Book Review: The Everything Store

amazon-coverStone, Brad. The everything store : Jeff Bezos and the age of Amazon. Little Brown and Co., 2013. also available as a Kindle eBook.

Hatching Twitter by Nick Bilton, reviewed last week in this blog, is about conflicts among its four founders over control of Twitter in the years leading up to its IPO.  This week’s review is about another West Coast technology company, but at Amazon there is no question about who invented it or who is in charge.  When there are fierce confrontations at Amazon, it is because founder and CEO Jeff Bezos prefers it that way.  “Truth springs forth when ideas and perspectives are banged against each other, sometimes violently.”

According to the author Brad Stone in his best selling company history, The Everything Store, in 1994 Jeff Bezos was already a successful Wall Street hedge fund trader at D. E. Shaw when he decided to start a company to capitalize on the power of the internet.  Bezos saw his company as an intermediary between customers and manufacturers, selling the universe of products worldwide.  He realized the internet’s potential for creating a convenient shopping experience, customized for each shopper based on his/her previous purchases.  Shelf space on the internet was infinite so an e-tail store could offer limitless selection.

To start his company, Bezos considered a variety of products, but settled on books.  Books were pure commodities; because each title was identical, buyers knew what they were getting.  Online booksellers were already in existence but Bezos’s goal was to compete with them with an innovative company totally focused on the customer. Bezos obtained funding from his parents and based the company in Seattle, already a technology hub, for sales tax considerations.  He recruited programmers and staff from top schools and named the company Amazon, the world’s largest river, a prophetic choice for what would become the world’s largest bookseller and later, the largest retailer on the globe.

As the company grew, Bezos replaced the original employees with experienced business executives from companies like Microsoft and Walmart.  Stone chronicles the way that the Walmart crew designed a nationwide logistics network of large scale retail distribution outlets, but as Amazon continued to expand into music, toys, electronics, apparel, sporting goods, jewelry and software, Bezos replaced the retail distribution veterans with scientists and engineers, who created supply-chain algorithms to manage the distribution process.   Then Bezos redefined Amazon again as a technology firm as he sold Amazon Web Services, the cloud computing infrastructure.  He developed digital devices like the Kindle ereader and the Kindle Fire tablet.

Stone’s book clearly outlines Amazon’s management practices, strategy and corporate culture.  But much of the book is about Jeff Bezos himself.  Brilliant, focused and competitive, Bezos is a micromanager with creative ideas and high standards for performance.  Employees who do not meet them do not last long at the company.  Stone explains that Bezos treats workers like expendable resources and he lacks empathy toward employees with other interests or families.  He is known for his violent outbursts and insulting comments.  He is ruthless with employees, competitors and even partners.  Stone exposes cutthroat tactics with start-ups like Zappos and Quidsi.   Ironically, Bezos recently asked his management team to take steps to ensure that Amazon stood out among the world’s most loved companies.  Recommended.

© Reviewer: Meg Trauner & Ford Library – Fuqua School of Business.
All rights reserved.

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