Amazon's Bezos is Fortune's businessperson of the year

Fortune called the online retail giant's CEO "the ultimate disrupter" and lauds him for his unconventional but savvy business methods.

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos.
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos. Dan Farber

Jeff Bezos, who has run Amazon at a loss the past two quarters has been dubbed Fortune's businessperson of 2012.

Amazon's quirky CEO has worried Wall Street by spending heavily on new warehouses and employees for the holiday rush and investing in new business overseas. The spending alone wouldn't be cause for concern had the company been able to turn a profit these days.

After several years in the black, Amazon posted losses over the past two quarters. For the third quarter ended September, the retail giant lost $274 million , compared with a net profit of $63 million a year ago.

Bezos has always kept his eye on the long-term picture, even at the expensive of short-term profits, one reason Fortune has come not to bury him but to praise him.

Calling him "the ultimate disrupter," Fortune applauds Bezos for the way he has "upended the book industry and displaced electronics merchants." Moving far beyond its book-selling roots, Amazon has also pushed its way into such areas as fashion retailing, film making, and tablet production.

To be sure, Bezos has his own unique way of conducting business. Despite Amazon's niche as a purveyor of e-book readers, the CEO still appreciates the written word. Each meeting with his senior executives starts with everyone, including Bezos, reading a six-page memo in silence for half an hour.

"For new employees, it's a strange initial experience," Bezos told Fortune. "They're just not accustomed to sitting silently in a room and doing study hall with a bunch of executives." But he feels such memos demand undivided attention. And writing the memos themselves is a way for employees to clearly get their thoughts down on paper.

Fortune describes Bezos' management style as "inquisitive and challenging, but also charming and relaxed."

Yet his mood can turn angry when he catches someone unprepared. He's especially sensitive to customer complaints, pressing employees to resolve them quickly and efficiently.

He's also keenly aware of the concerns among analysts and investors over the company's recent losses. But he sees the current spending and investment as an important phase. And Amazon's stock has been surprisingly strong, trading at more than 100 times estimates for next year's earnings.

"He's willing to take risks and lose money, yet investors have embraced him, pushing Amazon's stock up 30 percent so far this year," Fortune said. "And even as Amazon expands and experiments, Bezos remains zealous about delivering a good customer experience. For all these reasons and more, Fortune has named Bezos its 2012 Businessperson of the Year."

 

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