Ruthless, calculating, confrontational, and sardonic—such is the portrait of Amazon CEO and newly crowned Washington Post owner Jeff Bezos that emerges in an excerpt from Brad Stone's new book on the billionaire mogul, published today on Bloomberg Businessweek.
Cobbled together from interviews with "hundreds" of Bezos's acquaintances (but not the man himself), it's not an altogether flattering profile. (Magazine pieces about obscenely rich tech moguls rarely are, it lately seems.) But it does give us a rare close-up of the visionary, who "rarely speaks at conferences and gives interviews only to publicize new products," despite maintaining a public work email address. And the clincher, concerning Bezos's long-lost father, is stunning.
What we've learned, mostly, is this: Bezos, a "hyperrational" and emotionless boss, is not a terribly pleasant person to work for:
Some Amazon employees advance the theory that Bezos, like Jobs, Gates, and Oracle co-founder Larry Ellison, lacks empathy. As a result, he treats workers as expendable resources without taking into account their contributions. That in turn allows him to coldly allocate capital and manpower and make hyperrational business decisions, where another executive might let emotion and personal relationships figure into the equation.
Oh, and this: he once flew into a fit of range concerning Amazon's lubricant marketing:
It had come to Bezos’s attention that customers who had browsed the lubricants section of Amazon’s sexual wellness category were receiving personalized e-mails pitching a variety of gels and other intimacy facilitators. [ . . . ] Wilke and his colleagues argued that lubricants were available in supermarkets and drugstores and were not that embarrassing. They also pointed out that Amazon generated a significant volume of sales with such e-mails. Bezos didn’t care; no amount of revenue was worth jeopardizing customer trust. “Who in this room needs to get up and shut down the channel?” he snapped.
In stark contrast to Bezos's conniving emotionlessness, though, is Stone's poignant tale of tracking down the CEO's biological father, Ted Jorgensen, who left when Bezos was a toddler and hasn't been in touch with him since. Many decades removed from that short-lived teen marriage, Jorgensen today runs a bike shop in Arizona.