Jeff Bezos built a $1.6 trillion company from nothing: Here’s the legacy he leaves behind

Jeff Bezos
When Jeff Bezos announced his plans to step aside as CEO of Amazon, it didn’t just bring an end to his two-and-a-half decade run as the head of the $1.6 trillion retail behemoth he started from scratch. It also capped one of the world’s most innovative and influential legacies in the areas of business and technology.

Bezos founded Amazon as an online bookstore in 1994, launching the company out of the garage of his rented home in the Seattle suburbs. In the decades since, Amazon has become one of the most powerful, revered and scrutinized companies in the world, with its influence growing far beyond e-commerce to touch almost every major industry, from cloud computing and health care to grocery, banking and advertising.

The Amazon founder’s determination to shake up industry after industry, while focusing relentlessly on the company’s core customers, has earned Bezos a spot among America’s foremost entrepreneurs like Andrew Carnegie, Henry Ford, John D. Rockefeller, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs.

Even though Bezos is giving up the title of CEO, he’s not moving far away from Amazon in his new role as executive chairman. Plus, Jeff Bezos’ philosophy for Amazon — that it’s “always Day One” — continues to guide the company.

There are many milestones in Jeff Bezos’ career at Amazon and his ascent to becoming a household name. These are some of the key moments.

The Amazon Way

Every year, Bezos attaches his original 1997 letter to shareholders to his latest annual letter. These letters have become essential reading for many business leaders, giving a glimpse into the Amazon founder’s mindset and the guiding principles that underline the business: Never stop experimenting, learning and, even failing, in order to remain relevant.

“I’ve been reminding people that it’s Day 1 for a couple of decades,” Bezos wrote in his 2016 letter to shareholders. “I work in an Amazon building named Day 1, and when I moved buildings, I took the name with me. I spend time thinking about this topic.

″‘Day 2 is stasis. Followed by irrelevance. Followed by excruciating, painful decline. Followed by death. And that is why it is always Day 1,’” Bezos said.

Many of the ideas laid out in Bezos’ original 1997 letter have made their way into Amazon’s list of leadership principles, or the 14 values that employees apply to new projects, problem solving and other decision making.

Two-day delivery

In 2005, Bezos launched Amazon Prime, a loyalty program that was a first of its kind. For $79 a year, customers gained access to free “all-you-can-eat” two-day shipping on more than a million items.

Amazon Prime launched when most retailers offered to ship items in four to six days. Prime quickly changed the standard — not just for customers, but for the entire retail industry. It forced any retailer looking to make a meaningful impression online to at least consider offering free and fast delivery.

Consumers have come to expect two-day shipping from retailers both big and small. And Bezos has given them reason to keep subscribing to Prime by adding access to video and music streaming, Whole Foods discounts and a bevvy of other perks.

Amazon Prime, which now counts more than 150 million subscribers worldwide, grew so big that Amazon even created a fake holiday off of the program, called Prime Day. It completely altered the retail calendar by pushing other companies to offer deals during the normally slow summer shopping period.

A logistics and fulfillment empire

The 2013 holiday shopping season might be one of the most pivotal moments in driving Bezos’ plan to build Amazon’s logistics and fulfillment empire.

That year, UPS, one of Amazon’s biggest shipping partners, failed to deliver orders from Amazon and others by Christmas. It was a moment of reckoning for Amazon, pushing it to build its own delivery service that many predicted could rival UPS, FedEx and USPS.

Fast forward eight years, and Bezos has nearly met that goal with its Amazon Logistics, or AMZL, business. In 2019, Amazon’s in-house logistics arm was on track to deliver 3.5 billion packages globally, or about half of all its worldwide orders. The company has likely surpassed that threshold by now, given the rapid transportation and fulfillment expansion that’s taken place during the pandemic.

You only need to look out your window for proof. Amazon’s blue vans, emblazoned with the company’s signature orange arrow, are almost as ubiquitous as brown UPS trucks.

Building Amazon’s moneymaker

Amazon’s cloud-computing unit originated as a tool that helped power Amazon’s website and the businesses of third-party retailers on its platform. Amazon realized it could sell cloud services to other companies and, in 2006, Bezos launched Amazon Web Services.

Attendees at Inc annual cloud computing conference walk past the Amazon Web Services logo in Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S., November 30, 2017.

Tensions between Bezos and Trump only intensified throughout the remainder of Trump’s four-year term, with Trump accusing Amazon of everything from evading local taxes to taking unfair advantage of the U.S. Postal Service. A highly sought after government cloud contract became a flashpoint in the saga. Amazon claimed it lost out on the JEDI contract to Microsoft, in part, due to repeated public and private attacks from Trump against Bezos.

Trump’s beef with Bezos, along with a confluence of other events, signified the beginnings of Bezos’ growing public image. Bezos has received a shout out at the Oscars multiple times and a photo of his buff biceps was forever cemented in the “Swole Bezos” meme.

Bezos deftly navigated a scandal involving the tabloid National Enquirer, which reported on his affair with girlfriend Lauren Sanchez and threatened to publish private text messages, when he penned a blog post headlined “No thank you, Mr. Pecker.”

More critically, Bezos’ influence and presence has grown steadily in the nation’s capital alongside Amazon’s multiplying lobbying arm.

While at the helm of Amazon, Bezos has spun up numerous outside projects and ventures, including philanthropic efforts the Day 1 Fund and the Bezos Earth Fund, which are focused on helping the homeless and building preschools in low-income communities and combating the effects of climate change, respectively. Along with his ownership of The Washington Post, Bezos also has his own private space company, Blue Origin.

In his resignation letter to employees, Bezos said his new role would afford him the “time and energy” to focus on these activities.

“I’ve never had more energy, and this isn’t about retiring,” Bezos said. “I’m super passionate about the impact I think these organizations can have.”

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