Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos Talks Space, Scheduling And The Importance Of Good Sleep

Credit: Washington Economic Club via YouTube.

It’s not every day you get to see Jeff Bezos speak, but I was lucky enough to be on hand when the Amazon Founder and CEO recently addressed a packed house hosted by The Economic Club of Washington DC.

In a wide-ranging interview by David Rubenstein, Co-Founder and Co-Executive Chairman of The Carlyle Group, Bezos hit on a variety of topics, including telling the audience that he’d soon announce the location of Amazon’s second headquarters.

Bezos was extremely impressive, and it’s worth watching the full video, below. He shows great humility and stressed how he still tries to run Amazon like a small company. Here are a few things I found particularly interesting:

On the future economy and his legacy. Bezos was asked whether he intends to give his vast fortune to charity, and while he responded by saying that the $2 billion education and anti-poverty programs he announced yesterday were just a small start, he plainly said that the vast majority of his fortune would be “invested” in Blue Origin, which he sees as tackling an existential human challenge (100-200 year time-frame) of earth overpopulation and energy shortfall/over-consumption.

He believes he was able to succeed at Amazon because of the infrastructure laid down before him: the Internet and package distribution capabilities of UPS and FedEx. He wants to provide the same infrastructure for the space economy, and considers this to be his most important work.

“If I can’t make Blue Origin a for-profit thing, maybe I’ll convert it to non-profit some distant point in the future, but I wouldn’t want that,” Bezos said. “I want it to be a thriving ecosystem more like UPS and FedEx.”  Toward that end, this report by Morgan Stanley today highlights this opportunity from an investment and future business standpoint.

On the role of the CEO. Jeff insists on eight hours of sleep and doesn’t do any meetings before 10 am, and purposely schedules high intellect-demanding meetings before lunch. As organizations grow, scale and gain infrastructure, he believes that CEOs add value by making a few high value decisions.

“As a senior executive, you get paid to make a small number of high-quality decisions.  Your job is not to make thousands of decisions every day. Is that really worth it if the quality of those decisions might be lower because you’re tired or grouchy?”

Bezos concluded that it’s “enough” for him to make around three good decisions every day (and that Warren Buffett told him he only makes 3 big decision a year that matter).

On the importance of site selection. Jeff moved to Seattle from New York City with his new wife specifically to launch Amazon. He saw Seattle as the place where he could recruit good tech talent specifically from Microsoft, and that was central to his success.

On growing employee productivity. In the early days of Amazon (which Bezos insisted seemed like just yesterday) he would do package assembly and post office runs himself. Assembling packages on the floor on hands and knees with another guy, he looked up and said, “We could really use some knee pads.” The other guy responded, “Actually, we could really use a packing table.” Bezos bought one and their productivity immediately shot up.

He’s No. 12 on Chief Executive and RHR International’s CEO1000 Tracker, a ranking of the top 1,000 public/private companies.

Jeff Bezos, Founder, Chairman & CEO, Amazon.com, Inc.

Headquarters: Seattle, WI

Age: 54

Education: Princeton University

Founded company: 1994

Positions with companies prior to creating Amazon: Fitel, Bankers Trust, D.E. Shaw & Co.