There are all kinds of numbers to focus on coming out of Amazon’s annual investor meeting — our favorite of which is 1.7 million. That is the number of free bananas Amazon has handed out at its “Community Banana Stand” in Seattle. That is up 460 percent since last year.
So yes, Amazon has a Community Banana Stand — and yes, it is growing in popularity.
That was, of course, not the most important figure discussed during Amazon's annual shareholder summit — nor the flashiest. Shareholders were also regaled with tales of annual revenue that rose 27 percent to $136 billion in 2016, operating profit reached that climbed to $4.2 billion (an 87 percent increase over the previous year), and a corporate headcount that surpassed 340,000 global employees by the close of the year.
There were also the 11 Emmys, six Golden Globes and 3 Oscars — and the massive continuing domination of Amazon Web Services — but, you know, entertainment and the cloud are just things Amazon does in its spare time.
And yet — for all the figures — the meeting was not exactly by the numbers. Protestors gathered outside — and even shareholders got in on the act as Amazon was asked to answer some tough questions about social issues.
The Rev. Jesse Jackson asked the first question during the Q&A with Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, which he used to urge the creation of a special commission on gender equality and racial justice.
“We need your leadership,” Rev. Jackson said. “We’re in a dangerous season of racial and gender polarization in our country. We’re somewhere between anxious, scared and embarrassed…We’ve globalized capital and technology — we’ve not globalized human rights.”
Amazon’s CEO passed on answering Jackson’s questions, handing off instead to Jay Carney, the former White House press secretary, who is now Amazon’s senior vice president of corporate affairs.
“Since you visited us two years ago, we’ve taken significant steps toward enhancing diversity at Amazon through various programs,” Carney told Jackson. “We are going to continue to work on this. It’s very important to my boss and to all of us in leadership at Amazon.”
Beth Galetti, Amazon’s senior vice president of human resources, noted that that Amazon is currently working with national and local organizations to strengthen and diversify the company's talent pipeline. She said it’s especially important to have “diversity of thought,” recruiting and retaining diverse talent inside the company to benefit its customers.
“We are investigating mechanisms that will interrupt unconscious bias in any of our processes. We don’t think that anybody has reliably figured out the answer to this and how to do it, but it’s an area that we’re working on and we’re experimenting with," she noted.
During other parts of the meeting, the company showcased its community initiatives and philanthropies such as its plan to create a permanent home for the Mary’s Place homeless shelter at its headquarters campus.
Shareholders also asked Bezos whether the company would consider splitting its stock again — currently trading above $970/share — to make the shares more affordable to younger and middle class people.
Bezos said the company doesn’t have any current plans to do so but said it is something Amazon considers from time to time.
As for Bezos' biggest concerns for what is coming in the next five to 10 years, “Over the last 20 years, there has never been a time when we looked into the future and thought it was clear sailing,” Bezos responded. “We look into the future, and we see always an intensely competitive environment, a world that is awash with high rates of change and new technologies, all kinds of disruptive influences. It never looks like smooth seas to us from the inside, no matter what it might appear from the outside.”
Later in the meeting, another shareholder joked that Amazon could fix politics with “a new Amazon party that will be obsessively focused on the voters.”