Jeﬀ Bezos is one of the world’s most admired entrepreneurs, primarily because of his humble style and his growth from a regular person background to a current net worth in the neighborhood of $200 billion.
He is the founder, CEO, and ten percent owner of Amazon, the world’s largest e-commerce retailer, with an estimated employee count now approaching one million.
We all want to know how he did it and today we have the opportunity to interview him.
What do you think companies around the world should learn from your experience?
We have three great ideas at Amazon that we have been loyal to for 18 years and are the reason why we are successful: Put the customer first, invent and be patient.
Isn’t it dangerous to keep innovating?
What is dangerous is not to evolve. I believe in a very important point, which I would like to underline: we humans evolve together with our tools. The tools change and the tools change us: it is a cycle that repeats itself.
How much time is your day occupied by work?
I like to mess around in the morning. Out of habit I go to bed early and get up early. I like to read the newspaper calmly. Enjoy my coﬀee. Have breakfast with the children before they go to school. So the time spent messing around is very important to me. That’s why I schedule my first meeting at ten. And those that require more IQ all fix before lunch. At five in the afternoon, I am no longer able to tackle really challenging problems, so I send them back to ten the next morning. And I need eight hours of sleep. For me it is essential, unless I travel to areas with diﬀerent time zones. Maybe sometimes I can’t sleep for eight hours, but I do what I can: it’s a priority for me. With eight hours of sleep, I think more clearly, have more energy and a better mood. And after all, what is the real task of a manager? An executive is paid for making a small number of high-quality choices, not for making a thousand decisions every day.
What strategy do you think it took you to get here?
We need to think two or three years in advance. During our quarterly video calls with Wall Street, my interlocutors often interrupt me to say, “Congratulations on the quarter’s results.” I thank them, but to myself I am thinking that we prepared this quarter three years ago. I’m currently working on a quarter that will bear fruit in 2023, and that’s what needs to be done.
Who was an example for you in your childhood?
Absolutely my grandfather. From four to sixteen I spent every summer on my grandfather’s ranch. He was an incredibly self-suﬃcient man. When you live in the middle of nowhere, in a rural area, you can’t call a technician every time something breaks down. You have to work hard and try to fend for yourself. And as a child I saw my grandfather solve all kinds of problems by himself. From him I understood the importance of being resourceful and never stopping at any obstacle.
How does Amazon respond to these obstacles?
To progress you have to face a lot of problems, failures and stumbles. To get through, you have to back oﬀ and try again. There is no other way to overcome an obstacle: you have to retrace your steps and find another path. You have to use your resourcefulness, drain your resources and devise a way out of the impasse. At Amazon we have a lot of experience in this regard, it has happened to us countless times. The number of our failures is incalculable, indeed, I really believe that there is no better place than Amazon to fail. We do it very well. It is an art in which we have practiced a lot. Just to give an example: many years ago we were looking for a way to involve third party sellers because we knew that this would enrich the selection of our store. We decided to launch Amazon Auctions. Nobody joined. Then we launched an initiative called zShops, which consisted of fixed price auctions, and again it was a fiasco. In both cases it had been a year or a year and a half of work. Finally, there was the idea of inserting the products of third party sellers on our site, alongside those of our warehouse. We called it Marketplace and the initiative started working right away.
How important is it to your customers?
I always say “make your customer obsession”. In 1998 I wrote, “We intend to build the most customer-centric company in the world,” and “focused” is an understatement: “I constantly remind our employees to be afraid, to wake up in terror every morning. Not of our competition, but of our customers”. In an interview with Isaacson I then explained that “the heart of the company is the obsession with the customer rather than the obsession with the competition. The advantage of focusing on the customer is that customers are always dissatisfied. They want more and more and so they drag you along. While if you are obsessed with competition, if you are a leader, you can look around and see everyone running behind you, and maybe you slow down a bit “.
What is your hobby in your free time?
When I get the chance, I spend time scanning the oceans. I’m going in search of NASA space rockets. Most rockets detach from spacecraft during flight, thrusters fall into the sea. I dive with a submarine to retrieve these historical relics. Sometimes I also take my family with me. I once spent three weeks looking for just one rocket.