The richest man in the world and the first centibillionaire ever, but what path did he take to become the leader of the largest company in the world?
Jeff Bezos was born in New Mexico in 1964 to a teenage mother, attended elementary school in Houston, Texas, and later moved to Miami where Bezos went to high school.
In High School Bezos made his first steps as an entrepreneur opening an education camp called “The DREAM Institute” which had an uptake of six people. Rather than having to work another summer at McDonald’s. However, years later, he stated that working at McDonald’s helped him to learn how to be a good manager.
Bezos attended Princeton University where he graduated with a degree in electrical engineering and computer science in 1986. Bezos rejected jobs at large companies such as Intel. Bezos worked in a telecommunications startup and later Banker’s Trust (later acquired by Deutsche Bank) where he became vice president a feat he repeated at his next job, hedge fund D.E Shaw. Bezos was tasked with finding business opportunities, and it was here he came up with the idea of selling books on the web.
From bookstore to tech giant
At 30 years of age, Bezos left his job at the hedge fund after coming across a statistic that the internet was growing at 2,300% a year. He was fascinated by this growth and founded Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN) in 1994 in his garage in Seattle, Washington after writing the business plan while traveling West. It launched in 1995 with five employees, and in the first month, it had sold books in over 50 states and 45 different countries. Although Bezos thought there was a 70% chance he might fail, he stated years later that “It’s paths not taken, and they haunt us.” and he would instead try.
Amazon went public on the NASDAQ in 1997 for $18 a share. Bezos has led Amazon to become one of the largest company’s in the world, with shares increasing by over 150,000%. Despite the Dot Com crash in 2000 and skepticism from analysts, Amazon continued to grow and has reached new heights in recent years.
Bezos is often called a visionary, and one example stands out. In Amazon’s early days Bezos was approached by the executive chairman of the book store chain Barnes & Noble Leonard Riggio. Riggio is said to have stated that Barnes & Noble was going to crush Amazon with the launch of a website and suggested that the two companies collaborate. Bezos declined the offer despite it being a David versus Goliath scenario. Amazon grew substantially while its competitor Barnes and Noble went into decline.
After books, Amazon moved into music and videos. Bezos later sent out an email to one thousand customers asking what they wanted to be on the platform next. Customers responded with a range of products which started the expansion. Bezos instilled a culture in Amazon focused on long-term thinking, a customer-centric approach, and inventing. This differentiates Amazon from its competitors and has enabled it to innovate and grow consistently. Bezos currently has a respectable 84% approval rating on Glassdoor and Amazon took in $280 billion in revenue in 2019, a long way from the $147 million in 1997. Bezos has successfully led Amazon from a bookstore to a tech giant.
Bezos’ wealth is not entirely down to his stake in Amazon as he has numerous other business interests.
In 2013, Bezos purchased the Washington Post for a fee of $250 million despite its declining sales due to its importance as an institution. Bezos helped to revamp the business using the internet, which had been the nail in the coffin for the newspaper industry. Once again, Bezos has demonstrated his expertise to grow a business.
Bezos’ space venture, Blue Origin is the culmination of a childhood dream which started when he was five years old watching the Apollo 11 moon landing. This fascination with space continued through the years and in Bezos’ valedictorian speech, is rumored to have said “the future of mankind is not on this planet”, demonstrating the fact that he is a visionary. In more recent years he has made no secret of long-term plans for humans to inhabit space. Bezos wanted to be a space entrepreneur, and his success with Amazon has enabled him to fulfill this dream.
Bezos has also pledged $10 billion to charity to combat climate change under the Bezos Earth Fund and is the latest in his philanthropic efforts. In November 2020 the first 16 beneficiaries were named although it remains unclear how much will go to each group.
A MyWallSt subscription gives you access to over 100 market-beating stock picks and the research to back them up. Our analyst team post daily insights, subscriber-only podcasts and the headlines that move the market. Get your free trial now!
MyWallSt operates a full disclosure policy. MyWallSt staff currently holds long positions in companies mentioned above. Read our full disclosure policy here.