Unless you’ve been under a rock the past few days, you’ve heardthat Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway, and JPMorgan Chase announced a collaboration to do something abouthealth care for their employees. While the announcement highlightedgoals of transparency, tech innovation and forsakenprofits – it didn’t include details of how these goals would beachieved. So, what are we supposed to think?


I’ve read at least 10 articles on the topic and it’s BIG in allways! (ICYMI: Amazon is the biggest retailer, JP Morgan is thebiggest bank and Berkshire Hathaway has substantial minority stockholdings in some of the biggest and best-known publiclytraded companies in the United States. The health-care industry is18 percent of the GDP and within two hours of the announcement,speculation caused key health care companies to drop $30 billiondollars in market value.)


As a previous senior manager at Amazon, I have great confidencein this collaboration because Jeff Bezos demonstrates thecharacteristics this endeavor will require: vision, financialstrength, tech innovation, enthusiasm and a passion for thecustomer. I’m excited to see these three giants of tech, finance,and industry collaborating.


My career at Amazon brings to mind five thoughts about thisannouncement:

1. This collaboration is unique

It’s unique for two specific reasons:

  1. These three companies are using their own employee populationsto “test” some ideas that could have a broader reach in the future.In the next few years, the companies are projected to providehealth insurance for over 1 million employees and 2.5 millionmembers in the US. Based on the average employer spend peremployee, these three companies are looking to pay a combined $14billion dollars annually on health care costs. This strategicpartnership with such a large population will create opportunitiesto reduce cost, improve transparency, and build technologicalsolutions.

  1. While each company is an expert in their own industry, none ofthem know health care. They might not KNOW health care, but theysure spend a lot on it. health care spending is a major expense foremployers and can cause a competitive disadvantage. Starbucksspends more on employee health benefits than on coffee beans, andGM spends more on it than on steel.

During my time at Amazon, we entered product categories thatweren’t our expertise. We were known for selling books and CDs, butbroke into the footwear and clothing market. To gain expertisefast, Amazon would sometimes acquire industry innovators. One ofthe best-known acquisitions was Zappos, an expert in the footwearindustry with great insights, innovation and a relentless focus oncustomer experience. Amazon became a student of Zappos and as aresult is now the top retailer for footwear in the US. I think thisdeal opens opportunities for more partnerships with health careleaders and experts who have proven to bring innovation andcustomer-focus.

2. Amazon’s culture was made for this challenge

Curiosity may have killed the cat, but it does wonders forAmazon! It’s part of the culture to always be learning and seekingto improve. When most retailers would ship, pack and land yourorder in a “fast” two weeks – Amazon challenged the status quo anddelivered in two days. Amazon was not in the logistics business,they were in the book-selling business. Yet, today they arelogistics gurus because they learned, hired experts, sacrificedshort-term gains, and prioritized long-term improvement overprofit.


It’s no secret that Jeff Bezos is curious about newpossibilities and he acts to explore them. Recently he said,“success will require a beginner’s mindset.” While they don’t havethe answer to this very complex, heavily regulated, highlypolitical endeavor – I know that Amazon is entering this task witheyes wide open. They aren’t afraid to roll up their sleeves,challenge the status quo and spend the money and time to find theright solution(s).


I’m sure you noticed the phrase, “free from profit-makingincentives.” While many in the industry may scoff at this,recognize what it means. Using their 2.5 million members, they’rewilling to invest in new ideas and be a health care incubator forAmerica. If there’s money to be made, I’m sure they’ll figure itout, but they don’t have the short-term constraint of bringingideas to market profitably. This is a differentiator.

3. Leaders inspire results

Jeff Bezos has an amazing ability to create and communicate abold direction that inspires results. I remember when he announcedthat Amazon would be the number-one clothing retailer in the USwhile we were still in “startup mode.” He created the vision,empowered his team, taught us to fail fast and funded the growth.Today Amazon is the number-one retailer in clothing.


Another example: Would we ever have made it to the moon if JohnF. Kennedy hadn’t announced before Congress, “this nation shouldcommit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, oflanding a man on the moon and returning him safely to theEarth”?


I made a bold move leaving Amazon to help the team atfreshbenies improve health care. I have observed that health careis a segmented industry with few leaders calling out a bolddirection. I admire these 3 leaders for their audacious vision andambition.

4. Information is useful, but rumors are useless

We should all take note of the information that has beenreleased:

  • Three companies have decided to partner to figure out how toreduce health care costs for their companies and employees.

  • They will focus on technology solutions that can providesimplified and transparent health care, at a lower cost.

That’s what we know. The rest is only rumors.Amazon is usually pretty tight-lipped about their projects, sodon’t expect to hear much until the launch.


In an earlier article, I noted that the health care industry is ripe fordisruption, innovation, a better end-user experience, transparency,technological advances, etc. If you’re concerned about this deal,you should be concerned for EVERYONE coming after health care -Google, Apple and so many others! The space is primed for gutsycompanies that will deliver a better experience. Speaking ofthat…

5. Customer experience will be the focus

While at Amazon the team would gather for “All-Hands” meetingswith Jeff Bezos. In one of those meetings, an employee inquiredabout Jeff’s high customer service standard. Jeff said that hisgoal wasn’t to just elevate the customer experience at Amazon butto influence all industries to elevate their customer experience.To him, customer service is not a goal but the entire vision of hiscompany. Jamie Dimon, Chairman and CEO of JPMorgan Chase said, “Ourpeople want transparency, knowledge, and control when it comes tomanaging their health care.” I think it’s safe to say thatelevating the employee experience will be a top priority!


Megan McArdle from Bloomberg View wrote, “health care costs are a bit like the weather: everyonetalks about them, but no one ever does anything about it.” Maybethese three leaders will spark change and actually do somethingabout it.


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