Jeff Bezos is worth $112B. That’s equivalent to the GDP of the 60thlargest country (Ukraine) and the market value of the world’s 75thlargest company. His net worth is 25 percent greater than the next person on the list, Bill Gates.
Amazon is the most important company in recent history. That means Bezos deserves to be the world’s richest.
To appreciate why, it’s critical to understand the company’s mission. Most think of Amazon as an online retailer with a growing cloud business and a future in grocery. There’s also all the behind-the-scenes efforts in fulfillment, distribution, and logistics — all those warehouses and shipping centers where most of the 600,000+ employees work. If that’s not enough, now there’s media, advertising, brick and mortar stores, and more. But there is a common thread across every Amazon product and service: an obsession with efficiency.
Amazon is a time savings company. Every single aspect of what it does coalesces around maximizing speed and minimizing latency. In other words, saving customers actual time, or a related function of time – money. Its online retail is increasingly moving toward same-day/same-hour delivery; the AWS cloud allows businesses to quickly launch with virtually zero investment; in-home experiences lead the charge toward a voice-based want-it-now paradigm; and new retail stores stock inventory comprised of only the best and most in-demand items Amazon has to offer.
The mission of efficiency rings true not only for external products and services, but is ingrained into the Amazon DNA for internal operations. AWS, for example, was created first to help Amazon run its own business, before being parlayed into a cloud provider for other businesses and governmental organizations.
If the purpose of technology is to save time, Amazon’s mission encapsulates this purpose more than just about any other company. In fact, it’s not hard to make the case that Jeff Bezos has helped more people save more time than any other CEO in recent times. That’s why over 100 million people today pay for the privilege of receiving time savings benefits via their Prime subscriptions. Accordingly, the benefits and wealth should accrue.
Ironically, Amazon is not the most valuable company in the world. That title goes to Apple. This is fair, given Apple’s contribution to societal time savings with the iPhone and its outsized profit profile. Looking forward, however, every new opportunity Amazon is tackling involves entire sectors of the economy ripe for disruption — grocery, healthcare, and the media. Should Amazon drive efficiencies in those archaic industries, it could conceivably unlock yet another Amazon worth of value.
To be sure, there is regulatory risk and Amazon might be split up. The government concerns include the harm to small businesses and the potential loss of associated tax revenue, the dislocation of established American brands from its private label efforts, and the potential long-term risks to jobs from automation. Given Amazon’s overwhelming scale and continuing rapid growth, I believe a breakup is likely. The question is when.
But for now, Amazon should have some regulatory breathing room. Since efficiency is inversely correlated with cost, the company is a deflationary force. Keeping inflation down should be welcomed by any politician, including President Trump, because it contributes to more consumer purchasing power.
Further, regulators face a more complex calculus with Amazon as opposed to the likes of Facebook and Google. It’s hard in this case to apply traditional antitrust rules intended to protect consumers from harms resulting from concentrated market power, because with Amazon, concentrated power has so far generally meant good things for consumers.
What Amazon understands better than the two major ad platforms is PR, whether it’s granting wage increase for rank-and-file employees or turning the search for its new headquarters into a gigantic reality show and news bonanza. (The company is reported to have decided to settle in both New York City and outside of DC.)
Bezos is playing the long game. One of the most underappreciated parts of the culture he’s established is an exemplary shareholder-friendly executive compensation structure. The company even takes pride in underpaying executive cash salaries relative to peers, emphasizing instead stock appreciation. And importantly, unlike other net giants Amazon has no super-voting shares.
It is notable, however, that Amazon still has a long way to go with its rank-and-file employees. The recent wage increase was somewhat disingenuous in the way it capped equity upside potential in favor of more short-term cash.
For all the company’s successes, last quarter’s earnings left something to be desired in the eyes of investors and analysts, largely because the December quarter guidance seemed weak. That attitude is not surprising given the myopic and short term nature of today’s investing environment. However, some financial positives for the company include that growth in gross profit dollars continues to handily surpass revenue while international losses are narrowing and fulfillment cost growth is slowing, as scale benefits manifest from the infrastructure build out. The bottom line is that the quarter doesn’t matter to Bezos; he’s in this for the long haul.
As long as Amazon stays true to the essential purpose of saving users time, value will surely rise in tandem. And Jeff Bezos’ worth will likely, and deservedly, continue to swell.
James Cakmak is the co-founder of Snailz, the nail salon booking app. Previously, he was a Wall Street security analyst for over 10 years covering the Internet sector.
Ryan Guttridge, Adjunct Professor at Smith School of Business, University of Maryland, contributed to this article.