When it comes to company culture, it’s a tale of two Amazons. There is the innovative, passionate Amazon where employees love coming to work to build awesome new products on startup-like teams. There is also the hard-charging, competitive workplace characterized by a scathing New York Times story in 2015.
Which narrative depicts the real Amazon? Both, says Ann Winblad, co-founder of software VC firm Hummer Winblad Venture Partners. In an interview with Axios, she said there’s nothing wrong with a tech company that values “very hard work” and said despite that culture, Amazon’s employees remain fiercely loyal.
“I can’t recruit anybody out of there,” Winblad told Axios. “It is a hardworking culture; it is a demanding culture. In the end, Jeff [Bezos] has built an extraordinary mission and an extraordinary company. It’s built on very hard work and that’s OK. The good companies are hard driving. It is a competitive industry.”
Amazon and CEO Jeff Bezos have never denied that the company values hard work and goes to great lengths to maintain a competitive edge with customers. That customer focus has helped Amazon top the Harris Poll for corporate reputation in the U.S. for two years in a row — another example of the company’s dichotomous reputation. But the New York Times story still struck a nerve with Seattle e-commerce giant.
After it was published, Bezos said, “the article doesn’t describe the Amazon I know or the caring Amazonians I work with every day,” in an internal email to employees. Amazon also disputed many factual elements of the story.
Amazon has become a polarizing company in its hometown and the tech community at large. For some Seattleites, Amazon has become a symbol of their frustrations with the changing character of the city, which is experiencing rising rents and home values and a population boom driven by the tech industry. And though the New York Times story fed into that narrative, many employees quickly came to the company’s defense.
“Most of us work here because we want to solve the world’s most challenging technology problems,” said Amazon Engineer Nick Ciubotariu in a long essay challenging the New York Times piece. “We come to work, do our best, have fun, and go home. While what the authors write sounds evil-scary-bad, it lacks, you know, facts and substance.”