The man who can’t stop getting richer

Thousands of dollars a second: Amazon’s CEO has been the wealthiest man in the world since 2017.

Is Jeff Bezos a genius or a monster? He has built digital companies that seem ready-made for the post-pandemic world. But such success leaves a sour taste in the mouths of many.

Jeff Bezos is worth over $130 billion (£104 bn). This makes him the wealthiest person of all time.

He owns Whole Foods, Blue Origin, Twitch, Audible, and the Washington Post.

He owns the cloud computing and online storage that supports Netflix, the CIA, and the NHS.

Most crucially, he founded and still runs Amazon.com, the online shopping giant that he once dubbed, “the everything store”.

And despite the coronavirus pandemic and the collapse of the economy, 2020 has, so far, been yet another prosperous year for Jeff Bezos.

The entrepreneur, whose favourite insult is: “Are you lazy or just incompetent?” increased his personal wealth by well over $20 billion (£16 bn), while 30 million Americans have filed for unemployment.

In a world of social distancing and working-from-home, the increased reliance on web-based services and deliveries will only increase both Amazon’s and Bezos’ own financial dominance.

Next week, a new book about Bezos is published titled, Bezonomics: How Amazon Is Changing Our Lives, and What the World’s Companies Are Learning from It.

It gives away some of the secrets of his success. Back in the late 90s, it was just an online book store, now it is a trillion dollar company.

In the headquarters, executives can recite the company policies by heart and follow quirky corporate jargon like the “two pizza rule.”

So, is Jeff Bezos a genius or monster?

Head in the cloud

To many entrepreneurs, he is the pinnacle of business brilliance: an inventor and visionary who has created thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in wealth.

To his detractors, he represents all that is wrong. Amazon is a notorious tax evader. Its employees work in stressful conditions. It transforms economies, wiping out old jobs too quickly for governments to react.

You Decide

  1. Can you imagine life under lockdown without Amazon?

Activities

  1. Imagine you are Jeff Bezos. Write your own shopping list. What would you do with $138 billion (£110 bn)?

Some People Say...

“If you can’t tolerate critics, don’t do anything new or interesting.”

Jeff Bezos, American entrepreneur and CEO of Amazon

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
The fastest growing and most profitable portion of Bezos’s business empire is Amazon Web Services, a cloud storage and software platform which leases out chunks of the internet to lots of different, big companies, including Netflix, Zoom, Apple, Twitter, and Reddit. Amazon is responsible for 50% of packages sent out around the US. Home-delivered products now account for 30% of US rubbish. The cardboard alone costs 1 billion trees. After years of being criticised for not donating enough money, in February, Bezos announced $10 billion (£8 bn) to combat the effects of the climate crisis.
What do we not know?
We do not know exactly the long-term effects of an economy that moves completely online. As Samanth Subramanian writes in the Guardian: “It is as if we have forgotten that a product is an object moving through space, fighting gravity, air resistance and other forces of nature.” We also do not know whether Bezos is motivated by ambition, greed, or a belief that he is building a better world.

Word Watch

Blue Origin
Founded in 2000, this company aims to develop technologies to allow for private access to space. Just as railroads enabled economies to grow, it wants to build basic rockets which will, one day, underpin intergalactic travel.
Cloud computing
Data storage and computing power which is hosted remotely and can be accessed by many different users via the internet.
Dubbed
Given an unofficial name or nickname.
Corporate jargon
Also known as business speak – words and expressions which companies use that don’t mean much to anyone else.
Two pizza rule
Every meeting should be small enough that attendees could be fed with two large pizzas. The idea is that meetings with too many people lose focus, and waste everyone’s time.
Pinnacle
The very top. Like a peak or a summit, used to describe the highest point on a mountain or a ridge.
Detractors
People who criticise someone or something. The opposite of supporters.
Notorious
Famous for a bad quality.
Tax evader
A person or a company that avoids paying their taxes.

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