Less than a year after brushing off the civil-rights activist’s concerns, Amazon welcomes him to its annual meeting and applauds his efforts to bring more diversity to the tech workforce.
Last October, Amazon.com gave the Rev. Jesse Jackson the cold shoulder. On Wednesday, at the company’s shareholder meeting, Amazon gave Jackson the floor.
The civil-rights activist criticized Amazon last fall, after the company released diversity data that showed that 37 percent of the company’s global workforce is female and its U.S. staff is 40 percent nonwhite. Jackson said the data showed a company that was “skewed toward white-male supremacy.” At the time, Amazon declined to comment.
On Wednesday, Amazon Chief Executive Jeff Bezos carved out time for Jackson at the shareholder meeting at the Seattle Repertory Theatre.
“I very much appreciate your coming to the meeting,” Bezos said before letting Jackson present his appeal to the company’s directors and shareholders.
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Jackson asked Amazon to detail the diversity data of its workforce, to commit to actively searching for blacks, Latinos and women for its board, and to help improve science and technology education in minority communities.
“Amazon is delivering packages from drones in the sky,” Jackson told shareholders. “If you put your mind to it, you can certainly build a pipeline to engage African Americans, Latinos and women to change the face of technology.”
Bezos seemed to agree.
“We can no doubt use our ingenuity here,” Bezos said.
After the meeting, Jackson said he met with Jay Carney, Amazon’s senior vice president and head of global corporate affairs, and said he plans to meet again with company executives.
“We’re going to begin to engage,” Jackson said.
The rest of the meeting followed form from previous years. All of Amazon’s 10 directors were re-elected. Shareholder proposals — this year, there were four up for shareholder approval — were opposed by Amazon’s directors and defeated.
The shareholder proposal that garnered the most support, with 41 percent of those voting approving the measure, would have given shareholders more say in nominating board candidates.
After the voting, Bezos reviewed Amazon’s operations, describing the four characteristics of what he thinks are great businesses: customers have to love the offering; the business has to have the potential to be large; it has to offer strong returns on capital; and it needs to be durable.
Amazon, Bezos said, has three of those businesses: the Amazon Marketplace, where third parties sell products; Amazon Prime, the $99-a-year program that offers two-day shipping at no extra cost; and Amazon Web Services, which rents computing power and storage to businesses.
“I promise you,” Bezos said at the end of his presentation, “we will be working hard to find a fourth.”
Bezos revealed little that wasn’t already known about Amazon’s operations. He talked about Amazon’s decision to build a large urban campus in Seattle, noting that it might cost a bit more than setting up shop in a suburb. But Bezos said that the South Lake Union base serves as a lure for talented recruits. And he said that 15 percent of Amazon’s Seattle workforce lives in the same ZIP code as the company, and 20 percent of Seattle employees walk to work.
Amazon, which earlier in the day announced plans to build a solar farm in Virginia for its data centers, produces 25 percent of its energy from renewal sources now. Bezos said the company expects that number to jump to 40 percent by the end of next year. And he added that the long-term goal is for the business to be entirely powered by renewable energy, though he didn’t set a timeline for that goal.
And in response to a shareholder, who asked when Amazon would issue a dividend, Bezos demurred, saying he couldn’t disclose that sort of decision. But most Amazon watchers would be surprised if Amazon started paying dividends, given Bezos’ belief that there always seems to be a new opportunity for the company. Bezos said as much.
“There are a lot of things we can invest in, and I like the landscape I see,” Bezos said.