Dan Rose Profile picture
Sep 12, 2020 11 tweets 2 min read Read on X
Amazon launched in July 1995, and every Xmas was a near death experience for the first 7 years. I joined in ‘99 and got to experience this first hand. Starting in late Nov, all corporate employees were shipped to fulfillment centers to pack boxes for 6 weeks. Here’s what I saw:
Despite efforts to plan ahead, the company literally couldn’t keep up with holiday demand. 40% of all annual orders would come through in 6 weeks from Thxgiving through New Years. Ops teams would start planning in Jan, but by Sept they were always massively behind.
As “earth’s most customer centric company,” failing to deliver presents for Xmas would have been like Santa missing his deadline. But when demand exceeds even your most aggressive forecasts, it’s a physical world problem that requires physical world solutions - ie human bodies.
Xmas ‘95, every employee including Bezos packs boxes for 6 straight weeks, then vows to never let that happen again. 1996 - corporate staff joins warehouse staff and they barely squeak through. Same story in ‘97 and ‘98. By the time I joined in ‘99, it was an annual tradition.
Picking items, packing boxes, wrapping gifts for 10 hours / day x 6 days / week is fucking hard work. I have immense appreciation for the people who do these jobs. Your legs ache, your eyes go blurry. Repeating monotonous tasks over and over again w no natural light. Exhausting.
Also extremely disruptive to the business. Imagine if every engineer, salesperson, finance and HR, etc from your company left the building for 6 weeks. All at the same time. Year after year. If you don’t do it, the business could die. If you do it, the business might die anyway.
This became an existential problem for Bezos. He hired a bunch of ops execs from Walmart to fix it, but they kept failing. Then in 1999 he hired an exec who came out of manufacturing, not retail. Jeff Wilke had 2 major insights that stopped the bleeding within a few years:
1/ Shipping individual boxes to individual homes looked more like manufacturing than retail. It required a full re-think on workflows and process engineering. This is when Amzn started referring to their warehouses as fulfillment centers (FC) rather than distribution centers (DC)
2/ When corporate employees from Seattle parachuted into FCs for 6 weeks and then disappeared for 11 months each year, it was massively de-motivating for FC workers. Wilke put on a flannel shirt and talked about growing up in a blue collar family. He empowered and inspired them.
By Xmas ‘02, not a single corporate employee was required to pack boxes. Hooray! Wilke was worried corporate employees would lose their connection to this vital part of the business, so he created a program where every employee would some spend time in the FCs or customer support
The annual fire drills ended, the existential threat was conquered, and the rest is history. Several years later, Wilke was promoted to CEO of Amazon Retail. Last month he announced he’ll be retiring in January 2021, after the company gets through one more holiday season. Legend.

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More from @DanRose999

Jan 8
My personal habits, insights and inspiration to stay sharp in business and life:
Read biographies before bed

I go to bed every night reading biographies. Studying great leaders from history reveals clear themes and patterns. And by falling asleep to heroic stories, the lessons seep into your subconscious. amazon.com/Churchill-Walk…
Be vulnerable

Deep and lasting relationships are built during moments of vulnerability, leading to a foundation of trust. Nothing is more rewarding (and uncomfortable) than human connection formed through authentic interaction.
Read 12 tweets
May 24, 2023
Watching the movie Air reminded me of a few times in my life when I trusted my gut and put all my chips on the table. You can’t be successful in business without taking risk, and there’s no guarantee it will work out. But when it does… Here’s a story about my big bets:
After my first year of business school at U Michigan I got a summer internship at Amazon. 3 weeks into the job they offered me a full-time position. I had a wife and 18 month-old baby. Amazon was a 5 year-old start-up, though already a public company.
When I told my friends and family I was dropping out, everyone thought I was making a huge mistake. But I knew I would learn more about business at Amazon than in school. Allison & I never looked back, literally. We hired movers to pack our stuff and never set foot in Ann Arbor.
Read 10 tweets
Dec 9, 2022
The best companies always have a strong senior leadership team, filled with people who complement each other and play well together, like a winning sports team. Here’s how I built my career by learning how to play my position at the highest level:
As a kid, soccer was my primary sport. I played center half-back and rarely scored a goal, but I was the leader in assists. I was co-captain of my high school varsity team, along with my best friend who played striker and scored most of our goals.
On the other hand, I made the mistake of thinking I should play quarterback on the football team. I rode the bench as 3rd-string QB until I switched to wide receiver where I had more success. (Eventually I left the team and found a new way to assist, as a male cheerleader!)
Read 12 tweets
Nov 20, 2022
I love to read autobiographies of people who started iconic companies. I was fortunate to work for Zuck and Bezos as their origin stories were still being written, and it's fun to pattern match against other founders. Here’s a list of some of my favorite business biographies:
1/ The Autobiography of a Founder: It’s one thing to be a great founder, it's another thing entirely to write a compelling book about your life and your company's origin story. Each of these iconic CEO’s wrote amazing autobiographies:
Sam Walton wrote an autobiography shortly before he died, and it's so good I’ve read it twice. When Walmart sued Amazon in the 90s for poaching executives, Bezos quoted from Sam’s book in his defense :-)
Read 21 tweets
Oct 2, 2022
The best tech companies drive strategy through product. This is why founders and CEOs tend to be product leaders, and product / design / engineering is more important than ops / marketing / finance. Here’s what this looked like for me as a business leader at Amzn and Facebook:
Jeff and Mark were very different, but both of them spent most of their time in product meetings, and they both scrutinized product ideas down to the pixel. They didn’t waste cycles debating strategy in the abstract, they drove it via the roadmap. They never hired consultants.
Everyone in the company understood the strategy because it showed up in the product’s evolution. There was no need for long slide decks explaining where the company was going. Company all-hands meetings simply focused on the product roadmap. Our product leaders were the stars.
Read 8 tweets
Sep 8, 2022
When I first started out in my career, I thought I had to “fake it until you make it.” Later I learned to ask questions and embrace situations where I didn’t have all the answers. Here's how I went from being an insecure manager to a more honest leader:
Amazon was my first real job, and I found myself surrounded by brilliant people with strong opinions. Everyone seemed to know exactly what they were talking about, and Jeff Bezos was the smartest person in the room. It felt to me like a culture where the strongest survived.
In that environment, I thought I needed to project confidence. For example, after a promotion to merchandising manager, I was asked about my forecast for gross margin vs contribution margin. I barely understood these concepts at the time, yet I pretended to have clear answers.
Read 18 tweets

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