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Main case Staying a step ahead (2021)

By Julian Birkinshaw, Lisa Duke


This case traces the rise and rise of, the second company after Apple to hit a trillion dollar market cap. The growth of Amazon is described, from its origins back in 1995 through to 2016. The case intentionally provides a lot of detail on specific new products and services created over this twenty year period, and how many of these were highly risky bets, and some were failures. For example: there is a discussion of how Amazon survived the original dotcom bubble bursting by deliberately reducing investment and showing a profit for the first time; the origins of Amazon Prime, Amazon marketplace, the Kindle, Amazon Web Services, and Amazon video are all described with enough detail for students to ask, why did they do this? What was the bigger purpose behind these moves?The case also talks about Amazon’s management principles and organization culture. For example, one of Bezos’s guiding principles was to “obsess over customers” – meaning always seeking out ways to improve the quality of their buying experience and offering additional services and products to meet their evolving needs. There is also a discussion of the “always day one” culture, the “willingness to be misunderstood” and the style of leadership Bezos exhibits.

Learning objectives

  1. To understand how an established company can become a “serial” business model innovator
  2. To illustrate the concept of strategic agility, i.e. the capacity to adapt to changes in the external business environment
  3. To provide insight into “how” a large company is able to maintain a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship, and in particular how to balance bottom-up initiative with top-down control


Publication Date: December 2020
LBS Case Code: CS-13-016
Subjects: , , ,
Pages: 18
Format: pdf