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Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon: Excerpt From ‘The Everything Store’ by Brad Stone - Businessweek


Stashed in: Jeff Bezos, Amazon, Jon Stewart, AMZN, Email, Customers!

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Ted is 69 now and has heart problems, emphysema, and an aversion to the idea of retirement. “I don’t want to sit at home and rot in front of the television,” he says. He’s friendly and, his wife says, deeply compassionate. The store is less than 30 miles from four Amazon fulfillment centers, but if he ever saw Bezos on television or read an article about Amazon, he didn’t make the connection. “I didn’t know where he was, if he had a good job or not, or if he was alive or dead,” he says. The face of his child, frozen in infancy, has been stuck in his mind for nearly half a century.

He says he always wanted to reconnect with Jeffrey—whatever his occupation or station—and seems ashamed that he agreed to stay out of his life all those years ago. “I wasn’t a good father or a husband,” he says. “It was really all my fault. I don’t blame Jackie at all.”

When I left Ted and his wife after dinner, they were still in shock and decided that they weren’t going to tell Linda’s sons. The story seemed too far-fetched. But a few months later, in early 2013, I got a phone call from Fala, a senior project manager at Honeywell (HON) who also lives in Phoenix. Ted, Fala said, had called a family meeting the previous Saturday afternoon. “I bet he’s going to tell us he has a son or daughter out there,” Fala’s wife had guessed correctly.

The gathering was wrenching. “My wife calls me unemotional because she has never seen me cry,” Fala says. “Ted is the same way. Saturday was the most emotion I’ve ever seen out of him, as far as sadness and regret. It was overwhelming.” Ted decided he wanted to reach out to the Bezos family and reestablish contact and asked Fala to help him craft letters to Bezos and Jackie.

Curious about Bezos, Fala had watched online clips of the Amazon CEO being interviewed, including one from The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. He was startled to hear Bezos’s laugh. He’d heard it before. He grew up listening to it. “He has Ted’s laugh!” Fala said in amazement. “It’s almost exact.”

He agreed to stay out of his life?! Wow, that really surprises me.

I like the question mark time bomb story:

Within Amazon.com there’s a certain type of e-mail that elicits waves of panic. It usually originates with an annoyed customer who complains to the company’s founder and chief executive officer. Jeff Bezos has a public e-mail address, [email protected] Not only does he read many customer complaints, he forwards them to the relevant Amazon employees, with a one-character addition: a question mark.

When Amazon employees get a Bezos question mark e-mail, they react as though they’ve discovered a ticking bomb. They’ve typically got a few hours to solve whatever issue the CEO has flagged and prepare a thorough explanation for how it occurred, a response that will be reviewed by a succession of managers before the answer is presented to Bezos himself. Such escalations, as these e-mails are known, are Bezos’s way of ensuring that the customer’s voice is constantly heard inside the company.

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