The Post, Bezos, And “Genius”

There's a lot to learn from Jeff Bezos' purchase of a storied but declining paper - risk, patience, long term strategy, and details.

There’s a lot to learn from Jeff Bezos’ purchase of a storied but declining paper – risk, patience, long term strategy, and details.

For those of us who are DC-region residents, one story overshadowed the rest of the news this week – the sale of The Washington Post to Amazon founder Jeff Bezos.

For newspaper readers – whether it’s the dead-tree edition at the breakfast table or online on the go – this is big news. Because the Post is arguably one of the few important American papers left with any kind of global standing (the others being the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and …. that’s probably it). Let’s put it this way, when you get on an international flight going, there are only a few American papers the airlines and lounges will still stock. And the Post is among them.*

But we digress. Back to Bezos and the papers…

Once the old fogies got over the shock, they joined the rest of the public that no longer reads the paper to begin with, and began for focus on Bezos. He is 49, rewrote American retail, and worth 25 billion. Possibly more. As Forbes puts it, at $250 million, Bezos bought a storied newspaper for less than 1 percent of his net worth. And the purchase will either do for the newspaper industry what Amazon did for retail, or it’s a sucker’s bet. We don’t know. Which brings us to the point of this post – Bezos probably doesn’t know either. And that is why he’s an interesting man.

Bezos is an icon of the Internet age. Quit his job, drove cross country to start a company in his basement, and the rest is history. Except, like other such icons whose work touch our everyday lives – Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg – he wasn’t just some beatnik dropout.

Bezos showed talent early in life, graduated from Princeton, and quit a very successful job on Wall Street. And the seed money for his company? A $300,000 loan from his parents.

In other words, let’s not all quit our day jobs yet.

More importantly however, Bezos has several qualities that have counted for his past successes, and will serve him very well with The Post:

He takes huge risks – Amazon and The Post aren’t Bezos’ only big moves. He’s invested in space travel, deep sea exploration, and other big ticket items that aren’t just possible because he has deep pockets, but because he’s genuinely interested in what the rest of us aren’t looking at yet.

He sees ahead of the curve Bezos is in it for the long haul. (How else to explain the clock project?) He saw e-commerce and the Kindle’s potential well before everyone else. That’s pure enviable genius. But….

He’s a patient man – Bezos’ genius benefits greatly from his ability to simply wait out the naysayers. Obviously, he had the resources to keep it afloat, but the fact is Amazon didn’t turn a profit for years. And some years it’s still not profitable. (It lost some $39 million in 2012.) 

He sweats the small stuff – Bezos is known to be a micromanager, one who will get into the weeds to figure out why a customer got his package two days late.

In other words, Bezos typifies something Advanse tells students all the time – getting your education isn’t enough. Digging in, doing the work, and paying attention to the details bridge the gap between smart and successful. Even if you’re a genius who can see potential before everyone else.

* Yes you’ll often find the International Herald Tribune – it’s owned by the New York Times.