8 things to know about Jeff Bezos who is likely to become world's richest man

W.T.M. Why This Matters
This might or might not be helpful, but it's good to know how the habits and interests of one of the world's richest men, such as building a 10,000 year clock and sleeping a lot.

When the markets opened on Thursday (July 27), Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon, overtook Bill Gates as the world's richest man when his net worth surged over US$90.6 billion (S$123 billion), US$500 million more than Gates' net worth.

Although his triumph didn't last long as he dropped under Gate's real-time fortune by the end of the day, his success as a businessman is still undeniably admirable.

Perhaps we can learn a thing or two from him so as to achieve even a tiny fraction of his success.

And so, here are eight things that you might want to know about Bezos.

1. His first invention was an electric alarm

With a craze for science, the young Bezos couldn't be stopped from turning his parents' garage into a laboratory and rigging electrical contraptions around the house.

He even dismantled his crib with a screwdriver.

And if he needed something new, he'll invent it himself.

To keep his half-siblings, Christina Bezos and Mark Bezos, away from his room, Bezos set up a security system for his private space by making an electric alarm.

2. He believes in the 'Two Pizza-rule'

Every successful employer may have their own philosophy of running an efficient team, but Bezos' is pretty quirky.

He faithfully follows a 'Two Pizza-rule', which refers to the idea that every team in an organisation should comprise of, at most, the number of people enough to finish two pizzas.

That's for sure, because we all know how unsatisfying it is to share a pizza with too many people. And that feeling of unfulfilled hunger could translate into minimal effort at work.

3. He hired a leadership coach for himself

Bezos is one of those bosses that isn't afraid to blow up at his employees and make them feel worthless.

Bezos was known to be a demanding boss with an explosive character, according to Business Insider. And here are some of the demeaning things he has said to his employees:

  • "Come back in a week when you figure out what you're doing."
  • "Are you lazy or just incompetent?"
  • "I'm sorry, did I take my stupid pills today?"
  • "I guess supply chain isn't doing anything interesting next year."
  • "This document was clearly written by the B team. Can someone get me the A team document? I don't want to waste my time with the B team document."

However, Bezos knows himself well, and took steps to curb his fiery emotions by hiring a leadership coach to keep his savage comments in check.

4. He's very responsive to competition

A successful business not only has to do well in its own field, but also has to fight off competitors within its field.

In 1999, Amazon developed its own auction site to compete with eBay, but failed to do so. Despite that, Bezos loved the concept and bought a US$40,000 (S$54,400) skeleton of an Ice Age cave bear, which is currently still displayed at Amazon's headquarter's lobby next to a sign that says: "Please don't feed the bear."

"There are two kinds of companies: Those that work to try to charge more and those that work to charge less. We will be the second."

Jeff Bezos

To expand his business and fight off upcoming competitors, Bezos pushed the company to progress quickly - sometimes a little too fast that the company's logistics system couldn't manage.

In early 2000s, Amazon's facilities shut down for hours due to system outages, and piles of products were scattered around ignored by workers.

Bezos was also very eager to dive into the sale of new products, even before new product categories were formed or fully capacitated. Knives without protective packaging were once hurtling down conveyor shoots when Amazon's kitchen category was first introduced.

5. He's not a fan of PowerPoint presentations

In a bid to encourage critical thinking, Bezos banned the use of PowerPoint presentations in 2004, and asked his employees to write proposals that were six pages long which were referred to as "narratives".

And of course, everybody at a meeting would have to spend 20 minutes reading the memo, before raising intelligent questions to the team.

His reasoning?

"Powerpoint-style presentations somehow give permission to gloss over ideas, flatten out any sense of relative importance, and ignore the interconnectedness of ideas," Bezos stated in an email to his employees.

"The narrative structure of a good memo forces better thought and better understanding of what's more important than what, and how things are related."

6. He is still chasing his dream for space exploration

Since the age of five years old, Bezos has been fond of the idea of space travel and exploration. So when he had the ability to do something about it, he started a company 'Blue Origin' in Sep 2000 which aims to provide affordable space travel for all.

By 2018, Bezos hopes to put paying-customers on his rockets to outer space for short trips.

To fund for his dreams, Bezos is selling US$1 billion (S$1.36 billion) of Amazon's stocks each year, according to a report by New York Times.

On the side, Bezos spends his free time searching the oceans for NASA's spaceship. He does that by working with teams in submarines, and once spent three weeks on a single underwater rocket hunt.

7. He is building a 10,000 year clock

Now this is truly out of this world. For the last six years, Bezos has been working on a 10,000 year clock project with a man named Danny Hillis, who conceived and has worked on the idea since 1989.

Photo: 10,000 Year Clock

The clock is intended to tick once a year, with a 'century hand' that advances once every 100 years, and a cuckoo that will pop out on the millennium. The clock is said to symbolise long-term thinking, which Bezos swears by in his businesses.

Just when you thought it's weird enough, the clock is built inside a remote mountain at the Sierra Diablo Mountains Range in Texas (US), where "five room-sized anniversary chambers" are carved. The anniversaries are one, 10, 100, 1,000, and 10,000 years. 

The Clock's chime generator creates a different bell ringing sequence each day for 10,000 years.
Photo: 10,000 Year Clock

It is, however, indeed sad to think that Bezos and Hillis probably won't be there to witness the cuckoo's appearance.

8. He sleeps a lot and doesn't use an alarm

Yes, people, you can sleep a lot and yet be accomplished.

Sleep is of utmost priority to Bezos, as he thinks that it is the only way for him to continuously make sharp, thoughtful decisions without suffering from 'decision fatigue'.

That refers to the worsening quality of decisions made after a long session of decision-making.

"Eight hours of sleep makes a big difference for me, and I try hard to make that a priority," Bezos said in an interview with Thrive Global. 

"For me, that's the needed amount to feel energized and excited."

Sometimes, Bezos also brings a sleeping bag to work in attempt to recharge himself on difficult days.

Bezos doesn't use an alarm either as he subscribes to the advantages of waking up naturally. 

So if you need an excuse for oversleeping, Jeff Bezos' the man to quote.

on SPH Brightcove

ongymm@sph.com.sg

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