WE ALL DREAM BIG, BUT FEW GO FROM BEING A SOUTH FLORIDA HIGH SCHOOL VALEDICTORIAN TO BECOMING THE CEO OF THE WIDEST DIGITAL EMPIRE AROUND THE GLOBE, AMAZON.COM.
It’s the most recent news that took us all by surprise. Everyone, from housewives to everyday grocery shoppers, was stunned when Amazon.com purchased Whole Foods. According to Forbes magazine, Jeff Bezos didn’t waste any time figuring out how Amazon will integrate its biggest-ever, $13.7 billion acquisition. Amazon put price cut wars into motion when Whole Foods stores nationwide planned to integrate the grocer within its larger e-commerce platform. Once more, Amazon’s relentless growth shook Wall Street. Meanwhile, we all started to think of everything we’d order and wondered if a drone would be arriving at our home now to deliver fresh organic products.
Late this past summer, Whole Foods cut prices on everything from bananas and avocados to eggs, Tilapia, beef and baby kale in its existing stores nationwide. After a technical integration, Amazon Prime became a part of Whole Foods’ rewards program, offering Prime members savings and other in-store benefits. Eventually, popular Whole Foods private label products such as 365 Everyday Value, Whole Catch and pet foods-oriented, Whole Paws, will be integrated with Amazon. com, Amazon Fresh, Prime Pantry and Prime Now. Finally, Amazon Lockers for e-commerce pickups will become available in some Whole Foods stores.
The Whole Foods purchase by Amazon.com rang a bell affecting “all of us,” says Boca Raton housewife Allison Myers who frequently shops at Whole Foods. “With three kids, I have no time to shop and Amazon.com has changed everything for my free time. But, now with Whole Foods being a part of the mix, it may even get just a little easier each day. Saving time each day is important to us. While I’m drinking my morning coffee, maybe it’s a fact that a drone can deliver our breakfast?” While we envision all the perks, it’s going to be a one-step at- a-time approach but it seems the tracks are laid for a new roadway.
Jeff Bezos founded Amazon.com in 1994 after making a cross-country drive from New York to Seattle, writing up the Amazon business plan on the way. He had left his well-paying job at a New York City hedge fund and initially set up the company in his garage. Bezos is known for his attention to business details. As described by Portfolio.com, he “is at once a happy-go-lucky mogul.”
At age 53, Jeff Bezos was born Jeffrey Preston Jorgensen in Albuquerque, New Mexico. His maternal ancestors were settlers who lived in Texas and over the generations acquired a 25,000-acre ranch near Cotulla. As of March 2015, Bezos was among the largest landholders in Texas. His maternal grandfather was a regional director of the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission in Albuquerque before he retired early to the ranch, where Jeff spent many summers as a youth, working with him. Apparently, at an early age, he displayed mechanical aptitude—as a toddler, he dismantled his crib with a screwdriver. Bezos often displayed scientific interests and technological proficiency; he once rigged an electric alarm to keep his younger siblings out of his room.
However, Jeff’s mother married her second husband, a Cuban who immigrated to the United States, and Jeff was then adopted by him at age four, with his surname changed to Bezos. Eventually, the family moved to Houston, Texas and then on to Miami, Florida where he attended Miami Palmetto High School in Pinecrest. While in high school, he joined the Student Science Training Program at the University of Florida, receiving a Silver Knight Award in 1982. He was high school valedictorian and a National Merit Scholar.
In 1986, Jeff graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Princeton University with a Bachelor of Science degree in Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences. While at Princeton, he was also elected to Tau Beta Pi and served as the president of the Princeton chapter of the Students for the Exploration and Development of Space. After graduating, Bezos worked on Wall Street in the computer sciences field. He then worked on building a network for international trade for a company known as Fitel. Later, he worked at Bankers Trust before moving on to Internet-enabled business opportunities at the hedge fund company, D. E. Shaw & Co.
