Now it is the turn of Brian Dumaine, with Bezonomics: How Amazon is Changing Our Lives, and What the World’s Companies Are Learning From It, which is the sort of incredibly long title that publishers only give books when they aren’t sure what the point of them is. Bezonomics is an easy and engaging read, but I’d hesitate to call it gripping. Quite often, though, it is eye-opening.
Amazon long believed that if it took care of its customers everything else would follow. Many of us have benefited from that belief. But Amazon’s brand of capitalism also suggests that this obsessive focus on customers can be just as lopsided as the single-minded focus on shareholder returns, now falling from fashion. Dumaine’s book contends that Bezos has created the defining model for other businesses. Yet few seem to be copying it. In that regard, the most compelling company of our time is also oddly out of step with it.
What makes this book a great read, however, is the way Dumaine shines a light on the man who has made Amazon such a success.
The first third of the book reveals Bezos’s special sauce. He is hard-driving and ruthless. He rips into executives in what staff call his “nutters”. His favourite insult is: “Are you lazy or just incompetent?” His pressure to succeed drives his staff “to near madness”. One tells Dumaine: “It’s a f*****-up place.”
This book is meticulously researched, and features many interviews with characters who have been part of the online behemoth’s journey, yet it never veers too far into dry details and is written engagingly, with the occasional, welcome wry comment. Dumaine notes that Amazon’s pillars of customer obsession, extreme innovation and long-term management, all supported by artificial intelligence, turn a virtuous-cycle “flywheel” – a concept that gets several mentions. According to Dumaine, Bezos has “created a new turbocharged way of thinking that will change the way successful businesses are run in the 21st century.” That said, this is no hagiography. As well as pivotal moves into areas like Prime and Alexa, the author also flags mis-fires such as the Fire Phone.