AKA Jeffrey Preston Bezos
Birthplace: Albuquerque, NM
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight
Nationality: United States
Executive summary: Founder of Amazon
In the early 1990s, when the web was still mostly for academics and geeks, a light bulb went on over Jeff Bezos's head. He read that web use was growing 2300% annually, and decided he'd be an on-line retailer before he knew what he'd sell. He settled on books -- not because he particularly liked books or knew the book business, but because he felt books were a product most people would feel comfortable buying on-line. Also, prior to the web, it was impractical to have a full-service mail-order bookstore, because the "catalogue" would have to be huge. On-line, that would just be a programming problem to solve, and Bezos was a natural -- he'd graduated summa cum laude from Princeton with a degree in electrical engineering.
It took Bezos four months and over 60 sales pitch meetings to raise the initial investment capital. Most potential investors thought his idea was nuts. His most successful pitch was to his parents, whose first response upon hearing his scheme was to ask, "What's the internet?" After he explained, they gave him their $300,000 retirement savings. "We didn't invest in Amazon", says his mother. "We invested in Jeff." The name -- Amazon.com -- struck some as an odd choice, but Bezos liked the cash-flow implications of naming his company after the world's largest river. And books.com was already taken.
Figuring that location wouldn't matter on-line (so why pay expensive rents?), Bezos quit his New York job and moved to Seattle, where Amazon was developed mostly in his apartment. With a handful of employees, he spent a year developing the database and designing the website before Amazon.com was launched, billing itself as "the world's biggest bookstore". The company lost millions of dollars, while riding (and largely making) the internet boom of the late 1990s. Amazon added videos and toys. The stock price went to $100, then tumbled to $15, but survived. Leading analysts said the company was underfunded and overstretched. Amazon added on-line auctions, to compete against eBay. Amazon.com turned its first wafer-thin profit in the last quarter of 2001, and with matching sites in German, French and Japanese, the profits have gotten bigger since then. Amazon.com remains billions in debt, but Bezos is worth billions and his parents' retirement is taken care of.
For years, Amazon's "featured-book" recommendations were actually sponsored by the books' publishers, payola that went unmentioned on Amazon's web site. In 1999, the Church of Scientology complained to Amazon about A Piece of Blue Sky (a book aiming to expose Scientology as a scam), and Amazon promptly stopped selling the book. That decision was widely criticized as a form of censorship, but Amazon later reconsidered, and now sells that title again, along with anything else they think people will buy.
Father: Miguel "Mike" Bezos (Exxon engineer, stepfather)
Mother: Jackie Bezos
Wife: Mackenzie Bezos (author)
High School: Palmetto High School, Miami, FL
University: BS Electrical Engineering, Princeton University (1986, summa cum laude)
Amazon CEO (1996-)
Amazon President (1994-99 and 2000-)
Amazon Founder (1994)
D. E. Shaw & Co. (1990-94, as Senior VP, 1992-94)
Bankers Trust VP (1990)
Segway informal adviser
Member of the Board of Amazon (as Chairman 1994-)
Member of the Board of drugstore.com
Time Man of the Year 1999
Academy of Achievement (2001)
The Business Council
Tau Beta Pi Engineering Honor Society
Phi Beta Kappa Society
World Technology Network
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