story — which detailed a hard-charging workplace that Bezos himself said he did not recognize — the CEO said he did not want employees whispering in the halls about the story.

Many have surmised that Amazon’s recruiting efforts have taken a hit since the piece ran, one of the reasons why Bezos and Carney felt compelled to tackle the story head-on.

For more on Madrona’s anniversary party, check out this photo gallery.

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