As Bezos’ Public Life Gets Exposed, Amazon CEO Offers Lessons in Leadership
Despite the massive amounts of cash that he undoubtedly sleeps on at night, if there’s one person in the world I’m the least jealous of at the present moment it has to be Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos. Sure, he runs a company that consistently sits among the top-five most valuable publicly-traded brands, and he’s the richest man in the universe—at least for now. But he's also currently dealing with a number of personal dilemmas, all of which are being played out squarely in the public eye.
For starters, there was the joint statement that he and soon-to-be-ex-wife MacKenzie made announcing their divorce last month. And, more recently, there’s Bezos’s publicly penned letter accusing the National Enquirer of extortion and blackmail. Both situations have to be incredibly uncomfortable for the Amazon chief as his life is essentially being exposed and dissected. And, of course, there are plenty of questions that can be raised about Bezos’ personal character, specifically around the content of the alleged blackmail.
But if there’s one constant through all of this, it’s that Bezos’ leadership at Amazon has helped to shield the company from any potential blowback as a result of either of these situations. There is very little doubt that for most other owners/founders/CEOs of major tech companies, a situation like the one Bezos currently finds himself in would result in the end of their run at the top, and/or a major dent in that brand's value.
That’s not the case with Amazon and its founder. Simply put, Bezos has long been someone who leads by example, rather than leading by exerting power or influence over his company.
Quick question: How much stake do you think Bezos has in Amazon? One would assume more than half, right? Well, you wouldn’t even be close. Jeff Bezos owns just a 16 percent stake in the company. That could be cut to 8 percent here soon depending on how the divorce proceedings go. But however you boil it down, Jeff Bezos’ influence at Amazon isn’t the result of having majority voting power over the rest of the ownership—a situation that certainly applies to other tech companies including Facebook, Google, and Snap. Rather, it’s a two-decade track record of strong leadership and sound business decisions. And just because he could potentially have a reduced stake in the company that doesn’t mean he’ll have any sort of reduced influence over the direction of Amazon.
Any potential harm to the company could, from a business standpoint, could come in the form of its two largest individual shareholders—Jeff and MacKenzie—getting into squabbles over how to run the company. But even a situation like that is unlikely. While MacKenzie has been a noted loyal brand ambassador and ardent supporter of the business, her involvement in Amazon’s actual business dealings is practically nonexistent. Plus, as analysts have noted, any sudden interest on her part in picking fights with her ex-husband on the direction of the company could only hurt whatever stake she comes away with in this.
Turning to the fracas with the National Enquire, the biggest takeaway from a leadership standpoint is the way that Bezos decided to simply own the narrative. In the post he wrote, he owned up to the awkwardness of the situation but said he felt a responsibility to come forward.
“Any personal embarrassment AMI [American Media Inc., owners of the National Enquirer] could cause me takes a back seat because there’s a much more important matter involved here. If in my position I can’t stand up to this kind of extortion, how many people can?” he wrote.
In publicizing the situation and shedding light on AMI’s alleged practices, Bezos laid bare—quite literally—the details of the compromising content the publication had in its possession. But in doing so, he stepped up and took control of the situation, exposing shoddy journalistic practices, and placing his concerns for his company’s reputation and wellbeing ahead of his own personal reputation and wellbeing.
That’s a true leader.