Today, Amazon’s business is not without its challenges. The company’s imperative to deliver more products faster has ratcheted up its annual shipping costs north of $11 billion, reinforcing the pressure to wring efficiencies out of the company’s processes and its people. Amazon is working to counteract this legacy.
The company pledged in January to create more than 100,000 full-time positions over the next 18 months, and is building a new headquarters complex in the heart of downtown Seattle. Five buildings and a 2,000-seat auditorium will surround a trio of glass-enclosed spheres that, when completed in 2018, will contain more than 3,000 species of plants and trees from around the world. There will be flexible, couch-filled workspaces and an “Expressions Lab,” where employees can learn to knit or attend a “Bob Ross Paint Night.” One floor will include a small outdoor dog park, and there will be several markets and cafeterias. Amazon is also funding an additional streetcar for the city, as well as bicycle paths leading to the three-block complex, which includes 1.7 acres of public space.
“The biggest thing is probably just that we’re not in a suburban campus,” says Bezos, “which I think would change the vibrancy and energy of Amazon.”
In November, Amazon released a video ad portraying a pair of aging friends—a priest and an imam—laughing, hugging, and then ordering the same knee braces for each other. It is a sensitive and moving vignette, portraying Amazon as a connector of cultures, the kind of compassionate business it has not always been given credit for being. When asked what the company’s role might be in bridging the divides that exist in the U.S., his answer is almost laughably narrow. “Well, I’ll tell you one way that I don’t think anybody is divided. Everybody wants fast delivery. Low prices. I’m serious about this. Our job is to provide a great customer experience, and that is something that is universally desired all over the world,” he replied.
It’s tough to argue with his words. And yet this Bezosian boilerplate is certainly less than the full story. Amazon is doing more than delivering our next tube of toothpaste. By using the “divine discontent of the customer as a North Star,” as he puts it, the company is energizing a culture of relentless progress. The neighborhood may be changing, but maybe that’s good. Maybe that’s what business in the modern era is all about.
As much as any global leader and Billionaire will always be under scrutiny, Bezos has been recognized with tremendous accolades. He was named Time magazine’s Person of the Year in 1999. In 2008, he was selected as one of America’s Best Leaders by U.S. News & World Report. Bezos was awarded an honorary Doctorate in Science and Technology from Carnegie Mellon University in 2008. In 2011, The Economist gave him and Amazon Lab126 president, Gregg Zehr, an Innovation Award for the Amazon Kindle.
He is a member of the Bilderberg Group and attended the 2011 Bilderberg conference in St. Moritz, Switzerland, and the 2013 conference in Watford, Hertfordshire, England. In 2012, Jeff Bezos was named Businessperson of The Year by Fortune and was ranked Best CEO in the World by Harvard Business Review in 2014. He has also figured in Fortune’s list of 50 Great Leaders of the World for three straight years, topping the list in 2015. In October 2016, he was listed as the third wealthiest person in the world by Forbes, and now has an estimated net worth of $84 billion.
In September 2016, Bezos was awarded the Heinlein Prize for Advances in Space Commercialization, which earned him $250,000—He donated the prize money to the Students for the Exploration and Development of Space. Bezos strongly supports philanthropy and in July 2012, he and his wife personally donated $2.5 million to support a same-sex marriage referendum that successfully passed in Washington. The Bezos Family Foundation gave $10 million in 2009 and $20 million in 2010 to the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. Bezos also donated $800,000 to Worldreader, a non-profit organization that delivers e-books to people in the developing world founded by a former Amazon employee.
Jeff and his wife MacKenzie, a famous American Novelist born and raised in California, have three sons and an adopted daughter from China. In 2016, Bezos took a break from the rigorous business environment to play a Starfleet official in the movie Star Trek Beyond and later joined the cast and crew at a San Diego Comic-Con screening.
As you can see, Jeff Bezos has found the secret to balancing incredible business success and a fun family life without losing focus on his ambitions; keeping Amazon.com growing at an astonishing rate. We can’t wait to see what his next big idea will be!
By KC Anderson