“The world wants you to be typical. Don’t let it happen” – Jeff Bezos final letter as Amazon CEO

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After 27 years managing a company he founded, Jeff Bezos announced on February 2, 2021, that he would step down as the CEO of Amazon sometime in the third quarter of 2021, and transition into the role of executive chairman. He said he would be replaced as CEO by Andy Jassy, the chief of Amazon’s cloud computing division.

Bezos wrote his first letter in 1997 to shareholders as Amazon CEO and set a precedent for decades of startups after it. His first letter laid out a bold vision for the company: a relentless focus on customers above all else, and a prioritization of reinvestment over short-term shareholder returns.

Upon leaving in 2021, Bezos had transformed Amazon into a multi-national multi-billion technology company. He gained a personal wealth of more than $200 billion and became the richest person in the world according to both Forbes and Bloomberg’s Billionaires index.

In his last letter to shareholders in April as an outgoing CEO, Bezos, 57, felt “compelled” to leave readers with a final piece of advice: Keep your “distinctiveness.”

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“We all know that distinctiveness – originality – is valuable,” he wrote. “We are all taught to ‘be yourself.’ What I’m really asking you to do is to embrace and be realistic about how much energy it takes to maintain that distinctiveness. The world wants you to be typical – in a thousand ways, it pulls at you. Don’t let it happen.”

To illustrate his point, Bezos included a passage from the non-fiction book “The Blind Watchmaker: Why the Evidence of Evolution Reveals a Universe without Design” by Richard Dawkins.

The “extraordinary book [that’s] about a basic fact of biology” is part of the “one last thing of utmost importance I feel compelled to teach,” Bezos wrote, adding the following excerpt:

“Staving off death is a thing that you have to work at. Left to itself – and that is what it is when it dies – the body tends to revert to a state of equilibrium with its environment … Our bodies, for instance, are usually hotter than our surroundings, and in cold climates they have to work hard to maintain the differential. When we die the work stops…. …[I]f living things didn’t work actively to prevent it, they would eventually merge into their surroundings, and cease to exist as autonomous beings.”

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While the passage “is not intended as a metaphor,” Bezos notes, “it’s nevertheless a fantastic one, and very relevant to Amazon. I would argue that it’s relevant to all companies and all institutions and to each of our individual lives too.”

Although it takes “continuous hard work” to “maintain our distinctiveness,” he wrote, “it’s worth it.”

“The fairy tale version of [the advice] ‘be yourself’ is that all the pain stops as soon as you allow your distinctiveness to shine. That version is misleading. Being yourself is worth it, but don’t expect it to be easy or free,” Bezos wrote.

Connecting this advice with Amazon, Bezos added that “the world will always try to make Amazon more typical – to bring us into equilibrium with our environment. It will take continuous effort, but we can and must be better than that.”

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He highlighted a critical concept that guided his oversight of one of the world’s biggest companies: “You have to create more than you consume,” Bezos says in the letter. “Your goal should be to create value for everyone you interact with.”

Photo: Getty Images, via Bloomberg

Bezos also defended Amazon as “Earth’s best employer and Earth’s safest place to work” — a direct refutation of repeated allegations from delivery and warehouse employees who say they’re overworked, and are forced to pee in bottles to save time. “The fact is, the large team of thousands of people who lead operations at Amazon have always cared deeply for our hourly employees, and we’re proud of the work environment we’ve created,” Bezos says.

Looking into the future of the multibillion-dollar business that his named successor, Andy Jassy, will take over as CEO Bezos said “It’s a hard job with a lot of responsibility.”

“Andy is brilliant and has the highest of high standards. I guarantee you that Andy won’t let the universe make us typical”, he added.

Read the full letter on Amazon.com