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Amazon’s wild 24-year ride, from 11 employees to 600,000-plus

As Amazon has expanded its activities from selling books to doing practically everything, it’s grown at a pace with little precedent.

Amazon’s wild 24-year ride, from 11 employees to 600,000-plus
[Illustrations: Stephen Maurice Graham]

For most gigantic tech companies, the most furious growth happens early on. As in so many areas, however, Amazon is a fascinating exception to conventional behavior. Beth Galetti, Amazon’s HR chief—whom I profiled for our May issue—is currently presiding over the biggest hiring spree in the company’s history. With a headcount of 647,000, the company has more than six times as many employees as it did when she arrived in 2013 and is adding an average of 337 additional workers a day.

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Here’s a look at how a tiny online bookseller has endlessly expanded its ambitions—and staffed up to achieve them.

[Illustration: Stephen Maurice Graham]

1995, 11 employees

The fledgling amazon.com book site makes its first sale, to a customer named Wainright. Eventually, it celebrates his purchase by naming a building after him.

1997, 614 employees

Still unprofitable and battling established behemoths such as Barnes & Noble, Amazon goes public at $18 a share.

1998, 2,100 employees

International expansion begins as the company opens sites tailored for the U.K. (with 1.2 million books) and Germany (335,000 titles).

[Illustration: Stephen Maurice Graham]

2000, 9,000 employees

Amazon allows third-party merchants to sell through its storefront. By 2017, such shipments would account for the majority of sales.

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[Illustration: Stephen Maurice Graham]

2001: 7800 employees

After the dot-com bubble bursts, Amazon’s stock tumbles. It lays off 15% of staffers, ushering in a brief era of employee shrinkage.

2002, 7,500 employees

In a departure from its retailing roots, Amazon begins providing online infrastructure to other companies. Amazon Web Services establishes a new industry—that’s now a $30-billion business.

[Illustration: Stephen Maurice Graham]

2005, 12,000 employees

Amazon Prime lets customers pay an annual fee for fast shipping. Today, it has 100 million members, who also get everything from streaming video to Whole Foods discounts.

[Illustration: Stephen Maurice Graham]

2007, 17,000 employees

The Kindle e-reader is the first of a bevy of Amazon gadgets, including tablets, TV boxes, and speakers (and the famously unsuccessful Fire Phone).

[Illustration: Stephen Maurice Graham]

2009, 24,300 employees

Amazon pays $1.2 billion for shoe purveyor Zappos—noted for its quirky culture and obsessive customer service—and promises to leave it alone. (It does.)

2011, 56,200 employees

Between offices, warehouses, and data centers, Amazon now occupies 48 million square feet of space and counting.

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[Illustration: Stephen Maurice Graham]

2013, 117,300 employees

Amazon enters India, with a site that complies with local regulations by offering only products from third-party sellers.

[Illustration: Stephen Maurice Graham]

2014, 154,100 employees

Robots invade Amazon fulfillment centers as the company begins automating the stocking process using technology from its Kiva Systems subsidiary.

2015, 230,800 employees

The first-ever Amazon brick-and-mortar store opens in Seattle—a bookshop that promotes its tomes with ratings and reviews from online customers.

2017, 566,000 employees

By paying $13 billion for Whole Foods, Amazon becomes a major grocer—and gets a new venue to hawk its own products, such as Echo speakers.

[Illustration: Stephen Maurice Graham]

2018, 613,300 employees

Amazon picks Crystal City, Virginia, and New York City for its “HQ2” expansion—but withdraws from New York after controversy surrounding a $3-billion incentive package.

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About the author

Harry McCracken is the technology editor for Fast Company, based in San Francisco. In past lives, he was editor at large for Time magazine, founder and editor of Technologizer, and editor of PC World.

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