Is Smiling Jeff the Weakest Link?

Is it just me or is Amazon chief Jeff Bezos’ wide-eyed, Andy Kaufman-like, perpetual grin starting to wear a little thin?

What once was the quirky face of the revolutionary potential of electronic commerce is now simply an eerie plastered expression of who knows what. I have a feeling behind that odd grin is a whole lot of emotional strife.

Despite the blue skies letter he sent to his stockholders last weekend, the combination of massive losses, Wall Street skepticism, investor impatience and public ridicule of his dream is most likely weighing heavily on smiling Jeff.

Here we have an almost company with an impressive sales record still operating in the red, continually plying the public with promises of impending greatness, and repeatedly adding to its already embarrassing series of commercial missteps.

No Exit?

Is it time for the big guy to exit? Stranger things have happened.

Yes, everyone associates the word Bezos with the word Amazon, but it’s a cruel world out there in cyberspace, and as we all know, you can be virtually here today and deleted tomorrow.

Investors in most commercial landscapes would not tolerate the string of inadequate, irresponsible decisions that Bezos and his board have made. Many dot-com scenarios have played out with the founder stepping down graciously for the good of the business. Why not Bezos?

Laundry List

Why not? Because e-commerce stalwarts, patrons of the mouse and industry observers want smiling Jeff to make it. They all want to see him pull off some sort of Horatio Alger eleventh hour comeback and bring Amazon to profitability.

Others, however, think that will never happen — and with good reason.

First of all, for no good reason, Amazon is trying to sell every consumer good known to humankind. Yet despite all the nice toasters, lawn chairs and cashmere sweaters Amazon is hawking, only books, DVDs, CDs and videos are turning a profit.

Not convinced smiling Jeff is running a loose ship? Read the books. We’re talking about a business that in its fifth year posted a loss of $1.4 billion on $2.8 billion in sales.

Sorry State

While I’m not yet prepared to say Bezos is the weakest link, it seems to me that smiling Jeff was not prepared to helm the greatest online experiment to date.

How else could we explain his never-ending series of apologies, which include:

  • The alliance with and ultimate death of Living.com
  • The alliance with and ultimate demise of Pets.com
  • The alliance with and ultimate collapse of Kozmo.com
  • The downsizing early this year that resulted in 1,300 people losing their jobs
  • The $2 billion debt Amazon.com is carrying.

Through it all, Bezos keeps telling us profit is imminent, probably by the end of this year.

Uh-huh.

Even that is an indirect apology of sorts for the often haphazard fashion in which the business has been allowed to operate. By consistently re-assuring the whole world that profit will come, Bezos is in a sense apologizing for the company’s losses.

Yada, Yada

Most recently, Bezos enlightened us with this piece of Web wisdom: profit will come via running a tighter ship (read layoffs and closed warehouses).

Wouldn’t profit have come sooner if costs had not been allowed to skyrocket, if staffing had been properly controlled and employees more carefully trained? Did he really need the fulfillment centers the company is now doing without?

Business acumen is largely about foresight, not hindsight. For all of smiling Jeff’s prognostications about Amazon’s just-around-the-corner fortunes, for all of his optimistic philosophies about the future of e-commerce, for all of his public posturing about not taking a personal salary increase for two years running or bonuses and stock options for four years — the plain fact is Jeff Bezos is sitting atop an poorly run business.

Period.

Menu Options

The time has come to fish or cut bait, as they say.

Here are the options: Sell. Partner and give up lots of control. Smile less. Strategize, collaborate and manage more.

I vote for the latter.

What do you think? Let’s talk about it.


Note: The opinions expressed by our columnists are their own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the E-Commerce Times or its management.


2 Comments

  • Since “delivery rate x average order size = revenue” is a key equation for most any online merchant, and since most all delivering companies have thus far been constrained by an insufficient rate of delivery that’s truly been out of their control, I’d say that Jeff Bezos is not to blame for Amazon’s troubles. Furthermore, since nobody in the press has seemed to pay any attention to this all important equation either, please see http://www.fastlaundry.com to see how it can and must be universally improved.

    David Porter

  • Seems like Paul Greenberg lost courage at the end of his article about Bezos. first he says why shouldn’t the Amazon founder step down graciously for the good of the business. But by the end of the article, he wimps out and says Bezos should just “strategize, collaborate and manage more.” Well which is it, should Jeff stay or go?

    –dot-com maven

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