Brad Stone wrote a book about Amazon. “Always be ready for a furious e-mail from Jeff Bezos”

October 20, 2021 by No Comments

It was known by the code name ‘Project Y721’. The 127-meter-long superyacht that Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos ordered from the Dutch sailing yacht builder Oceanco from Alblasserdam. Bezos paid 500 million dollars (410 million euros) for his yacht – and for that money got another ‘dinghy’ (a smaller yacht, with helipad). Bezos paid twice as much for his new boat as he paid for the American newspaper The Washington Post, owned by Bezos since 2013.

The purchase of the world’s largest yacht is one of the revelations from Amazon unleashed, the new book by American Bloomberg journalist Brad Stone that appeared this week. It’s the sequel to The Everything Store, in 2014 by The Financial Times crowned best business book of the year. (Bezos’ now ex-wife MacKenzie Scott, on the other hand, rated the book 1 star on Amazon.com).

In his latest book, Stone outlines how Amazon grew into one of the largest companies in the world thanks to (and sometimes despite) Jeff Bezos. He spoke to hundreds of sources, but Bezos himself did not want to cooperate, Stone says in an interview via Zoom. “I’ve tried endlessly to convince him, but I don’t think he’s interested in looking back and doing self-reflection.”

The fact that Bezos had his boat built in Alblasserdam is – besides a nice detail for Dutch readers – symbolic of the change that Bezos has gone through. Bezos, the world’s richest person with a net worth of $200 billion, has changed in recent years from a brilliant, slightly dowdy techie with an unerring sense of product innovation, into a muscular rock star, who surrounds himself with Hollywood stars and spends his money on art. , helicopter lessons and expensive houses.

Slowly but surely, Bezos is turning away from the company he founded in the early 1990s as a book sales site and which, under his leadership, grew into the largest web store in the world, a cloud service (AWS), a supermarket chain (Whole Foods), an online pharmacy, a media and entertainment branch and inventor of numerous devices.

In February, Bezos announced that he will hand over day-to-day management to Amazon veteran Andy Jassy this summer. Bezos continues to focus on innovation within Amazon. In addition, he will spend more time on his space company Blue Origin and charitable projects.

How would you describe Jeff Bezos?

Stone thinks for ten seconds. “As an extremely driven, innovative, forward-thinking, relentless builder of technical products and companies. Amazon didn’t invent online shopping, the cloud, and voice technology, but it did make it big. In doing so, Bezos, more than other top executives, has changed our economic reality.”

Amazon unleashed takes an in-depth look at Amazon’s innovations – and Bezos’ role in them. More often than not, these experiments fail. Amazon is making a costly mistake by wanting to develop its own smartphone, the Fire Phone. And visitors to Amazon’s checkout-free stores (Amazon Go) don’t seem to understand how the concept works.

Often, it turns out, it is Bezos himself who comes up with the ideas for new products. This is what Bezos believed – a Star Trek-fan – ten years ago the only one within Amazon that we would later talk to our computers at home: Amazon pioneered in 2013 with the launch of speech computer Alexa, a device that you can talk to. And it is Bezos who has the sacred conviction that companies are happy to outsource their data, as long as Amazon takes care of the server capacity. Cloud service AWS has since become one of the fastest growing and most profitable parts of the company.

Bezos meddles with the smallest things. The brightness of the blue ring on the Alexa still has to be raised a little at the very last moment by the CEO, after which the device has to be redesigned. And as Bezos The Washington Post buys, he suggests a new slogan to the editors after Trump’s election: “Democracy dies in darkness‘. He challenges management – ​​typically Bezos – to come up with something better. It does not work.

Is Bezos so brilliant, or just no one dares to argue with him?

“He always has the loudest and most influential voice. Take the Fire Phone, even employees who worked on it thought it was a bad idea, but no one could win the argument over Bezos. With Prime (Amazon’s unlimited free delivery plan) it was exactly the same, that was Bezos’ idea. Some of his managers thought it was a bad name and came up with alternatives. Bezos said, “Okay we agree, we’re going to call it Prime.” Yes, he is stubborn. At the same time: he is often right.”

Employees never know when he is watching and must always be ready. That’s the Bezos philosophy

Brad Stone

Bezos gets involved in everything. How do you do that in a company with more than a million employees?

“Bezos is a kind of pilot, who continuously circles his plane over Amazon. He flies very low on all new projects, there he focuses on the details and he continuously monitors. He flies very high in the established parts – the cloud service, the web store. And then, and that really is Bezos, suddenly make a dive at totally unexpected moments. Then suddenly that angry e-mail arrives. His employees never know when the boss is watching and must always be ready. That is the Bezos philosophy.”

That must feel like enormous pressure

“Yes. There are executives working on a project that Bezos happens to be involved with, much to their frustration. Then they come under a magnifying glass. He can be very disruptive with his comments. Now that he has drifted a bit more, that has also led to relief in the workplace.”

What is striking: Amazon spends tens of millions on innovative projects, which often fail. Where is the pressure from shareholders?

“Amazon is not ashamed of their failures. On the contrary: they are proud of it. In 1997, Bezos wrote a famous letter to his shareholders. He said: we will always continue to invest in growth and it is about the long term. Since then, Amazon has invested its profits in innovation and development, not in buying stocks or dividends. Shareholders see how fast Amazon is growing, so you won’t hear them complaining. Don’t forget: investing in innovation is also one of Amazon’s many tricks to pay as little tax as possible.”

You write that being Amazon CEO was just not so much fun for Bezos

“The Congressional testimony played a part, I think, in his decision to quit. [Bezos verscheen daar in juli vorig jaar samen met de topmannen van Google, Apple en Facebook voor een hoorzitting over machtsmisbruik.] He no longer feels like explaining Amazon to politicians, who then interrupt him after twenty seconds for every answer. Blue Origin, meanwhile, is way behind SpaceX [het ruimtevaartbedrijf van aartsrivaal Elon Musk] and he has invested billions in the Bezos Earth Fund for a better climate. He needs time to do all that.”

How sincere is Bezos when it comes to his climate plans? Amazon is a major polluter.

“I think he is sincere. He put $10 billion of his own money into that fund, which is serious money. And he realizes that Amazon is in a much more complicated position than, say, Apple, which is not dependent on a polluting logistics operation. At the same time: they are all just promises. We have yet to see whether that money will go to already existing climate plans, or whether Bezos will really use his innovative capacity and brainpower for a better world. I would like to be optimistic about that, because we need the smartest people on earth to solve this problem.”

You have now described the entire history of Amazon with your books. Has this company done anything good for the world now?

“Wait, let me show you something.” Stone turns the camera from his laptop to his bookcase, where there is a round white sphere. “That there is a new Amazon Alexa. I am a Prime subscriber. I watch the TV shows on Prime Video and we order a lot of packages at home, probably way too many. It would be hypocritical for me to say that Amazon is bad for the world. At the same time, it’s good that Amazon is now being challenged. That governments hold the company to account, that employees unite for better working conditions and that journalists expose things that are not going well. As with many tech companies, it was at Amazon: we build first, then we see what the consequences are. For everything Amazon has brought, we pay the price.”