Why Jeff Bezos Is Holding Back Response To Trump’s Attacks

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos.

In recent weeks, President Donald Trump has publicly criticized Amazon more than five times over tax issues and his ownership of the Washington Post. The timely barrage ended Amazon’s stock market winning streak with a loss of more than 8 percent in the company’s shares. But Bezos is holding pat and biding his time, as did the CEOs of Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and even The New York Times, all companies that have seen their share prices skyrocket after the president’s Twitter attacks fizzled.

The curious thing is why Bezos is so restrained, given his notorious reputation for volcanic outbursts. His patience would be summed up by a mixologist as one shot of Mark Twain (“don’t get into a letter writing contest with people that buy ink by the barrel”) and one shot of Warren Buffett.

Through their mutual friendship with fellow Seattleite, Bill Gates, Buffett has gotten to know and like Bezos, and found him to be someone he could to business with — culminating in a joint venture with JPMorgan Chase’s Jamie Dimon on a new public healthcare company.

“Warren Buffett taught Bezos something he learned over many years, that patient capital and patient temperament go hand in hand.”

But Buffett taught Bezos something he learned over many years, that patient capital and patient temperament go hand in hand. It’s telling that since at least 2013, Bezos has been quoting Buffett’s mentor, the legendary Benjamin Graham, in company meetings, interviews and letters to shareholders: “In the short term, the stock market is a voting machine. In the long term, it’s a weighing machine.” 

When Buffett gets attacked, whether by a trading scandal at Salomon Brothers or insider wheeling and dealing by a Berkshire senior officer, he analyzes the betting, waits for the right moment and attacks when the odds are in his favor. For Bezos that time will come.

It begs the question, what is Trump thinking? Those who know him say he can be a loyal friend but has a dark side that can be vicious. He likes to go after big players like Bezos, just as he has attacked the media or Wall Street, and then does an about face and cuts a deal. Bezos knows this. But he also knows Trump will eventually tire of gnawing on the Amazon bone and the stock will recover. Then, in 2020, there will be an election and that may be about the time the moment presents itself.

Welcome to America 2018.

Jeff Cunningham is Chief Executive magazine's editor-at-large and a professor of leadership at Arizona State University/Thunderbird School of Global Management, where he has also endowed the Cunningham Global Fellowship for next-generation leaders. He also is the founder of Thunderbird Opinions poll of business trends. He was previously publisher of Forbes Magazine and CEO of Zip2 (founded by Elon Musk). Watch his YouTube interviews at Iconic Voices and connect on Twitter @CunninghamJeff and LinkedIn.