Bezos Brings Love of Invention to Bear on Newspapering

Monday, 05 Aug 2013 08:01 PM

 

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Jeffrey Preston Bezos went from being a boy with a love for how things work to being the man who built Amazon.com into an online retail powerhouse.

With the purchase of The Washington Post, the Internet entrepreneur added a slice of the news business to investments that include such multimillion-dollar leaps in the dark as private space travel.

"The Internet is transforming almost every element of the news business: shortening news cycles, eroding long-reliable revenue sources, and enabling new kinds of competition, some of which bear little or no news-gathering costs," Bezos said in a letter to Post employees.

"There is no map, and charting a path ahead will not be easy," he continued.

"We will need to invent, which means we will need to experiment."

Bezos' penchant for experimenting reportedly dates to such a young age that one widely-recounted story dates back to when he was a toddler, when he reportedly tried to dismantle his own crib.

His mother was a teenager when she gave birth to "Jeff" in Albuquerque, N.M., on Jan. 12, 1964.

She remarried when her son was about 4 years old, and he was legally adopted by his Cuban immigrant stepfather, who worked as an engineer at a major petrochemical company.

His mother's family had been settlers in Texas, where Bezos spent many summers working at a ranch owned by his grandfather, who had retired from a job as a regional director at the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission.

Bezos was enchanted by computer science when the IT industry was in its infancy, and he studied engineering at Princeton University.

After graduating, he put his skills to work on Wall Street, where by 1990 he had risen to be a senior vice president at investment firm D.E. Shaw.

He surprised peers by leaving his high-paid position about four years later to open an online bookseller called Amazon.com, which grew into a massively successful online retail empire and made Bezos a multibillionaire.

Bezos is said to have been intrigued by U.S. law that exempts online sellers from collecting sales tax in states where they don't have real-world shops or facilities.

He reportedly wrote a business plan for Amazon.com while driving cross-country from New York to Seattle, where he set up shop.

Amazon was incorporated in 1994 and a year later the website sold its first book, Douglas Hofstadter's "Fluid Concepts and Creative Analogies: Computer Models of the Fundamental Mechanisms of Thought."

Amazon became a publicly traded company in May 1997, and the stock has thrived.

Bezos, who married his wife Mackenzie in 1993, was named Time magazine's Person of the Year in 1999. Awards heaped on him include one for innovation from The Economist for Amazon's Kindle e-reader tablet.

Bezos has been a regular at prestigious TED gatherings where the brilliant, successful, famous, and influential gather to explore perspective-bending "ideas worth spreading."

He has also pursued a long-time interest in privatizing space exploration.

By the time he headed off to college, he was already disenchanted with damage being done to the Earth and curious about the potential for humans to build a future elsewhere in the cosmos.

Bezos used some of his fortune to set up the Blue Origin aerospace company.

"We're working, patiently and step-by-step, to lower the cost of space flight so that many people can afford to go and so that we humans can better continue exploring the solar system," Bezos said in an early blog post at the Blue Origin website.

"This is a long-term effort which we're pursuing incrementally, step by step."

The Blue Origin team pulled off the first test of a suborbital crew capsule last October, Bezos said in a blog post.

Bezos also funded an undersea mission to retrieve engines used to launch the NASA Apollo 11 moon mission in 1969, and is spending tens of millions of dollars on a 10,000-year clock.

The clock being built inside a Texas mountain is meant to encourage people to break from typically short-sighted thinking to view actions and decisions in terms of what they will mean over millennia.

 

© AFP 2014

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