Jeff Bezos is certainly a weird character. He has a brilliant mind and strategic vision, as well as his unique personality and quirks.
Bezos has often been described as a “geek” or “nerd,” with a love for science fiction and a passion for technology and innovation.
Amazon Unbound: Jeff Bezos and the Creation of a Global Kingdom by journalist Brad Stone chronicles Amazon and its CEO from 2013 through 2021. The book explores Amazon’s growth, Bezos’ personal life, and his Amazon ambitions.
This book provides a deep dive into the rise of Amazon and Jeff Bezos as a leader and businessman.
The book is divided into three sections, and each one is about a different part of Amazon’s history. The first part, titled “The Lean Years,” is about the years 2013 to 2016, when Amazon was still a small, scrappy online store that was struggling to make money. During this time, the company focused on growing into new markets and making new technologies, like its Amazon Web Services (AWS) cloud computing platform.
The book’s second half, “The Empire Strikes Again,” focuses on the years 2016-2018, when Amazon began to further consolidate its position as a retail industry powerhouse and branch out into related industries like healthcare and logistics.
Alexa, Amazon’s voice assistant, also enjoyed rapid growth and expansion during this time, and the company eventually entered the smart home industry.
The book’s final part, “The Final Act,” covers the years following Jeff Bezos’s retirement as CEO of Amazon  and through 2021, during which the business entered new markets in entertainment and advertising.
The book also delves into Bezos’ private life during this time, covering topics including his divorce from MacKenzie Scott and his intentions to launch a rocket firm called Blue Origin.
Amazon Unbound excels at covering Amazon’s inner workings and leadership. Stone interviewed many Amazon executives and industry insiders to discuss the company’s growth and strategy. The book reveals Jeff Bezos’ leadership style and Amazon’s future.
The book’s focus on Amazon’s dominance’s disastrous consequences is another strength. Stone examines Amazon’s effects on retailers, labor, and the environment. Amazon’s influence on public policy and contacts with regulators and politicians are also explored.
Jeff is very clear and simple about his goals, and the way he articulates them makes it easy for others, because it’s consistent.
Brad Stone portrays Jeff Bezos as a visionary leader who has converted Amazon into one of the world’s most valuable firms, but he also critiques his management style.
The book lists Bezos’ management flaws:
- Bezos is a difficult boss with high expectations: He pushes his employees hard to succeed. Former employees have called him demanding and frightening.
- A culture of fear and competition: According to the book, Amazon’s competitive atmosphere may be harsh, and some employees feel pressured to perform or lose their jobs. Amazon’s “survival of the fittest” culture requires employees to surpass their counterparts, according to former employees.
- Work-life balance: Bezos expects his workers to work long hours like him. Former Amazon employees have questioned its rigorous work culture, which may make work-life balance difficult.
- A lack of empathy: Bezos is known for his data-driven decision-making, and some detractors have accused him of not caring enough about his employees.
Bezos’ leadership has helped Amazon succeed, but his management style has been accused for being demanding, competitive, and focused on outcomes over work-life balance and empathy.
Amazon Unbound is a fascinating and informative read that explores the history of Amazon and its creator, Jeff Bezos. Anybody with an interest in how business, technology, and society intertwine should read this book.
The book’s writing style is interesting, and it manages to simplify some rather intricate business concept such that even a layperson can grasp them.
The book raises important questions about the role of tech companies in modern society and the impact of their dominance on smaller businesses and workers.
The book however, lacks international coverage of Amazon. The book covers Amazon’s development into India and China but not its activities elsewhere. The book may perhaps focus too much on Amazon and its leadership and not enough on society’s influence.
My favourite quotes:
- “Averages are bad measures. I want to see actuals, highs, lows and why—not an average. An average is just lazy.”
- “Jeff always said that when you focus on the business inputs, then the outputs such as revenue and income will take care of themselves.”
- “Every interesting thing I’ve ever done, every important thing I’ve ever done, every beneficial thing I’ve ever done, has been through a cascade of experiments and mistakes and failures.”
- “These were typically Amazonian names: geeky, obscure, and endlessly debated inside AWS, since according to an early AWS exec, Bezos had once mused, “You know, the name is about 3 percent of what matters. But sometimes, 3 percent is the difference between winning and losing.”
- “If I have to choose between agreement and conflict, I’ll take conflict every time. It always yields a better result.“
- “You’ve built this lovely castle, and now all the barbarians are going to come riding on horses to attack the castle,” Bezos said, according to a former AWS exec who reports hearing the comment. “You need a moat; what is the moat around the castle?” [Amazon denied that Bezos said this.]
- “Bezos liked to say that “good intentions don’t work, but mechanisms do.”
- “His personal wealth was larger than the gross domestic product of Hungary; larger than even the market capitalization of General Motors.”
- “There are two ways of building a business. Many times, you aim, aim, aim, and then shoot,” he said, according to three executives who were there. “Or, you shoot, shoot, shoot, and then aim a little bit. That is what you want to do here. Don’t spend a lot of time on analysis and precision. Keep trying stuff.”
- “Most importantly, Bezos didn’t penalize Ian Freed and other Fire Phone managers, sending a strong message inside Amazon that taking risks was rewarded—especially if the entire debacle was primarily his own fault.”
- “My Amazon had under 150,000 employees. By the end of 2020, it had an astounding 1.3 million employees.”