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After years of working almost exclusively on long-term projects and pushing day-to-day management to lower-level executives, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos is focusing on the immediate problems facing Amazon amid the coronavirus pandemic, according to a report by the New York Times.
“For now, my own time and thinking continues to be focused on Covid-19 and how Amazon can help while we’re in the middle of it,” Bezos wrote to shareholders last week.
Bezos has been reportedly joining daily calls to help make decisions related to inventory, coronavirus testing and even how and when Amazon responds to public criticism. Earlier this month, Bezos even made a widely publicized visit to one of Amazon’s warehouses, a move not seen in years.
Before the pandemic, the billionaire reportedly spent most of his time away from Amazon’s headquarters in Seattle. He traveled the world and devoted a day each week to Blue Origin, his space exploration company. He told Forbes in 2018 that he is very rarely “pulled into the today” at the retail giant.
At Amazon, Bezos reportedly gave his priority to projects that “addressed a major risk to the business or where he felt he was uniquely qualified to get involved,” according to the New York Times. Rather than day-to-day issues, he was able to focus on more exciting, long-term projects like Amazon Alexa and Amazon Go’s cashierless stores.
But as the coronavirus spread across the country, it also spread to more than 50 of Amazon’s facilities. On top of trying to keep its employees from contracting the virus, the company is facing increased demand for its products even as its workers stopped showing up for shifts either due to fear of contracting the virus or from a lack of access to child care as schools shut down.
At first, Bezos disappeared publicly. On March 4, the luxurious trips he was once taking were nowhere to be seen on the CEO’s Instagram account, and employees at Amazon’s headquarters received an email, signed by “Amazon Human Resources,” to work from home.
However, he soon reportedly joined Amazon’s other executives to approve plans to “stop accepting low-priority items into warehouses and to delay customer shipments of other items that Amazon considered low demand” and joined in on deciding which features to remove from the Amazon website to reduce customer demand, such as “burying its popular page promoting daily deals.” He also reportedly approved delaying Prime Day, the company’s summer shopping extravaganza.
But Amazon’s workers and even some lawmakers increasingly called for more safety measures from the company as more employees tested positive for the virus. On March 21, Bezos finally addressed his employees directly in a blog post, saying the company had ordered millions of face masks for workers, which they would be required to wear while working, but that “very few of those orders have been filled.”
The decision to wait to address his employees was blasted by former Medtronic executive Bill George.
“You need to be out there early, every day, and talking to your people,” he told the Times. “If the people are risking themselves, you need to be there with them.”
Since then, Bezos stepped up his efforts to ensure his employees’ safety.
According to Reuters, Amazon has also deployed thermal cameras for fast screening of employees and piloted using disinfectant fog in its facilities in an effort to ensure its employees’ safety after a walkout at a facility in Staten Island, New York, where employees contracted the virus.
The company also announced April 9 that it would build up coronavirus testing capacity for employees and others and said a week later that it would hire an additional 75,000 employees to keep up with customer demand.
Meeting notes from Bezos’ call with executives April 1, which were obtained by The New York Times, showed Amazon had discussed working with medical organizations to focus on expanding testing capacity for its workers and others to “help immunize from criticism that we’re selfish in using the tests for employees.”
According to the Times, Bezos has joined the daily calls from the new testing team, which has reportedly procured tests and is “close to rolling out a pilot program to test employees.”
Amazon did not immediately return FOX Business’ request for comment on the New York Times’ report.
The coronavirus hasn’t been all bad for Amazon. Due to the demand from the virus, the company’s stock has hit record highs, and Bezos, the wealthiest man in the world, has reportedly become $25 billion richer since March as a result of the pandemic, according to the New York Times.
During Wednesday’s trading session, Amazon stock closed at $2,363.49 per share.