Amazon Management Loses Control

An analyst who covers Amazon wrote a letter to management. In essence, it said the company has moved in so many directions that it is out of control. “But what we’ve seen recently is a company simply pursuing too many ideas, with weaker ideas taking away the oxygen, capital, and most importantly focus from the truly disruptive initiatives that ‘only Amazon can do,’” Mark Shmulik, an analyst at the investment bank Bernstein, wrote. And he is right. (These companies have the best reputations.)

Amazon’s only real success is in two areas and has been for years. The first is its huge e-commerce business, the largest in America and one of the largest in the world. The other is its highly profitable cloud business, Amazon Web Services, also the largest in the world. Jassy added too many costs to Amazon, particularly in distribution infrastructure, but that is a problem he can fix.

Amazon is in businesses that range from grocery stores (Whole Foods) to doorbells (Blink). Each has to be managed and is too small to be worth the effort.

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Jassy has been criticized as a poor replacement for founder Jeff Bezos. Bezos is to blame to the extent that he put Jassy in charge. Today, Amazon has started to look like Alphabet, with its search, YouTube, email, maps and dozens of other businesses. Alphabet suffers from the Amazon problem, and Amazon suffers from the Alphabet problem.

There is an old saying in business management. One version comes from the management consulting firm McKinsey: “Stick to your knitting, then make the knitting stick.” Amazon knits much more than it did a decade ago, and it shows.

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