What To Glean From Jeff Bezos’ Annual Shareholder Letter

April 19, 2018, 3:58 PM UTC
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos Addresses Economic Club Of New York
Photograph by Drew Angerer—Getty Images

Amazon on Wednesday released the annual letter CEO Jeff Bezos writes to shareholders. It has supplanted Warren Buffett’s yearly investment update as the seminal tract for entrepreneurs, executives, and anyone who generally cares about business excellence—or the latest at Amazon.

It’s a long essay, chock-full of carefully selected details of Amazon’s business. It also includes the hardy perennial crop of management advice from Bezos that is both common sense and best-practices gold simply because it works so well for Amazon (AMZN).

A few highlights:

* Bezos begins with something of a yawner recitation of customer-satisfaction surveys Amazon has topped. That’s purposeful. The Amazon founder explains any and every action around its utility to the customer. Can your business say the same?

* He disclosed that Amazon has 100 million Prime members, sending Wall Street analysts to their spreadsheets to update their financial models. Amazon is parsimonious with non-required financial data, so the milestone figure is valuable and impressive. It has 560,000 employees, by the way. Wow.

* Take some time to read how Bezos describes high standards, right down to the care he recommends executives take in writing the company’s famous internal six-page narrative memos. There isn’t a member of the Fortune editorial team, including myself, who couldn’t benefit from his advice about leaving enough time to finish an arduous task that also requires teamwork.

* Of Amazon-owned Whole Foods, Bezos writes: “We’ve also begun the technical work needed to recognize Prime members at the point of sale and look forward to offering more Prime benefits to Whole Foods shoppers once that is completed.” As I commented earlier in the week regarding Netflix (NFLX) (in contrast to Facebook (FB) ), note how Amazon is aggressively using customer data to serve its customers, not to sell that information to others.

* Bezos called Amazon’s India website the “fastest growing marketplace” in that country, bragged about the downloads of its shopping app there, and said Prime membership adoption has been unprecedented for Amazon. He also shared precisely zero financial or any other operating metrics on India. In late 2015 Fortune’s Vivienne Walt wrote the definitive account of Amazon’s aspirations there.

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Fortune‘s annual list of the World’s Greatest Leaders launched this morning. Along with well-known CEOs like Apple’s Tim Cook and GM’s Mary Barra, this year’s list also includes the Marjory Stoneman Douglas students.

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