Jeff Bezos vs. Bailout CEOs


Jeff Bezos, chief executive officer and founder of Amazon (s AMZN), is a proponent of a Japanese philosophy called kaizen — which loosely translated means continuous improvement. As part of this belief, he has been working alongside folks at his company’s distribution centers in Lexington, Ky., perhaps to find out what else can he do to make Amazon better. This news was widely covered in blogs. What caught my eye was the comments in response to Saul Hansell’s piece in The New York Times blog.

Some of them pointed out the difference between Bezos and Bailout CEOs, who are good at offering excuses. Or others, like Auto Industry executives, who are often compared to lazy, brainless lumps. As someone points out, the bailout money is going to companies that are big, not necessarily the best. The best companies wouldn’t need to be bailed out because they would be good at what they do. Part of running a good company is knowing how each little part works and recognizing the importance of every person who contributes to the effort. Bezos clearly gets that. The bailout CEOs don’t.

Photo courtesy of Etech via Flickr



Amen, Jeff!

Keep up the good work — and keep listening to your people/customers.


I am in favor of supporting local businesses if I can, but Amazon will provide me with things that local businesses can’t and they will do it with good service and convenience.

Also, and I don’t think this has been mentioned yet, if we want to go into outer space, it will be private industry that get’s us there, most likely. I feel like it is important to support Jeff Bezos as one of the good guys. If Amazon. com can take us to the moon and beyond, gods bless ’em. Go Jeff!


What’s interesting is this CEO situation is just like premise of Ayn Rand’s book “Atlas Shrugged” (Written in 1957)
While the book is a platform for Ayn’s philosophy (and just fiction) I do agree with one point it tries to make: It comes down to good leadership and decision making and the type of people that can lead companies. Simply funding poor leadership/unsustainable business is not a solution. Regardless of the complexity of the Auto industries vs. Amazon it comes down to whether they have a business model that can sustain their business. While the auto industry as a whole is hurting, we aren’t seeing every single auto company going out of business. (only the weaker ones) The only way that I would buy that the Auto industry was a victim though no fault of their own would be if all of them were going out of business. (and that’s not the case) It’s the same with the airline industry. While some have continually hurt, others like southwest have a business model that is sustainable. That not to say they do well in a poor economy, but they make the changes needed to stay in business and the have the leadership that know how to make them survive when situation beyond their control happen.
This is also why the markets and industries need corrections. Ultimately, If there are enough problems that a business can’t sustain then it needs to die, not be continually left on life support. Life support is not health, but just the continuance of existence. Everything will die but with death there is also new birth. Now I’m sounding like a philosopher. 
Anyway, I recommend reading the book if you haven’t it’s long and long winded( as well as you need to survive the first 200 pages to really get into it) but there are interesting parallels between something that was written in the 50’s and what is happening now. It’s worth a run to the library (or maybe you will just download it to your kindle2). Who is John Galt?


Let’s see how well Jeff Bezos would run Amazon if Amazon had to support a massive union with perpetually accumulating fixed cost burdens, and suffocating government policies that require them to find a way to produce products that nobody wants to buy at a price where they can be profitable for shareholders.


I agree with most of what many people and Om have said, except for this: “The best companies wouldn’t need to be bailed out because they would be good at what they do.”

I don’t agree with that as a 100% truth (or even a 80% truth). Any company no matter how well it is run can get caught with its proverbial “pants down”. If the economy was to get worst, would even Amazon survive? By the statement I just quoted yes it would.

There are internal and external factors effecting any business and it is vital that a business do its best to prepare for most circumstances and be able to “dance” with the extremes. NEVERTHELESS it is the the external forces that are mostly out of the control of the company. What happens to Amazon if the “card check” bill gets passed? And Wal-Mart?

It is true that a good CEO does what Jeff Bezos does, I think so. Is it true that businesses run right and well may not need government bailout to stay alive? Probably very true, but not totally true and its not true enough to ignore that there will be more than a few who will fail to no true fault of their own making.


The Bailout CEOs wished their biggest task was improving the productivity at a warehouse facility. The automakers and financial companies businesses are a million times more complicated than Bezos’ Amazon. To his credit Bezos does an excellent job at running Amazon.


Being impressed by someone is different than comparing them with non-comparable. Richard already pointed out Taj Mahal and Apple in past and this one. I remember Om suggesting Bezos as a replacement for Bill Gates. Om, there could be some other ways to insult someone or appreciate someone but your comparisions really doesn’t make sense.

Thomas Welsh

I tend to agree with Richard on most points. Amazon was built in the current environment with one leader and one vision. The Big Three are each over 100 years old and have had to adapt to so many different changes in leadership, vision, customer base, regulation, international expansion, etc. – (I’m sure I could go on ad nauseum). I admit that customers are customers and that knowing all contributors to a company’s success (and ultimately profit) is important for any leader but direct comparisons between Amazon and the auto companies is probably not appropriate.

Om Malik

In that case Thomas, how do you explain the tact taken by Ford. Just making a point — you need to be “aware” of the business and “customers” — it has nothing to do with legacy/technology/kind of companies. Of course you can totally disagree with me on this :-)

Fabian Schonholz

I do not know much about Bezos, but I agree with Om, it is the continuous disruption factor that makes Amazon a power house in the industry. I think that we all think of Amazon as a book retailer when in fact is a technology company. So .. on one hand, it is nice to see a company evolving on continuity and on the other, since the competition somewhat ignores Amazon – thus Bezos’ lack of “fame” – by the time they realize what Amazon is up to, it is too late.

Carry on Amazon!!


