Amazon at the Top of “The Management Top 250” List

In spite of Amazon’s insensitivity to social responsibility, it is No. 1 in management—due to its exceptionally high score in innovation. Tech companies stay light and profitable in management by contracting out most of their front-line work. Amazon retains its agility by working in small teams and putting its emphasis on  customer satisfaction. This is what we learn from this article in The Wall Street Journal.
Jeff Bezos, chief executive of Amazon, which ranked No. 1 in the Management Top 250. Amazon, Apple and Alphabet are innovation and customer-satisfaction standouts because so many of their products are reshaping industries and social behavior. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

. . .  The ranking—compiled by the Drucker Institute, founded in 2007 to advance the ideals of the management sage—differs from other “best of” lists in that it doesn’t measure any single aspect of a company’s prowess, such as profits or productivity. Rather it takes a holistic approach, examining how well a business does in five areas that reflect Mr. Drucker’s core principles: customer satisfaction, employee engagement and development, innovation, social responsibility and financial strength.

Tech success

Why do so many of the biggest names in tech—some of which didn’t even exist three decades ago—make the Management Top 250 list?

For the most part, the tech companies at the top get high grades across all five categories, landing in all but a few instances in the upper 15% to 20% of the more than 600 companies analyzed by the Drucker Institute.

Amazon, Apple and Alphabet are innovation and customer-satisfaction standouts because so many of their products—from cloud-computing platforms to smartphones to the burgeoning field of drones and driverless vehicles—are reshaping entire industries as well as social behavior.

Tech firms such as Alphabet and Microsoft also contract out much of their front-line work. The official staff that remain tend to be highly paid and enjoy generous perks, a likely factor in those companies’ high employee scores, says Rick Wartzman, director of the Drucker Institute’s KH Moon Center for a Functioning Society. “Their workforces are the winners of the knowledge economy,” he says.

An innovation powerhouse

There is more than one way to the top. No. 1 Amazon is actually one of the Management Top 250’s most uneven performers. Within the larger universe of analyzed companies, it scored in the bottom 20% on social responsibility. The lackluster grade comes after years of critical news reports about the working conditions of its warehouse workers and poor marks from activists for not being more transparent about its environmental record. Yet, its mighty innovation score—so high that it lies off the charts compared with other companies’ scores—catapulted it to first place.

Amazon, which has assembled a high-profile corporate-responsibility team over the past few years, declined to comment for this article.

The company’s $20.85 billion research-and-development spending in the 12 months through September outstripped all other U.S. companies, according to S&P Global Market Intelligence data. It has kept ahead despite its swelling size by moving quickly and sticking to its founding principle of starting with the customer, says Reid Greenberg, executive vice president of digital and e-commerce at research and consulting firm Kantar Retail.

Its agility, he says, comes from grouping workers in small teams. Chief Executive Jeff Bezos instituted the “two-pizza team” concept, where the ideal team size is one that can be fed on two pizzas. When it was instituted in the early 2000s, it was “really jarring,” says Eric Heller, CEO of Marketplace Ignition, a consulting firm for brands and retailers, and a former senior manager at Amazon. But by getting rid of bureaucratic layers, it fueled innovation. Each team owned projects as small as a single button on the website and was responsible for improvements.

131201231606-vo-amazon-drone-delivery-system-00003211-story-top                      A drone picking up a package in an Amazon warehouse.

At Amazon, potential product ideas get written up into dummy news releases that get marked up. Creators must answer questions such as the cost of the project, how much the product or service would sell for and the launch date.

It’s always day one for Amazon—”today we’re starting day one of the next five years or the next 10 years and we’re not dwelling in the past”—says Mr. Greenberg. “That’s really how the company thinks and breathes, and…that helps them maintain a competitive advantage.”

The company’s early emphasis on frugality led to creative ideas, the most impressive of which were rewarded with a highly coveted “door desk award,” a trophy that looked like a typical worker’s desk. Ideas ranged from how to better affix shipping labels to packages to how to save money on conference-room equipment. . . .

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