Jeff Bezos shares his advice for dealing with criticism

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, founder of space venture Blue Origin and owner of The Washington Post, participates in an event hosted by the Air Force Association September 19, 2018 in National Harbor, Maryland.
Alex Wong | Getty Images

Amazon announced this week that it is raising the minimum wage of all U.S. employees to $15, effective next month.

To some, it was the subject of praise. While to others, it was an overdue concession to criticism.

As founder and CEO of the tech giant, Jeff Bezos is used to dividing views. According to Bezos, that's all part of the process of being a leader, and it can actually be helpful, too.

"If you're going to do anything new or different in the world, it is going to be misunderstood, sometimes by well-meaning critics, sometimes by self-interested critics. It's okay, it's all part of the process," Bezos said Tuesday at a gala organized by the Partnership for Public Service.

Jeff Bezos talks $15 minimum wage
Jeff Bezos talks $15 minimum wage

Developing a framework

To deal with those conflicting views, Bezos said it's important to develop a framework.

For him, that means listening to criticism, asking if it's right — or at least partially right — and then changing as needed.

"You listen, you ask are they right, or even if they're not completely right is there some piece of it that's right that you can be inspired by," Bezos said at the event in Washington D.C.

"If you decide that your critics, that there is something, then you should change," he continued. "If you decide, by the way, that the answer is no ... then no force in the world should be able to move you."

Listening to advice

It's a framework that stems back to Amazon's early days — around 1995 — when "most people didn't pay attention to us or care about us," Bezos explained.

The online bookstore had just started experimenting with customer reviews when Bezos received a letter from a book publisher saying Amazon had misunderstood the retail industry: Displaying negative customer reviews would surely result in fewer sales.

The evolution of Jeff Bezos: See if you can recognize him through the years
The evolution of Jeff Bezos: See if you can recognize him through the years

Bezos said he thought about the advice, but decided it was the publisher that had misunderstood Amazon's goal.

"I thought 'no, he's wrong.' We don't make money when we sell things; we make money when we help people make purchase decisions," said Bezos. "It was a different framing."

Extracting the positives

Now, as the head of a roughly $1 trillion company, Bezos said he continues to apply that framework today.

When faced with criticism about employee pay, the tech chief said he listened and realized it was not simply an attack on Amazon — it was a call for the company to initiate a wider industry shift. As the richest man in the world, Bezos has become something of a target in the wider debate over pay disparity between top executives and their employees.

"We just made a decision," said Bezos. "You can offer competitive compensation or you can decide to lead."

"As soon as we framed it that way, we're like 'let's decide to lead' and I think people will follow," he said.

Jeff Bezos is so much bigger than Amazon — a look at his extraordinary empire
Jeff Bezos is so much bigger than Amazon — a look at his extraordinary empire