Business Unusual

Amazon is so big, you probably thought of the retailer before the river.

Jeff Bezos is the CEO, Chairman and founder of Amazon.com He started the company which 22 years later is now worth $364 billion. Trained in computer science and electrical engineering, he worked for financial companies in New York until in his 30’s he moved to Seattle to start the company.

He correctly bet that online retail would become a significant industry and he further benefited from a ruling that would reduce the company's taxes by selling products online only, that was July 1994.

The first item believed to have been bought online (not just ordered) was a CD by Sting in August 1994. Amazon’s first actual sale was a book in April 1995. The book “Fluid Concepts and Creative Analogies” was sold to a John Wainwright, that purchase is immortalised in a building on the Amazon campus named after their 1st customer.

The Amazon logo arrow shows that you can get everything from A to Z and the shape suggests it should leave you smiling.

While technology companies usually are known for rapid growth and testing lots of options quickly, Amazon follows a path similar to older conventional businesses. In fact, while some of the most popular businesses like Uber and Airbnb are known for not owning any cars or property, Amazon has worked to manage the entire sales process with plans to build its own logistics company coming in response to increases in shipping costs.

While it was founded specifically to sell books, with the plan to sell other popular and easy to distribute items likes CD and movies, it has grown relentlessly to cover a broad range of business retail options. Relentless and Cadabra were two initial alternative names. Relentless.com still redirects to Amazon.com

Amazon has over 180 million visitors to its sites each month and over 300 million customers. Managing that size website site securely is a business in itself and Amazon realised that in solving their own problems they could supply that solution to others. The Amazon Web Services (AWS) subsidiary is the principal growth driver which accounted for the significant share price increase adding $20 billion to the personal wealth of Jeff Bezos to make him the third most wealthy person valued at $66 billion.

The company employees over 230 000 with job opportunities available just at their Cape Town AWS offices listing 65 positions with reportedly 300 positions to fill in South Africa. Working for Amazon has some bad reviews despite their success, press coverage last year showed how expectations were high that employees worked long hours and needed to meet tough targets.

While Bezos asked any employee who thought the system unfair to let him know, he has both been selected as the 2nd best CEO in the world by the Harvard Business Review and the world's worst boss by the International Trade Union Confederation.

Amazon also has significant elements that cover entertainment via Audible and Amazon Prime as well as electronics via their Kindle and Echo’s

But Jeff Bezos has more than just Amazon.

He is a significant investor in many other well known businesses like Uber and Airbnb. He owns the Washington Post along with other publishing businesses. He also owns Blue Origin, a rocket company that like Richard Branson and Elon Musk are looking to build a private space industry. His rockets have already achieved some remarkable success with trials for manned flights set for next year.

He has investments in almost 40 other businesses, including companies like Twitter.

His ability to look at the big picture while also being able to focus on details is what appear to make him so successful in his ventures.

He certainly shares the idea that exploration and commercial operations off the planet are going to be a significant future industry to follow and his donation of $42 million to help build the Clock of the Long Now demonstrates that he is not invested in quick profits but massive and sustainable projects.

Now wonder he is on his way to becoming the richest man on earth and maybe soon also the richest one off of it.

Listen to the full conversation with Bruce Whitfield and Business Unusual Correspondent Colin Cullis

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