Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of Amazon, has been the subject of news headlines across the world recently: both complimentary headlines about leading the company into a golden age and condemning headlines about the workplace culture he’s created. What is the CEO of Amazon really like? His role in creating a workplace culture at Amazon that leaves a high turnover rate and intense, overwhelming competition has led some people to question his choices. But at the same time, many others admire his ingenuity, the high-quality customer service that Amazon employs, and Bezos’ dedication to his children and his wife, MacKenzie. Do his accomplishments outweigh his criticisms?
Here’s what you need to know.
1. He Started Amazon Out of a Small Garage
Bezos was a bit of a prodigy as a child. When he was a toddler, he tried dismantling his own crib, according to BusinessWeek. That was just the beginning of his legacy. At the age of 31, Bezos started Amazon out of a small garage in Bellevue, Seattle with the help of his wife and one employee, Shel Kaphan. He originally named the business “Cadabra,” but when an attorney misheard the name as “Cadaver,” he decided to change the name to Amazon, according to The Telegraph. He decided on Amazon because he wanted the idea of the world’s biggest river to reflect a company that would one day grow to be the world’s biggest bookseller, The Telegraph reported.
2. He’s Married and Has Four Kids
Bezos is still married to the same woman that he started Amazon with back in 1995: MacKenzie Bezos. Together, they have four children: three boys and a girl that he adopted from China. They enjoy regular family outings together, like going to see Mission Impossible 5, he told The Telegraph. They also attended the Dota2 International Championship as a family. MacKenzie writes novels and Jeff will clear his entire day to read her manuscript all at once and offer his ideas and thoughts, Vogue reported.
Bezos may attribute his family man mentality to his adopted father, Miguel Bezos, and his mother, Jackie Bezos. Miguel adopted Jeff when Jeff was only four years old. Miguel was a petroleum engineer at Exxon and invested in Jeff’s fledgling Amazon business in 1994, BusinessWeek reported. Jeff’s biological father, Ted Jorgensen, was 19 when Jeff was born and abandoned Jeff when he was only three. Jorgensen owns a bike shop in Glendale, Arizona. According to USA Today, he had given Jackie and Miguel permission to let Miguel adopt Jeff, and over time forgot Jeff’s new last name. When Ted found out that Jeff Bezos was his son, he didn’t even know what Amazon was because he doesn’t use a computer.
3. He Is Constantly Innovating, As Evidenced In His New Deal with ‘Top Gear’ And His Space Company
Bezos doesn’t believe in disrupting technology, but in delighting his customers, he told The Telegraph. Radical inventions, he explained, only end up being disruptive if customers love them. Amazon UK recently signed a deal with the Top Gear trio: Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond, and James May. The three will host a new car show on Amazon Prime in 2016. Bezos said he was incredibly excited about the partnership.
Bezos also believes that drone deliveries will one day be as common as seeing a mail truck, he told The Telegraph. But he’s not just innovating through Amazon. Bezos also owns a spaceflight company called Blue Origin. The company launched its first rocket ship in 2015 and is already taking sign-ups for a space flight, The Stranger reported. The experience is being advertised on the company’s website as a life-defining moment that can change who you are at the deepest level. So far, Bezos has invested at least half a billion into the company.
4. The Workplace Culture He Created at Amazon Has Recently Come Under Fire
But everything isn’t roses for Bezos. Recently, Amazon has come under fire for the workplace culture it creates for its employees, in an article by The New York Times. The article states that he created an “articles of faith” early on in Amazon’s history that dictates how employees interact, still available on Amazon’s website. In a 1997 letter to shareholders, Bezos wrote: “You can work long, hard, or smart, but at Amazon.com you can’t choose two out of three.” He warned potential hires that it wasn’t easy to work at Amazon, and employees say it still isn’t.
Some parts of working at Amazon are great, like junior employees’ being able to co-invent hugely important projects. But there are costs. In 2011, it was discovered that ambulances waited outside Amazon warehouses to take away employees who passed out working in 100+ degree heat. In Amazon offices, the turnover is high. Some employees are given 50 to 60 pages of data-filled printouts and quizzed on thousands of numbers just a couple days later, The New York Times reported. Many employees would go days without sleep just to try to keep up. A feedback tool allows employees to rank one another, and the lowest-ranked are let go every year, which creates insane competition. In addition, employees reported not having any leeway if relatives or they themselves suffered serious illnesses, despite strong past performances.
Bezos has recently responded to criticisms levied in the article. He said he didn’t recognize the workplace described in the article and the management practices are “shockingly callous,” The New York Times reported. He said that any employees aware of stories like those in the article should report them to him directly, because the tolerance for those actions “needs to be zero.”
5. He’s the 15th Wealthiest Person in the World
According to Forbes, Bezos is the 15th richest person in the world, worth $47.2 billion, at the age of 51. He is the third richest person in tech. He’s unofficially known as a land baron due to the number of properties he owns, Realty Today reported. These include a lakefront property in Seattle, a corn ranch in West Texas, a three-block area in Seattle, a Century Tower apartment in Manhattan, a Medina property in Washington, and a $24.5-million-dollar home in Beverly Hills.