Jeff Bezos helped reshape the retail world with the introduction in 1994 of Amazon.com. What began as a way to order books online quickly grew into one of the world’s largest and most-recognizable brands.
Amazon still sells books online, but it mainly traffics in a wide range of digital and brick-and-mortar services and products. Bezos has ridden his success with Amazon to the pinnacle of entrepreneurship, and his story is well worth knowing for aspiring business leaders.
Bezos discovered a love for learning early in life, and graduated as valedictorian of his class from Miami Palmetto High School. He went to Princeton, where he graduated Phi Beta Kappa with degrees in electrical engineering and computer science.
He got a job on Wall Street in computers, then combined his knowledge of programming and digital networking on several roles in the banking and investment industries.
In 1994, Bezos drove across country from New York to Seattle and founded Amazon.com, famously setting up his first office in his garage. By 1997, Amazon was a publicly held company and well on its way to becoming the world’s leader in online commerce.
In 2000, Bezos expanded his business horizon by founding Blue Origin, his personal contribution to commercial, manned space flight.
In 2013, Bezos paid $250 million for one of the world’s leading newspapers, the Washington Post, and its affiliated publications.
He was named Time’s Person of the Year in 1999 and Fortune’s Businessperson of the Year in 2012. In 2017, he surpassed Microsoft founder Bill Gates as the wealthiest person in the world, with an estimated net worth of more than $100 billion, according to Forbes.
Bezos’ reputation as an entrepreneurial visionary is coupled with an enthusiastic, even ebullient, public persona. He often has expressed his admiration for risk-takers, and built his business empire on a foundation of experimentation and innovation.
In a 2012 Forbes profile on Bezos’ leadership style, Bezos was described as someone who “still dashes around Amazon with the intensity of a startup boss trying to make his first payroll, as well as the glee of a teenager discovering all the fun you can have at overnight camp.”
In that same profile, one of Bezos’ iconic motivational tools is mentioned: During some meetings, Bezos orders one chair left intentionally empty to represent the Amazon customer – a constant reminder to the meeting attendees about “the most important person in the room.”
Bezos also has been described as “equal parts ‘quant’ and dreamer,” or the synthesis of a quantitative analyst and a visionary. That comes as close as any description to capturing the seeming conflict between a certain level of naïve eagerness spurred by a dream and no-nonsense social scientist who makes decisions based on hard data.
As a leader, then, Bezos – a Star Trek fan from way back – has struck a historically successful balance between the impulsive, instinctive approach of Captain Kirk and the dispassionate logic of Mr. Spock.
The Bezos approach won’t work for every aspiring business leader, but the lesson is not to attempt to emulate one of the most successful entrepreneurs of the 21st century.
Rather, the lesson from Bezos’ story so far is to develop your own leadership style based on your vision and enthusiasm. What makes you excited? For Bezos, it started with computers, then selling books online, then building commercial spacecraft, then helping shape 21st century journalism.
One way to crystalize your vision is to pursue an online MBA through Jacksonville University’s Davis College of Business.
Words of Wisdom
“When I have dinner with friends or family, I like to be doing whatever I’m doing. I don’t like to multitask. If I’m reading my email, I want to be reading my email.”
– Bezos, quoted in TechCrunch, from an interview with his brother, Mark, at the 2017 Summit Series in Los Angeles
“Space, the final frontier. … Meet me there.”
– Bezos, paraphrasing the Star Trek introduction, in his high school Valedictorian speech (source: TechCrunch)
“We’ve had three big ideas at Amazon that we’ve stuck with for 18 years, and they’re the reason we’re successful: Put the customer first. Invent. And be patient. If you replace ‘customer’ with ‘reader,’ that approach, that point of view, can be successful at The Post, too.”
– Bezos, upon acquiring the Washington Post in 2013