Decades of Jeff Bezos’s thoughts are collated in a new book

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Good morning.

Jeff Bezos is the most important business leader of our times, and if you want to know how he got that way, you can find it in the very first letter he wrote to shareholders in 1997. His message: focus on the long term, obsess over customers, make bold not timid choices, set a high bar in hiring, and you will create “an enduring franchise.”

Ever since, Bezos–modeling Warren Buffett–has laid out his business thoughts each year in a crisp annual letter to shareholders. Today, PublicAffairs and Harvard Business Review Press are announcing plans to publish Invent and Wander: The Collected Writings of Jeff Bezos, which brings together 23 years of these annual letters, plus notable interviews, writings and speeches, and a 10,000 word introduction penned by Walter Isaacson–biographer of Steve Jobs, Albert Einstein, Ben Franklin, and Leonardo DaVinci. Isaacson puts Bezos “in the same league as my other subjects.”

CEO Daily got an early look at the book. A few excerpts:

“You can work long, hard, or smart, but at Amazon.com you can’t choose two out of three.”
–1997

“Our shares are down more than 80% from when I wrote you last year. Nevertheless, by almost any measure, Amazon.com the company is in a stronger position now than at any time in the past.”
–2000

“We don’t do PowerPoint (or any other slide-oriented) presentations at Amazon. Instead, we write narratively structured six-page memos. We silently read one at the beginning of each meeting in a kind of ‘study hall.’…Some have the clarity of angels singing…Sometimes they come in at the other end of the spectrum.”
–2017

You can read more about the book, scheduled for publication in November, here.

* * *

Separately, I spoke with Dow CEO Jim Fitterling earlier this week, in advance of Dow’s release this morning of aggressive new sustainability targets. They include a goal of achieving carbon neutrality by 2050 and a goal of having 100% of its products sold into packaging be reusable or recyclable by 2035. More broadly, the report says Dow aims to be “the most sustainable materials science company.”

I asked Fitterling the question I hear some environmental advocates ask: If the goal is to be the most sustainable materials science company, why not abandon petrochemicals altogether? His response:

“I don’t think they have a very good perspective on what petrochemicals do for their life. Could you buy a Tesla, insulate their homes, have safe foods packaging? If you get out of petrochemicals, you get out of pharmaceuticals, so you don’t treat COVID-19, you don’t have gowns, masks, gloves. It is a false test.”

I also asked about the collapse of plastic recycling, driven in part by the fact that falling oil prices have made virgin plastic less expensive.

“We have to create the circular economy. Everything we make that gets used should be reusable or fully recyclable….I don’t think that can be done by the private sector alone.”

And here’s the most remarkable thing he told me, in response to my question about how much of his time he spends on these difficult social issues:

“Right now, I am spending half of my time on ESG–circular economy, global warming, COVID-19, racial justice, flood recovery in Michigan. For where we are right now, it’s where I need to be spending it.”

That’s the definition of stakeholder capitalism. Like it or not, it is happening. More news below.

Alan Murray
@alansmurray

[email protected]

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