From e-commerce to aerospace, Jeff Bezos transcends and transforms every sector he touches. Leaders league profiles a 21st century corporate visionary.
“Books have to have a fixed price per unit… why should they? Products can’t be delivered by drone… why shouldn’t they be?” This is a snapshot of the thinking of Jeff Bezos and his blue ocean strategy which has made the impossible possible. The word ‘disruptor’ gets bandied about these days, but if anyone deserves the moniker, it’s the Albuquerque native.
Having first made his name on Wall Street in the early 90s (he was vice-president of DE Shaw from 1990 to 1995), the business for which Bezos is now best known, Amazon, has come to incarnate the central idea in Argentine author Jorge Luis Borges’ La biblioteca de Babel, a depository of an indefinite, perhaps infinite, number of books (well, 180 million different products and counting in Amazon’s case, for those of you less given to hyperbole, but still…). How did the world’s richest man get all the way to the top? By taking on the elite across a raft of sectors and beating them by rewriting the rules of the game.
A little history
Let’s go back in time. It is the summer of 1995, LA band the Rembrandts rule the airwaves with “I’ll be there for you,” the theme-tune to hit sitcom Friends, Steve Young’s San Francisco 49ers are Superbowl champions and, further up the West Coast, an unheard of startup sells its first book over the internet.
Unlike many other promising 90s startups, Amazon was able to survive the dot-com bubble bursting in 2000 because of its highly effective two-sided approach – putting customers in touch with sellers and vice versa. The latter were able to use the platform to sell their products, with Amazon taking a cut. But Bezos was no run-of-the-mill middle-man. Using data gleaned from purchases made on Amazon accompanied by the famous phrase “customers who bought this item, also bought…” he struck gold by proposing products people didn’t even know they wanted. With Amazon, now everyone had a virtual personal shopper. Suddenly, it didn’t matter if you lived in Manhattan or Moville, Iowa, you could build the same album, movie, book or games collection.
Master of logistics
Add to this well-oiled machine Amazon’s logistical prowess. In 2019, the property portfolio of the Washington State-headquartered multinational includes 110 corporate offices and as many distribution centers, each of the latter a small city dedicated to the needs of customers.
Throughout all of Amazon’s expansions and acquisitions, data has played a key part in Bezos’ decision-making process. In 1998 he bought online TV and movie database IMDb for $55. This goldmine of qualitative data, continually enriched and updated with new information by entertainment enthusiasts, is an ideal means of discerning the public appetite for new films and TV shows, something that has allowed the streaming service Amazon Prime Video to eat into Netflix’s market share.
And with the success of Amazon’s Echo range of smart speakers – those of virtual-assistant Alexa fame – Bezos has a rich new mine of customer data to tap, covering everything from what type of soda a person is putting on their shopping list to who their favorite musicians are.
From Whole Foods to Blue Origin, the vision of Jeff Bezos known no bounds.