Jeff Bezos has retired, and stepped down as chief executive of trillion-dollar e-commerce giant Amazon, having held the top job since he founded the tech behemoth out of a garage in 1994.
At 57 years old, Bezos retires with a reported personal fortune of US$197 billion, ending his career (although, let’s face it, probably not) with a bang as the world’s richest person.
When he first announced he was stepping down as chief executive back in February, Bezos said he would transition to the role of executive chair in Q3 this year, with Andy Jassy — currently chief of Amazon Web Services — stepping into the top job.
That announcement came as Amazon announced its results for Q4 2020, revealing a 72% increase in operating cashflow during the past 12 months.
Operating cashflow reached $66.1 billion during 2020, up from $38.5 billion in 2019.
An increase in online shopping globally during the COVID-19 pandemic has seen the company’s share price skyrocket. It currently has a market cap of almost US$1.7 trillion.
In a statement, Bezos hailed Amazon as an e-commerce pioneer, saying it had changed the game in customer reviews, recommendations, checkout processes and shipping.
But, he also noted its other tech breakthroughs, in development of the Alexa home assistant, Kindle e-books, checkout-free stores and infrastructure cloud computing.
“Amazon is what it is because of invention. We do crazy things together and then make them normal,” Bezos said.
“People yawn. That yawn is the greatest compliment an inventor can receive.”
The business’ strong financial results reflect the cumulative results of this invention, he explained.
“Right now I see Amazon at its most inventive ever, making it an optimal time for this transition.”
But monumental growth comes at a cost, and Amazon’s success has arguably been built on poor treatment of warehouse and delivery workers, stifling competition, and at the expense of small businesses.
Today’s news also comes at the same time Amazon has agreed to pay US$61.7 million to settle charges it withheld customer tips meant for its Amazon Flex drivers over two and a half years.
The ever divisive entrepreneur has been a fixture in global business news for some time, and will likely continue to be.
Here are some nuggets of wisdom he’s offered us over the years.
Think like an SME
Bezos attributes much of Amazon’s success to a ‘day one’ philosophy, keeping the “heart and spirit” of a small business, to remain nimble and innovative.
“You have to use heart and intuition, there has to be risk-taking, [and] you have to have instinct — all these good decisions have to be made that way,” he said in an interview with David Rubenstein.
Back in 2018, Bezos shared a quote from poet and philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson that has “been on my fridge for years”.
The quote details a vision of what it means to be successful, including winning the respect of people, earning the appreciation of critics and generally leaving the world a better place.
Predictably, that didn’t go down well with everybody.
And how about paying Federal taxes? Giving back to Society? To win the respect of all kinds of people, to NOT look for the best in others, to look for imperfection. To embrace life and realizing you have lived because there are people around you, who makes you feel alive. Think!
— Stewie (@Stewie0424) May 5, 2018
Know the end is nigh
Bezos believes Amazon is “not too big to fail”.
In fact, he reportedly once told staff he believes it will one day go bankrupt and collapse.
The role of a successful entrepreneur is to keep a business up and running for as long as possible, and the trick to doing that is a laser focus on your customers.
“If we start to focus on ourselves instead of focusing on our customers, that will be the beginning of the end,” he reportedly said.
Keep standards high
In his annual letter to shareholders in 2018, Bezos highlighted the importance of high standards across various parts of the business.
Amazon customers are “divinely discontent”, he said, and there’s only one solution to keeping them happy.
“We continue to aspire to be Earth’s most customer-centric company,” he said.
Stay grounded… and delegate
Finally, Bezos once revealed he still has a working ‘jeff[at]amazon.com’ email address, and sometimes receives feedback from customers directly.
He doesn’t deal with it himself, though. Rather, he will forward it to the relevant manager, adding only an ominous question mark.
“It’s shorthand [for] can you look into this? Why is this happening?” he said.
The recipient is then expected to “drop everything” and fix the problem as quickly as possible, before reporting back.
This article was first published on February 3, 2021. An updated version was published on July 6, 2021, after Bezos’s retirement.