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Jeff Bezos: Attaining Greater Heights

It was another busy year for Amazon’s Jeff Bezos.

First up, the e-commerce king’s ideations literally took flight in 2015, on two fronts. Last month his privately funded space exploration start-up, Blue Origin, safely launched and landed a reusable rocket, proving that his venture with United Launch Alliance has legs, and may be ready to ferry passengers on commercial flights within the next decade.

Closer to earth, his vision of unmanned aerial vehicles, i.e., drones, delivering packages to customers proved to be more than a publicity stunt: Amazon Prime Air is well into the prototype phase, the company announced, and should be up and running by the time the program receives expected FAA approval within the next year.

But Bezos’ flights of fancy were nearly grounded last summer, when the New York Times published a blistering article on Amazon’s corporate culture that described an oppressive work environment where around-the-clock hours are expected and undermining colleagues is encouraged.

The piece, based on interviews with past and present employees, including Kindle and Fire phone crew, followed reports several summers back of untenable working conditions in Amazon fulfillment centers, where workers were felled by triple-digit temps within non-air-conditioned facilities.

All this begged the question of whether Amazon’s supposedly crucible-like culture is a projection of Bezos’ own personality, whose reputation for curtness bordering on cruelty, and reliance on analytics and algorithms to gauge everything from product pricing to employee productivity, is well documented.

For his part, Bezos, in an e-mailed response to employees, expressed surprise at the Times piece, noting that “The article doesn’t describe the Amazon I know or the caring Amazonians I work with every day. … I strongly believe that anyone working in a company that really is like the one described in the NYT would be crazy to stay. I know I would leave such a company.”

His senior spokesperson, former White House press secretary Jay Carney, went on to discredit the story in detail, and it was all but forgotten by Holiday 2015, when Amazon reported rabid sales of its proprietary tech products over Black Friday weekend.

Win: Jeff Bezos. Blast off!