handful of authors have tried to write the Amazon.com
story. But no one had put together a definitive account
of the juggernautís rise from a Bellevue, Wash.,
garage to a global power in less than two decades until
Brad Stone wrote "The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos
and the Age of Amazon."
book includes little-known details about meetings, deals
that never materialized, Bezosí interactions with
other corporate giants, and roadblocks that almost
derailed Amazon. It provides insight into a company that
has been opaque for much of its history.
Bezos decided not to comment for the book, Stone, a
senior writer for Bloomberg Businessweek, still got
remarkable access to both current and former executives,
as well as Bezosí family and friends. And in one of
the bookís most dramatic moments, Stone unearthed
Bezosí biological father, who gave up his son nearly a
half century ago when, as a teenager, he was
ill-prepared for parenthood. Stone found Ted Jorgensen
running a bike shop in Glendale, Ariz., and entirely
unaware of who his son became.
chatted with The Seattle Times about reporting the book
and the insights he discovered about the company in the
an edited version of that conversation:
One of the most dramatic parts of the book is your
meeting Jeff Bezosí biological father, Ted Jorgensen.
After the meeting, were you worried that some journalist
might come along and find Jorgensen before the book came
Yes. Any piece of news that you uncover in the course of
reporting a book has to remain quiet for a year or more
because the book gestation process is a really long one.
It seemed unlikely, I guess. Never underestimate the
ability of any author to worry about even the smallest
thing to go wrong, and I was definitely worried about
In the book, you note that 45 years ago or so Jackie
Bezos (Jeff Bezosí mother) asked Ted Jorgensen to stay
out of her life and Jeffís. Did you have any
reservations about bringing Jorgensen back into their
I definitely did. But you know, Jeff has changed the
world. Full stop. He has changed the way that we shop,
the way that we read and the way that companies are
I went to explore this untold aspect of his story. I
didnít know what I would find. And I didnít
anticipate that he (Jorgensen) wouldnít have any
knowledge of Amazon, of the influence that his
biological son had had on the world. These were
unanticipated consequences, and it was uncomfortable all
the way around. Do you think Jeff Bezos knew that the
Ted Jorgensen who ran a bike shop in Glendale, Ariz.,
was his biological father?
I have no idea.
You paint Bezos as a polarizing figure ó a guy who is
brilliant, driven, ruthless and sometimes even cruel.
Setting aside judgments about whether thatís good or
bad, do you think that personality type was required to
create the juggernaut that Amazon has become?
Absolutely. Amazon is a company that grew from two guys
in a garage in 1994 to almost 100,000 employees today,
in addition to 70,000 temporary employees (hired for
biggest adversary has never been Walmart or Barnes &
Noble. Itís been chaos and the complexity that comes
with a business that grows that fast. Bezosí
insistence on excellence all around and high standards
and the way he demands the best from his employees make
Amazon an extremely challenging place to work. But it is
also one of the biggest factors that contributes to its
seen other companies that have grown that fast, whose
outcomes are a lot different. Look at AOL. Look at
Yahoo. These are all companies that rode the same wave
but eventually crashed and burned because they didnít
have the singular figure at the helm that had the
clarity and the drive and the discipline to keep things
operating smoothly amid the onslaught of growth.
Is it clarity and drive and discipline, or is it a
willingness to think of employees as pieces of the
machinery that move the engine forward rather than the
way most of us think of them, as people?
In the early years of Amazon, everyone left Bezos. That
entire management team turned over, most voluntarily. At
some point, he must have had to desensitize himself to
churn. Itís almost a fact of life in that kind of
fast-growing business, when things are so intense.
Jeff Bezos seems of a similar mold to Bill Gates, Steve
Jobs and Larry Ellison, super smart guys that launched
tech giants, but also polarizing figures. You even make
the comparison in the book. Do you think that
personality type is a causation or a correlation to
building tech giants?
