Since Amazon’s founding, Bezos has devoted himself to building it into a retail behemoth that sells everything from diapers to garden equipment to data storage at low prices with a click of a mouse. It rang up $61 billion in sales last year.
In the process, Amazon has wreaked havoc on traditional brick-and-mortar stores. Many retailers have expressed dismay and resentment at Amazon’s ability to sell the same products at a lower price, in part because of its efficiency but also because it was not collecting sales tax in most states.
For long periods, however, Bezos frustrated investors and analysts who wanted Amazon to turn profits more quickly or more regularly. Because of heavy investments in warehouses and new businesses, Amazon did not deliver a profit until the company’s ninth year of operation, and seven years after it started selling shares to the public.
At times, Bezos has been openly disdainful of Wall Street’s demands for bigger quarterly profits. He told Fortune magazine last year, “The three big ideas at Amazon are long-term thinking, customer obsession, and willingness to invent.”
Under Bezos, the company’s drive into new businesses has been relentless. To supplement its line of Kindle readers and tablets, for example, Bezos pushed Amazon into book publishing itself, upsetting rivals such as Barnes & Noble and book agents alike. (Bezos is an avid newspaper reader; in addition to The Post, he said, he reads the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal.)
But Amazon’s breakneck growth has also come with a few stumbles. Among other investments, Bezos bought a majority stake in Pets.com in 1999 and paid $60 million for a portion of Kozmo.com, a delivery service. Both companies went out of business. An attempt to compete with eBay in online auctions was not successful.
As a result, an investment in Amazon comes with the likelihood of erratic earnings — and sometimes no earnings at all. The company lost $39 million last year.
Ultimately, however, Amazon has rewarded patient believers. Its sales have increased almost tenfold since 2004, and its stock price has quadrupled in the past five years. “We believe in the long term,” Bezos told Fortune, “but the long term also has to come.”
Friends and competitors have described Bezos as cerebral, demanding, curious and given to asking challenging questions. He shows little tolerance for those who are poorly prepared but can be charming and quick to laugh. “If Jeff is unhappy, wait five minutes,” his wife has said of him.
Bezos’s personal ventures have also given little hint of any major interest in the news business. He started a private company called Blue Origin in 2000 to develop a space vehicle and has acquired land in west Texas as a rocket launch site, both part of a lifelong passion for space travel. He is also reportedly spending $42 million to develop a clock inside a mountain in Texas that is designed to last 10,000 years — a symbol of Bezos’s business philosophy of thinking long-term.