May 17, 2015

Customer Obsession, Insist on the Highest Standards, Think Big, and Deliver Results

Photo: John Cook/GeekWire
As part of Seattle University's Albers Executive Series, I attended a talk on May 12, 2015 by Jeff Wilke, Senior Vice President of Consumer Business at Speaking on " Our Peculiar Leadership Principles," Mr. Wilke talked about his background as a former chemical engineer and self-described hacker, the experience of moving his young family to Seattle in 1999 to join, and's Leadership Principles, which are outlined below.

John Cook of GeekWire wrote two articles about Mr. Wilke's talk: "The peculiar traits of great Amazon leaders: Frugal, innovative and body odor that doesn't smell like perfume" and "This is the one thing that absolutely terrifies the head of Amazon's massive consumer business." However, there are aspects of's Leadership Principles worth discussing in this post--many of which can be incorporated in businesses across a plethora of sectors.

My father, who spent most of his adult life as a cab driver, often said, "Customer service is #1." While companies should never lose focus on developing a service or product of the highest quality, successful businesses understand the importance of providing exceptional customer service.

As stated in my previous post, it takes a team to build a successful company. While each member of the company comes with a unique background and qualifications, leaders must possess high standards and continually raise the bar to drive their teams to deliver high quality products, services, and processes.

Thinking big is often a difficult concept for leaders to understand and communicate. Most entrepreneurs want to think big, but what does this really mean? "Think big" provides a different meaning whether it applies to a company's profit, staffing, product line, market share or geographic presence. Irrespective of the definition of "think big," a leader must communicate a bold direction that inspires results.

"Deliver results" is something that I express regularly to my colleagues (and try to hold myself accountable to this principle). People will encounter setbacks and obstacles, but the drive to deliver results should remain a constant focal point.

I see value in each one of's Leadership Principles. What would you add to the list?


Whether you are an individual contributor or the manager of a large team, you are an Amazon leader. These are our leadership principles and every Amazonian is guided by these principles.

Customer Obsession
Leaders start with the customer and work backwards. They work vigorously to earn and keep customer trust. Although leaders pay attention to competitors, they obsess over customers.

Leaders are owners. They think long term and don’t sacrifice long-term value for short-term results. They act on behalf of the entire company, beyond just their own team. They never say “that’s not my job."

Invent and Simplify
Leaders expect and require innovation and invention from their teams and always find ways to simplify. They are externally aware, look for new ideas from everywhere, and are not limited by "not invented here." As we do new things, we accept that we may be misunderstood for long periods of time.

Are Right, A Lot
Leaders are right a lot. They have strong business judgment and good instincts.

Hire and Develop the Best
Leaders raise the performance bar with every hire and promotion. They recognize exceptional talent, and willingly move them throughout the organization. Leaders develop leaders and take seriously their role in coaching others.

Insist on the Highest Standards
Leaders have relentlessly high standards - many people may think these standards are unreasonably high. Leaders are continually raising the bar and driving their teams to deliver high quality products, services and processes. Leaders ensure that defects do not get sent down the line and that problems are fixed so they stay fixed.

Think Big
Thinking small is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Leaders create and communicate a bold direction that inspires results. They think differently and look around corners for ways to serve customers.

Bias for Action
Speed matters in business. Many decisions and actions are reversible and do not need extensive study. We value calculated risk taking.

We try not to spend money on things that don’t matter to customers. Frugality breeds resourcefulness, self-sufficiency, and invention. There are no extra points for headcount, budget size, or fixed expense.

Vocally Self Critical
Leaders do not believe their or their team’s body odor smells of perfume. Leaders come forward with problems or information, even when doing so is awkward or embarrassing. Leaders benchmark themselves and their teams against the best.

Earn Trust of Others
Leaders are sincerely open-minded, genuinely listen, and are willing to examine their strongest convictions with humility.

Dive Deep
Leaders operate at all levels, stay connected to the details, and audit frequently. No task is beneath them.

Have Backbone; Disagree and Commit
Leaders are obligated to respectfully challenge decisions when they disagree, even when doing so is uncomfortable or exhausting. Leaders have conviction and are tenacious. They do not compromise for the sake of social cohesion. Once a decision is determined, they commit wholly.

Deliver Results
Leaders focus on the key inputs for their business and deliver them with the right quality and in a timely fashion. Despite setbacks, they rise to the occasion and never settle.

Aaron Rose is an advisor to talented entrepreneurs and co-founder of great companies. He also serves as the editor of Solutions for a Sustainable World.

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