Few people can look back at their careers and say that they changed the world. Jeff Bezos can.
I find people like Jeff Bezos fascinating, and not just because they are fabulously wealthy and have more boats than me (I have none). I would be a rubbish CEO. I can barely drag myself out of bed in the morning. I have the drive and ambition of a lumbering tortoise. How do you build and manage a company of the size and complexity of Amazon? How do you grow it from selling a few books on the internet to what it is now? Think of how many moving parts there are in a company of this size. It’s mind-boggling.
Imagine going back in time and trying to explain Amazon to someone in the pre-internet days. A store with no shops, that you browse with a computer (let’s not bamboozle them with smartphones just yet), that sells basically everything and will deliver it to your house in under twenty-four hours. Younger me would think that older me is suffering from a degenerative brain condition.
Amazon gets a lot of stick, and so, in turn, does Jeff Bezos. Amazon has changed the way that we shop, to the detriment of our high streets, local stores and small businesses. It has become a sprawling empire with a market capitalization larger than the GDP of most countries. It employs over a million people, has its own fleet of aeroplanes and a logistics operation that will soon be bigger than Fedex and UPS. It runs the servers that power most of the internet and will be at the forefront of our experiments with AI in the future. Meanwhile, Jeff Bezos became one of the richest people on the planet, and nobody likes rich people.
Is it good that a single company holds so much power? On balance, probably.. not? The regulators will have their say. I’d say it’s fairly likely that AWS, Amazon’s cloud computing platform, will be spun off into a separate company at some point. And Amazon’s aversion to paying its fair share of tax will eventually be reconciled. Even so, it’s hard to see anything slowing it down significantly.
There would have always been an Amazon of some sort. It’s a natural result of globalisation, capitalism and the internet. Bezos had an idea, implemented it before anyone else – did it better than anyone else – and relentlessly drove it forward into the biggest retail operation on the planet.
Whatever you think of the company, or the person, it’s one hell of an achievement.
As an addendum, it’s often said that money doesn’t make you happy. I think this is bullshit. I would be deliriously happy with a couple of billion in the bank. But putting that to one side for a moment, let me be trivial and remark upon the physical transformation of Jeff Bezos. You’d probably win a fight with Jeff Bezos in 1998, but 2017 Jeff Bezos could rappel out of a helicopter, chase you for ten miles and still kick your ass.