For a few tantalising hours on Thursday morning, Jeff Bezos was the richest man in the world. His astonishing £70billion fortune had finally eclipsed even that of the long-term title holder, Microsoft's founder Bill Gates.
It's true that by Friday night the Amazon magnate had lost a casual £4.6 billion thanks to the vagaries of the international stock market, depositing him back into second place – at least, for now. 'It's a blow for Jeff,' laughs an associate. 'But it's only a matter of time before he takes that crown permanently. He wants it, and he's unstoppable.'
Indeed, this is a rare setback on 53-year-old Bezos's extraordinary path to global domination and – who knows? – beyond.
This is a man who has his hand in more homes and touches more lives than any other person on the planet – the humble son of a circus unicyclist who has revolutionised our shopping, our expectations and come close to destroying the high street in the process.
On the way, he has effected the most remarkable personal transformation, a shape shift which has seen the ultimate in tech nerds become one of the most powerful figures on the planet, with Bond villain looks to suit.
Pictures of him with a shaved head looking toned – his biceps bulging from a T-shirt – recently led to mickey-taking Photoshopped images of him on social media as an action hero. While one had him walking away from an explosion, others superimposed him on to Taylor Swift's dramatic Bad Blood video.
Bezos rules over his employees and smaller businesses alike with a fearsome ruthlessness. He was once voted the World's Worst Boss, accused of pushing staff to their limits with his temper tantrums and pitiless ability to dispose of long-time executives.
Amazon's influence on Britain is nearly incalculable since it first launched here in 1998 as little more than an online bookstore.
Many consumables – from clothes and electronic gadgetry to music and, today, even fresh milk – can be bought with the click of a button and delivered to the doorstep within hours. Now Bezos is promising to deliver our Weetabix by drone and, for the more adventurous, he is offering 'edge of space' tourism.
Britain has wholeheartedly embraced this revolution, becoming Amazon's third biggest market after the US and Germany. UK sales in 2015 smashed through the £6 billion mark, despite tougher times elsewhere for retailing.
Bezos is quite used to defying expectation.He was born to mother Jackie and circus performer Ted Jorgensen – then a rising star in the niche unicycling circuit – when the pair were just teenagers in Albuquerque, New Mexico. They were married for just two years before she left, taking Jeff with her, and he never saw his father again.
In fact, Ted – now running a second hand bike shop in Arizona – only learned he had sired one of the world's most successful entrepreneurs in 2012 (Bezos has no apparent desire to reconnect, having adopted a self-styled 'regret minimisation framework').
His geeky fascination with technology started early, along with dreams to save humanity by colonising other planets. He took his own crib apart with a screwdriver after deciding he was 'too old' to sleep in it; and demonstrated a creative streak by building his own toys.
It can only have been beneficial to the young Bezos that such eccentricities were actively encouraged by Jackie and her new husband, Cuban-born Mike Bezos – even if they were consigned to the garage, which would become his own personal laboratory.
Perhaps predictably, there was also a keen obsession with Star Trek. But despite originally enrolling on the physics programme at Princeton University, he switched to electronics and computer science after finding it 'too hard'. Early jobs included working with fibre optics company Fitel helping build a financial computer network.
In 1994, he developed the idea which would become Amazon.com – drawing up a list of 20 popular mail order items which he believed would sell well on the fast-growing 'world wide web'.
It started off modestly as a Seattle-based bookseller in 1995, with Jeff delivering packages to the post office in his battered Chevy.
It was so small that a bell would ring on Amazon's computers when a sale came through, and everyone in the office would gather around to see if anyone knew the customer.
The expansion of the business since then has been, quite literally, stratospheric. It has moved from books to music and subscription TV, and is now making in-roads into the fresh food market.
Bezos has not abandoned his tech roots, with a move into artificial intelligence with Alexa, a voice-activated system to rival Apple's Siri, which can do everything from playing music requests to ordering pizza.
It has led to the company recording 310 million active accounts worldwide, with retail sales reaching £104 billion last year. At 5ft 8in, father-of-four Bezos, who is married to US novelist MacKenzie Bezos, is far from imposing. But reports paint a picture of a man with brains and ambition, combined with the logic and precision of Star Trek's Mr Spock.
Employees have described his tendency to frequent tantrums, known to staff as 'nutters'. Those unfortunate enough to fall foul of his rages report the first sign is when a blood vessel in Bezos's forehead starts to bulge. Retorts might then include: 'Are you just lazy or incompetent?' Or, more simply: 'Why are you ruining my life?'
Some competitors accuse Bezos of using morally dubious tactics to build his business. His ruthlessness has certainly created enemies. It aggressively took on the online market for nappy sales, undercutting its rival Quidsi until it gave up, and sold to Amazon.
Inside Amazon's own walls, Brad Stone described the culture as 'notoriously confrontational' with managers under constant pressure to dismiss the least effective workers. Indeed, Bezos was named World's Worst Boss by the International Trade Union Confederation in 2014 and has also faced criticism for his apparent disdain of philanthropy, failing to sign Bill Gates's pledge encouraging billionaires to give at least half their wealth to charitable causes.
It is by keeping its purse strings tight that Amazon plans to expand its global dominance, not just domestically but beyond the final frontier and into the rest of the untapped universe.
It recently announced a new deal with struggling retailer Sears to sell electrical appliances and it has also bought the Whole Foods organic grocery chain.
Delivery may even become faster – Amazon has permission from the Civil Aviation Authority to test its drones in UK airspace.
But Bezos's most ambitious plan to date involves conquering space.
Three months ago he revealed that he is selling $1 billion of his Amazon stock every year to invest in his rocket company, Blue Origin. He plans to create an edge-of-space tourist attraction allowing humans to look down on the planet.
But for the moment, Bezos is putting down roots firmly on Earth. He recently paid £17 million for a former museum in Washington State which will be turned into a family house. The neighbourhood is also home to ex-President Obama and his family, as well as Ivanka Trump.
But as owner of the Washington Post – which President Donald Trump views as a major offender in the Fake News agenda against him – he may need to smooth the waters a little. At least, thanks to Amazon, he will no longer fear bumping into any of the neighbours while popping out for a pint of milk.
Who knows how long he may stay. It may not be long until Bezos decides that the world is, quite frankly, not enough.
Richard L. Brandt is author of One Click: Jeff Bezos And The Rise Of Amazon.com
Sources : Dailymail
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