Bezos, Jeffrey P.

▪ 2000

      With a click of the mouse, American entrepreneur Jeff Bezos revolutionized the world of retailing. As the founder and CEO of Amazon.com, an on-line merchant of books (and later of videos and CDs as well), he played a key role in the growth of electronic commerce (e-commerce), an industry in which shopping carts and checkout lines were obsolete and prime real estate was an address on the Internet. Under his guidance, Amazon.com became the largest retailer on the World Wide Web and the model for cyberspace sales. In 1999 Bezos added auctions to the site and had the company invest in several virtual stores, including drugstore.com and pets.com. Such moves were part of his goal to “reinvent the future of e-commerce.”

      Born on Jan. 12, 1964, in Albuquerque, N.M., Bezos early displayed an entrepreneurial and inventive bent when, while still in high school, he developed the Dream Institute, a centre that promoted creative thinking in young students. In 1982 he entered Princeton University, where he became interested in computers. After graduating summa cum laude in 1986 with degrees in electrical engineering and computer science, he undertook a series of jobs before joining the New York investment bank D.E. Shaw & Co. in 1990. Soon named senior vice president—the firm's youngest ever—he was in charge of examining the investment possibilities of the Internet. Its enormous potential—Web usage was growing by more than 2,000% a year—sparked his entrepreneurial imagination. In 1994 he quit D.E. Shaw and moved to Seattle, Wash., to open a virtual bookstore. Working out of his garage with a handful of employees, Bezos began developing the software for the site. Named after the longest river in the world, Amazon.com sold its first book in July 1995.

      Amazon.com quickly became the leader in e-commerce. Open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, the site was extremely user-friendly, encouraging browsers to post their own reviews of books and offering discounts, personalized recommendations, and searches for out-of-print books. In June 1998 it began selling CDs, and later that year it added videos. Amazon.com had some 10 million customers around the world; yearly net sales increased from $510,000 in 1995 to more than $600,000,000 in 1998. Though it had yet to earn a profit, the company's stock, which at one point was offered at $9 per share, had risen to nearly $120 by mid-1999. Bezos's 41% share was worth nearly $1 billion.

      The success of Amazon.com encouraged other retailers, including the major book chains Barnes and Noble and Borders, to open shop on the Internet. As more companies battled for Internet dollars, Bezos looked to diversify, exploring such markets as flowers and software. Whatever course he pursued, it was certain that Time magazine's Person of the Year and Amazon.com would continue to redefine retailing.

Amy Tikkanen

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Universalium. 2010.

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