THE AMAZON FOUNDER HAS BUILT A CONSUMERISM EMPIRE ON AN UNWAVERING DEDICATION TO HIS CORE PRINCIPLES. BUT JUST WHEN HE BEGINS TO FIT A MOLD, HE REWRITES THE RULES.
The First 60 Minutes Profile of Jeff Bezos has not aged well.
In the 1999 feature segment, preserved on YouTube, the venerable news show pokes fun at his nerdy tendencies. It wonders whether his company can win a war against traditional brick and mortar powers and scoffs at his frugality.
In one telling scene, a 35-year-old Bezos sits in a poorly lit office behind a light-colored desk constructed from a door propped up by two-by-fours. The office is cluttered with stacks of papers and books. The carpet is stained and littered. A yellow rubber duck sits atop a massive gray computer monitor. To his right, hanging lopsided on the wall, is a white sign with "amazon.com" spray-painted in blue.
The video spreads through social media feeds every so often, usually in sync with news of Bezos' ever-increasing personal fortune or Amazon's latest retail take-over. Users pair it with inspirational messages for startup hopefuls and self-proclaimed nerds everywhere.
"Remember, everyone starts somewhere!"
"This is Jeff Bezos selling books out of his garage. Now he's a multi-billionaire. Never give up!!"
"When you want to quit, remember that Amazon wasn't always a monster company."
In fact, Amazon was well on its way to behemoth status by the time he was interviewed by CBS's Bob Simon. Amazon had been a publicly traded company for two years, with Bezos holding roughly $10 billion in its shares. The company had moved from a Bellevue, Washington garage to its current Seattle headquarters years prior. But Bezos was notoriously thrifty and doors were cheaper than traditional desks. (Frugality is one of the 14 leadership principles listed on the Amazon website.) Today, the company still uses door desks, and gives miniature versions, signed by Bezos, as awards for cost-cutting innovations. The rundown office was more a purposeful symbol than financial necessity--a recurring theme of Bezos' leadership style.
That style, characterized by an aggressive and unrelenting focus on the long-term, hasn't changed.
In a digital age when flash-in-the-pan technology is the standard and innovation is mandatory for survival, Bezos' commitment to consistent, clear and simple guiding principles is perhaps the most rebellious act against conventional business.
The founder of a little online bookstore and one of the four horsemen of the Internet believes in the matte gray of long-term business, customer focus and innovation. His actions continue to support those beliefs. That same company--now with a stock market value of more than $700 billion--was built on a set of principles written by a guy who used to eat an entire can of refrigerated biscuits with butter every morning and who almost named his company MakeItSo.com, after a frequent Star Trek command. (He actually registered the name "Cadabra Inc." until business associates told him it sounded too much like "cadaver.")
Bezos doesn't want the watery rags-to-riches story to persist. In The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon--perhaps the most intimate profile of Bezos to date-author Brad Stone begins the prologue by meeting the no-nonsense CEO, book proposal in hand. Bezos' biggest concern was narrative fallacy, a relatively new term that describes how humans oversimplify complex stories to make them more appealing and manageable.
"When a company comes up with an idea, it's a messy process," Bezos told Stone. "There's no aha moment."
Sure, the Amazon story is the perfect kind of tale that will line newsfeed walls for generations to come. But that venture was just the beginning. Ultimately it was an unwavering dedication to a set of beliefs that allowed Bezos to withstand the dot-com bust and eventually foray into related and distinctly unrelated markets including cloud storage, media, healthcare, space exploration and beyond. His success in those varied markets make him a multi-faceted powerhouse, sharing a virtual home with 64 million Amazon Prime users and gaining invaluable insight into their likes and dislikes, their fears and guilty pleasures, their political leanings. The world has invited Bezos into their homes and entrusted to him their futures. He's not leaving anytime soon.
Just as it's now nearly impossible to imagine a world without one-click purchasing and same-day delivery, it's even more difficult to write about Bezos without regurgitating The
Amazon Story. They are two halves of a whole. A right and left hand that together form a reality we once never thought possible and now cannot imagine living without. This, the slow but steady slide into our daily routine, is the genius of Bezos, and it's rocketed him to the distinction of Richest Person in History, a throne that is situated under a microscope.
Depending on the decade, Bezos is either a hero or a villain. His first brainchild has been compared to Sears' revolutionary idea of mail-order catalogs. He's been revered as the savior of a broken economy, supplying jobs to 542,000 people worldwide and growing. He's also been under fire for tax avoidance and entering the media industry...