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Business Management

Amazon's board should rein in Jeff Bezos

I’ve written before (here and here) that I see Jeff Bezos as the Willy Wonka of technology, a messianic Pied Piper, a coruscating quasi-mythical creature spangled with new ideas, products and services. An excellent article in Fast Company encourages the concern that perhaps he has now gone too far with his pursuit of the smartphone market via the Amazon Fire Phone.

Unlike Wonka, Bezos’s company trades as Amazon.com rather than under his own name but he is intimately identified with the firm to the extent that I couldn’t name a single other executive (the last would be the former UK chief Brian McBride, who left several years ago).

Bezos’s reputation, more than supported in the Fast Company article, is of a hands-on boss with a deep involvement in ideas, product development, execution, fulfilment and pretty well every stage before, after and between these. The article suggests that the Fire Phone project has thus far failed in part because of Bezos’s demands for an advanced 3D screen. That may be the case although as I wrote on its launch, the device had little going for it from the off, and a lack of apps in the Android/iOS realm of quality and quantity is clearly a sales blocker in the ultra-competitive phone market.

Fast Company also raises a broader question that has become fairly familiar: is Amazon trying to do too many things at once, especially considering that it is still not turning a consistent profit? Eschewing polemic, the piece balances this notion against the successes of Kindle and the remarkable AWS – changes in direction that were also imaginative extensions of Amazon’s core competencies in e-commerce.

But surely common sense says that even the most powerful company with the most brilliant leader must draw the line somewhere and rein in its overweening ambition. Microsoft translated its desktop operating system success to productivity applications, server software and even games consoles but it has struggled in other areas, most tellingly smartphones where a platform duopoly is holding firm. More recently Google has repeatedly failed at projects and has had the sense to pull them when the writing on the wall became hard to miss.

Bezos is perhaps the most remarkable, bold and ambitious CEO in the business world today but he is an over-reacher, a character who can’t stop looking for the Next Big Thing, new territories to conquer and towers to unfurl his flag. Or, to return to the Wonka analogy, his boardroom team should rein him in at times or risk a reputation as serfs and real-life Oompa Loompas.

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Martin Veitch

Martin Veitch is Contributing Editor for IDG Connect

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