Amazon has been one of the biggest business phenomena of our time. At ILM 2014, Brad Stone, author of The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon, unpacked the company’s unlikely navigation of the dot com boom, all the way up to its current work with mobile, fulfillment and yes, drones.
As a former New York Times tech reporter and current Bloomberg Businessweek Senior Writer, Stone has been covering Amazon and the progression of tech & e-commerce for the past 15 years.
“I figured if anyone can tell the story of this iconic company; and the way we shop, read and interact in the cloud, I could be the person to do it,” he told BIA/Kelsey Chief Analyst and VP Peter Krasilovsky on stage.
Through examining the tech giant, Stone began to view it in light of a construct that (Amazon investor) John Doerr has famously devised. This is to separate companies between missionaries and mercenaries.
The former are characterized by founders and cultures driven to change the world or solve big problems. The latter are driven primarily by financial gain. But missionaries often end up achieving greater economic payoff through a more passionate product focus, and are the companies Doerr invests in.
According to Stone, Amazon is both missionary and mercenary. It’s missionary tendencies can be found in the way that it has changed the way we shop, read and consume media. The mercenary side is apparent in its cutthroat business tactics in competition, and famously adversarial work environment.
“Bezos feels that social cohesion, can cloud the drive to the truth,” said Stone. “At [Amazon] meetings, people aren’t shy about what they feel. That plus the frugality of the company makes turnover high. I had plenty of people to talk to for the book, and some were still suffering from PTSD.”
But Bezos has importantly gained the trust of his board and investors that his long term view will lead to giant payoff. This comes amidst razor thin margins and reinvestment of profits in capital-intensive growth strategies. For example: continued buildout of fulfillment centers closer to major cities.
That trust has been earned through Bezos’ track record. With the exception of a few misfires (Fire Phone, anyone), he’s continually gone against the advice of colleagues and his board, and continually proved to be able to see around corners. The Kindle and AWS are a few examples.
“He is a CEO with enormous credibility and a board with patience,” said Stone. “Elsewhere we see Carl Ichan standing over the shoulders of [eBay CEO] John Donahoe and even Tim Cook. Not Amazon… he doesn’t go near Amazon.”