Exit Interview

Early last week, when Amazon.com laid off 1,300 people--or 15 percent of its workforce--one long-overdue reality became obvious: When shareholders get antsy for profits, even a New Economy company like Amazon must still play by Old Economy rules.

And it's not a pretty sight. According to current and former Amazon employees, they were given the bad news by people they'd never seen or worked with before, and were quickly escorted out of the building by security guards. "They gave me about five minutes to get my stuff," says a confused former employee. So much for early retirement in the Bahamas. Amazon deserves some credit, however, for offering stock options and a minor severance package to laid-off workers.

On the creepy side, employees claim that certain departments were targeted because of union efforts. Morale is low, and "everyone is freaked out," says a former employee.

Even though Amazon recently reversed its controversial press policy mandating that former employees cannot talk about the business, the following Exit Interviewees, laid off last week, still wished to remain anonymous.

You see Jeff Bezos in a grocery store. One sentence--what would you say?

"JENNIFER" (a three-and-a-half-year veteran): I'd say, "Profitability, Jeff, at any price?" The scary thing is, he would say, "Yes."

"MICHAEL" (a three-year veteran): "Before laying off 1,300 highly productive and motivated people, you should have thought more about the long term instead of a short-term fix to please investors."

Given that Amazon has never been profitable, how did the company convince you it would eventually succeed?

JENNIFER: It was my trainer. He had this manic glow in his eyes, and he told all of us we were doing something we could tell our grandkids about and that we were making history. It was kind of David Koresh-like.

MICHAEL: Well, when I first started working there three years ago, the stock was always going up, and Amazon was always growing. [The company] was always trying to get big really fast. And they kept pushing the message, "We only hire the best people with the best attitudes." So I believed there was no way we couldn't reach profitability.

If you were an Amazon bigwig, would you have laid off people to reach profitability faster, or was there a better solution?

JENNIFER: I can understand why they did it, but I would have done it in a much more graceful and humane way.

Is Amazon going to be around in 2005?

JENNIFER: I don't know. Part of me feels like people are growing leery of buying inner tubes and pink flamingos on the Internet.