Executive Briefings

For Amazon, Can Two Headquarters Still Equal One Culture?

In planning Amazon.com Inc.'s second headquarters, Chief Executive Jeff Bezos faces a new challenge: how to maintain the online retail giant's carefully cultivated culture when he can’t be in two places at once.

The answer to his riddle may lie in one defining element of Amazon's business practices. Its highly decentralized structure, with small, siloed teams, is the equivalent of "1,000 independent businesses, all marching in the same direction," says former Amazon senior manager Eric Heller, who now helps brands sell on the site.

Bezos has been fundamental in defining the Seattle-based company’s culture, setting the tone on everything from innovation to how many pizzas teams should need to order in for lunch. Amazon emphasizes 14 leadership principles that guide employee behavior, focus and goals.

Former executives say that while they saw Bezos infrequently — in part because the 33-building Seattle campus is so large — he still has an outsize presence at the company he founded in his garage in 1994. Bezos is known for encouraging employees to reach out via email directly for his guidance. That’s even as the number of Amazon’s employees surpasses 450,000 globally, including the recent acquisition of Austin, Texas-based Whole Foods Market Inc.

But Amazon, having outgrown Seattle, is now planning to split its headquarters in half, an unusual step that presents the risk of reduced collaboration, decreased face time and an off-kilter leadership structure if executives don’t split their time evenly between the two sites, management experts say.

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The answer to his riddle may lie in one defining element of Amazon's business practices. Its highly decentralized structure, with small, siloed teams, is the equivalent of "1,000 independent businesses, all marching in the same direction," says former Amazon senior manager Eric Heller, who now helps brands sell on the site.

Bezos has been fundamental in defining the Seattle-based company’s culture, setting the tone on everything from innovation to how many pizzas teams should need to order in for lunch. Amazon emphasizes 14 leadership principles that guide employee behavior, focus and goals.

Former executives say that while they saw Bezos infrequently — in part because the 33-building Seattle campus is so large — he still has an outsize presence at the company he founded in his garage in 1994. Bezos is known for encouraging employees to reach out via email directly for his guidance. That’s even as the number of Amazon’s employees surpasses 450,000 globally, including the recent acquisition of Austin, Texas-based Whole Foods Market Inc.

But Amazon, having outgrown Seattle, is now planning to split its headquarters in half, an unusual step that presents the risk of reduced collaboration, decreased face time and an off-kilter leadership structure if executives don’t split their time evenly between the two sites, management experts say.

Read Full Article