Great point Om, I met Jeff at a conference last year and he is the most modest CEO I have ever met.

Richard Jones

Its ridiculous to compare the “bailout” companies to Amazon and or their CEO’s to Bezos. Many of this companies have problems of their own making but several also have costs and structures that simply cannot be compared to an online i.e catalog merchant. Its easy to slam the automakers but there is not a single automaker on this planet that is not getting a subsidy from a governmental entity…including Ford. About ten years ago a singular Ford plant itself was the third most profitable business in the U.S. ….Auto Making is not a “get it business” There are raw materials ..R&D costs, legacy costs etc. If G.M. could pay its workers 7.50 an hour I bet G.M. CEO would “get it” too!

And no matter how well Amazon may be doing today it simply does not belong in the same conversation with Wal-Mart.

This is worse than comparing Apple to the Taj Mahal …..Even the finance firms business models are far to complicated to be compared to Amazon. The posts here have become border line drivel ..Stick to Telecom

Om Malik


Thanks for your comments and your opinions.

Just like mine, they are valid. I think the point with Bezos vs others is that he is willing to do something about learning a bit more about his business. Funny, how his sales keep increasing by the quarter. And yes they have costs to including R&D etc. As a company they are forefront of the new technology trends that can disrupt their business.

If e-Readers can disrupt their business, Amazon decided to make those. Excess capacity in their data centers led to the emergence of their computing-on-demand services. I think the point I am trying to make it — the man is looking to push the envelope all the time.

On auto makers, Ford has embraced change and adversity and is trying to be a better company despite all the issues you bring up. Compare that with GM and Chrysler. You will see my point. And lastly – i think Amazon and Walmart do belong in the same conversation. They represent a certain kind of a retailer (on/offline).

On your last point: I think you clearly missed the nuance of the Apple and Taj Mahal post. To call it drivel would be like me ignoring your comment by assuming that it is ignorant. I don’t think it is, and if you read the post again, you might actually see the nuances there.

Regardless, good to debate with you. I appreciate that you took the time and shared your thoughts.


I for one have noticed Ford, and their decision (and ability) not to take a bailout has done more to improve my opinion of the company than all of their advertising over the past decade, at least. And I say that as a recovering ad person. The next time I can afford a car, I will make it a point to test-derive sme Fords. because the deserve it.


Thanks Om. Excellent example. I don’t think it’s lost on anyone that Mulally came to Ford from BA where he’d learned many lessons that should serve Ford well as it trudges this precarious landscape. Servant-leadership takes many forms. Have you noticed these guys laugh from the heart, not just the diaphragm.

Nick O'Neill

Totally agree Om! I hate seeing money go to companies that aren’t leading and innovating.

Om Malik

It is insane to see all this money go to “losers.” I am surprised how few people are noticing the fact that Ford isn’t out with a begging bowl and it is in Detroit. Wonder why? Maybe their is some pride or just that they can make cars that sell. Don’t know.


Ford is my pick for lone survivor! Part of the problem is also shareholders and investors. Ford Jr. was talking about renting cars nearly a decade ago, but you can imagine how that went over. They bought and sold Think!…

It really does impress me when people learn how their companies function.


Ford does not need the money now because it had setup a $25 billion credit line in 2006. All of the auto manufacturers are reeling. From Toyota and Honda down to GM and Chrysler, sales fell off a cliff (30-40%) in October/November of 2008. All of them have suffered, with GM and Chrysler being most squeezed for cash. The American auto companies have run their business poorly and have been shrinking for some time now and will continue to do so. But they are not responsible for the credit markets drying up and an overnight loss of 30% of their revenue! Especially given that most of their costs are fixed. Rather than just letting them go under, here is an opportunity to force all parties to restructure the business and keep the economy humming. The same applies to the financial industry. Right now I see money going into the black hole of AIG, Citicorp, et al and nothing real to show for it.

adam Jackson

Bezos doesn’t get the credit he deserves and that’s just my opinion. You don’t see his face plastered everywhere (good or bad) and Amazon was a survivor of the 1999 -2001 internet age where thousands of companies perished.

Amazon has done great thing and Bezos has been at the helm the whole time. I think he’s one of those guys that doesn’t do huge media blitzes, make himself a god like Steve Jobs and doesn’t screw up very much so no one really talks about it but I have huge respect for him for a few reasons.

1. (the early years)
2. Amazon S3
3. Amazon Ec2
4. Amazon Kindle
5. Amazon Mp3 Store
6. Amazon Unbox
7. One Click Purchases
8. Bezos Ventures (VC funding)
9. He’s a healthy and very active guy
10. He is always smiling, laughing and listening.

He deserves more credit and Amazon wouldn’t be the same without him.

Om Malik

I totally agree. I have written about this in the past but again, it is hard not to reiterate that point. In the early days I used to be highly critical of Amazon and Bezos but what they are trying to do is pretty impressive.

In many ways, they have taken about 12 years to build a walmart, though clearly not as profitable as walmart, neither do they have the revenues. what they have us a continuous disruption and that comes from the top.

If you get a chance you should check out some of my previous posts on Amazon/Bezos.

Dave McClure

… and as an investor in 2 “Amazon Mafia” startups + advisor to a 3rd, i’d say he’s also done an excellent job of building an entrepreneurial culture in the folks around him as well.

Rob Newby

Adding a few more credits

11. Maintains a company culture of pride in productivity whilst starting and finishing every action with customer Focus. (no mean feat)

12. Kept Amazon lean at all times which translated into Amazon continuing to hire throughout the present economic downturn and continuing to do so. see

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