Apparently Jeff Bezos not only desires dominion over Earth, he’s also setting his sights on outer space.
“You don’t get to choose your passions; your passions choose you,” the billionaire founder and CEO of Amazon.com declared Tuesday afternoon, explaining why his mammoth global company of 150,000 employees is developing rocket engines and vehicles for space tourism and colonization.
“When I was five years old, Neil Armstrong stepped on the moon and I was imprinted with this passion for space and for exploration.”
Describing his team of 350 engineers and developers who are designing, building and flight-testing Amazon’s engines and launch vehicles, Bezos added. “We need the frontier. We need people moving out into space. My vision is I want to see millions of people living and working in space…It’s a very exciting endeavor.”
The press-shy Bezos’s $151-billion, Seattle-based company is the world’s largest online retailer of every conceivable product, but also manufactures a variety of electronic devices (notably the Kindle), dominates the planet’s book-marketing industry, is designing automated airborne drones to deliver goods directly to customers’ houses, sells Web computing services to businesses on the cloud, and even produces television sitcoms, among other far-flung pursuits.
The 50-year-old Bezos—aerodynamically bald, wearing scuffed shoes, and dressed as if ready for a stroll in the park—made his interstellar comments during a rare interview at Business Insider’s “Ignition: Future of Digital” conference at Manhattan’s Times Center.
“Our ancestors who were incurious and failed to explore probably didn’t live as long as the ones who were looking over the next mountain range to see if there were more sources of food and better climates,” the tech mogul said under questioning by Business Insider editor in chief Henry Blodget—a surprisingly tough grilling at times, given that Bezos is a major Business Insider investor. “We are really evolved to be pioneers. New worlds have a way of savings old worlds.”
Blodget—a notorious former Wall Street analyst who was banned for life from the securities industry after being (according to his company bio) “keelhauled by then-Attorney General Eliot Spitzer over conflicts of interest between research and banking”—claimed he was planning to go easy on Bezos. “I kind of, sort of, work for you. I’m not eager to make you mad at me,” Blodget reassured his guest.
And then he proceeded to hector Bezos about the abject flop of the Fire Phone, Amazon’s maiden entry into the smartphone market; the 20-year-old company’s failure to make money; its volatile stock performance, and various other alleged failures.
“Let’s talk about profit,” Blodget said at one point, “or, in your case, a complete lack thereof.”
At which Bezos turned to the packed audience, smiled weakly, and said: “This is Henry being nice to me!”
Here are some other highlights of the gospel according to Bezos:
*On the future of The Washington Post, the storied yet financially stressed newspaper which Bezos purchased last year from the Graham family for a fire-sale price of $250 million: “I didn’t want to do it if it couldn’t possibly work. But I became very optimistic and in the intervening year I’ve gotten even more optimistic.”
He added that The Post, a national brand which had long been “a local product,” will now focus on reaching a wider audience. “Being the newspaper of the capital city of the United States of America--that’s a great starting point to be a national and even a global” outlet.
*On Amazon’s bitter dustup with Hachette—both the publishing company and its authors--over the pricing of Hachette titles, and Amazon’s brass-knuckled attempt to squeeze the publisher by delaying delivery of Hachette books: “That retailers are negotiating and fighting with suppliers is not a new phenomenon…It’s an essential job of any retailer to negotiate hard on behalf of customers and that’s what we did…Books, in my view, are too expensive. Thirty dollars for a book is too expensive.”
He added that the ultimate goal of Amazon’s Kindle team—decades away—is to make every book ever published in every language available to a customer within 60 seconds. “It’s very difficult for incumbents…to accept change. It’s very easy, and also incorrect, to glamorize the past—fake memories of how great things used to be. Yeah, right, before penicillin, things were awesome!”
*On Amazon’s “famously frugal” office culture in which employees must pay for lunch out of their own pockets, in contrast to other companies that offer free massages, free food and other amenities that Blodget likened to “a Disney cruise”: “If you’re ever talking to a college student you really care about, a niece or a nephew, you should definitely advise them that the best way to pick your job is, who has the best massages,” Bezos said, fairly dripping with sarcasm.
He added that Amazon has invested huge sums on such amenities as an urban campus in Seattle—“20 percent of our employees walk to work”—and even features office windows that can open and close. “That’s unbelievably hard to do. The HVAC people hate that. ‘What if people leave the windows open when it’s raining?’ Well, what if people put bugs in our code? At least if people leave the windows open when it’s raining, it’ll be visible. We like fresh air.”
On the secret of Bezos’s domestic bliss: “I love my life. I have four kids. My wife claims to still like me, and I don’t question her. I do the dishes every night. I’m pretty convinced it’s the sexiest thing I do.”