I think itís required. I think itís no accident that
we find these leaders have oversized personalities and
are extraordinarily driven and focused. There are
probably some disadvantages to being too nice. There are
also some disadvantages to being too brutal. Weíve
seen a lot of that, particularly on Wall Street. Thereís
a middle ground. Iím not sure where it is.
Bezos often talks about a willingness to be
misunderstood as he comes up with new innovations at
Amazon. But then, you came across a memo he wrote for
the senior leadership about the need to make Amazon
better loved. Are those two ideas in conflict?
In a way, both address how Amazon is looked at by the
media and, to a certain extent, by shareholders. Iíve
always viewed the willingness to be misunderstood as an
impressive piece of rhetorical jujitsu. In way, itís
saying: "You donít understand. Weíve got a
long-term vision here. Weíre going to stick to our
principles and not engage in the criticisms."
the "Amazon.love" memo, Jeff is being very
analytical about a problem that all big retailers face,
which is when you get to a certain size, you inevitably
attract negative attention, particularly discount
retailers because youíre not just putting the big guys
out of business, but the small guys, too. Often, thereís
a reflexive negative response to big companies.
He was thinking out loud about when Amazon gets to be
the size of Walmart ó and it still has a long way to
go ó how does it avoid falling into the Walmart trap,
which is that a lot of people, just instinctively, donít
And in brainstorming, he derives one lesson, which is as
long as people think youíre inventing, and trying to
improve yourself, and doing things for your customers,
theyíll give you a little bit of a pass. Weíll see
in the coming years if thatís true or not.
I spoke with a former Amazonian recently who said the
day Jeff Bezos announces his retirement is the day heíll
sell his stock. You write about the Jeff-bots at the
company (loyal executives who try to channel the CEO).
But is there anyone at the company who understands the
vision as clearly as Bezos and could help the company
Right now, the company is tailored toward the way that
Jeff Bezos thinks and the way he processes information
and the priorities he sets for the company and its
culture. And itís such a diversified company, that itís
hard to imagine anybody whoíd be as versatile to run
all parts of it from the retail side to the digital side
to Amazon Web Services.
said, there are some executives who have been with him
for over a decade and have really grown up by his side
who would be the obvious candidates. The names that come
to mind are Jeff Wilke, who runs the North American
retail business; Andy Jassy, who runs Amazon Web
Services; and Diego Piacentini, who runs Amazonís
international businesses. They think, in large part, the
way he thinks.
You write that itís nearly inevitable that Amazon will
introduce a mobile phone and a Web-connected television
set-top box because the company wants to control the way
its services are offered. Why do you think the company
hasnít introduced those yet?
Because Jeff has an extremely high bar, and because they
want to introduce something thatís distinctive and
inventive. I think that the set-top box is imminent.
With the mobile phone, itís a crowded market and they
havenít quite figured it out exactly what Amazonís
play is there.
called the book "The Everything Store" for a
reason: Itís expanding its limits in every single
direction, internationally, devices, enterprise. They
want to be everywhere. With both those markets, there
would seem to be first-mover advantages. Amazon doesnít
have that, and the longer it waits, the harder it
becomes for them to produce something that could be
truly meaningful for and desirable by consumers.
have demonstrated two things.
the ability to be incredibly patient. The tablet market
they were late on. And while they havenít had outsized
success, by all accounts, the Kindle Fire is a nice
business. The first Kindle Fire wasnít that good. Theyíve
improved over the last two generations, and now they
look pretty good.
second, they are willing to try new things and stop them
if they donít work. The second Kindle device had a
text-to-speech function where it read aloud from your
book in a robotic voice. And they couldnít get a lot
of the rights [to use that technology)] to books. People
didnít really use it. And itís not around anymore.
Have you sent a copy of the book to Jeff Bezos?
Have you heard anything from him about it?
How often are you checking the Amazon Sales Rank of your
Like almost every other author, obsessively, and at a
rate that disturbs my significant other. Itís an
illness like you canít stop.