Jeff Bezos Says This 1 Sentence (Hidden in Plain Sight for 20 Years) Is the Key to Amazon’s Success

While many things have changed at Amazon over the years, one thing hasn't--what its leader believes is the key to its success.

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - OCTOBER 15:  Jeff Bezos speaks onstage at WIRED25 Summit: WIRED Celebrates 25th Anniversary With Tech Icons Of The Past & Future on October 15, 2018 in San Francisco, California.  (Photo by Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images for WIRED25  )
SAN FRANCISCO, CA - OCTOBER 15: Jeff Bezos speaks onstage at WIRED25 Summit: WIRED Celebrates 25th Anniversary With Tech Icons Of The Past & Future on October 15, 2018 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images for WIRED25 )

Jeff Bezos advice is usually quite public given his status, whether it’s on handling criticism or key questions to ask to grow your business, or a myriad other Amazonian things.

But if you know where to look, Bezos has been sharing one powerful sentence of advice, over and over again, for the past 20 years. It’s a sentence buried in his first annual shareholder letter, which has been included with every year’s letter since then (at least as each letter appears in Amazon’s archives). 

It’s a sentence that communicates the key to Amazon’s success, according to Bezos:

“Setting the bar high in our approach to hiring has been, and will continue to be, the single most important element of’scess.”

Bezos could switch out this sentiment with each year’s new letter, replacing it with a more important driver, but he doesn’t.

And Amazon most certainly takes its hiring process seriously. I asked a dozen Amazon employees about the company’s interviewing process; they described it as “intense.” As a person interviewing for a job at Amazon, you have to be concise in your responses to interview questions while continually highlighting results that happened because of your actions. Amazonians I talked to recommended that candidates use the CAR method (Context, Action, Result) or the STAR method (Situation, Task, Action, Result) as an orderly framework in which to shape their answers.  

Amazon employees also said a key part of the hiring process is for those employees conducting interviews to ask questions that assess how well each candidate scores on Amazon’s 14 Leadership Principles. When taken as a collection, these principles, listed on the company’s website, are a high bar to clear. I’ve listed the principles below, edited for brevity:

Customer obsession

Leaders start with the customer and work backward. They pay attention to competitors but obsess over customers.


Leaders are owners. They act beyond just their own team and never say “that’s not my job.”

Invent and simplify

Leaders expect and require innovation and invention from their teams, and always find ways to simplify. They’re externally aware, look for new ideas from everywhere, and are not limited by “not invented here.”

Are right, a lot

Leaders are right a lot. They have strong judgment and good instincts. They seek diverse perspectives and work to disconfirm their beliefs.

Learn and be curious

Leaders are never done learning and always seek to improve themselves. They’re curious.

Hire and develop the best

Leaders raise the performance bar with every hire and promotion. They recognize exceptional talent and willingly move them throughout the organization. Leaders develop leaders and take seriously their role in coaching others.

Insist on the highest standards

Leaders are continually raising the bar and driving their teams to deliver high-quality products, services, and processes.

Think big

Thinking small is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Leaders create and communicate a bold direction that inspires results.

Bias for action

Speed matters in business. Many decisions and actions are reversible and do not need extensive study. We value calculated risk taking.


Accomplish more with less. Constraints breed resourcefulness, self-sufficiency, and invention.

Earn trust

Leaders listen attentively, speak candidly, and treat others respectfully.

Dive deep

Leaders operate at all levels, stay connected to the details, audit frequently, and are skeptical when metrics and anecdote differ. No task is beneath them.

Have backbone; disagree and commit

Leaders are obligated to respectfully challenge decisions when they disagree, even when doing so is uncomfortable or exhausting. Leaders have conviction and are tenacious. They do not compromise for the sake of social cohesion. Once a decision is made, they commit wholly.

Deliver results

Leaders focus on the key inputs for their business and deliver them with the right quality and in a timely fashion. Despite setbacks, they rise to the occasion and never settle.

The key here is that Amazon knows what they’re looking for. It’s a high bar, and all Amazon interviewers are on the same page in sorting through candidates to find what they want. The interview questions are typically straight from the 14 Leadership Principles. Candidates are expected to have multiple, robust examples for each principle.

Put another way, Bezos’ original words, written in the 1997 shareholder letter, are taken seriously and have permeated throughout the company in a consistent way.

You can see why the hiring process at Amazon is indeed the key to its success.

Make it a key for your venture’s success too.

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