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MAY 15, 2000
COVER STORY -- E.BIZ -- THE E.BIZ 25

By: Robert D. Hof


Jeff Bezos


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Amazon.com Inc.
----------
Position: Founder and CEO

Contribution: Showed how to build an online customer base so loyal that other e-tailers will pay Amazon big bucks to reach customers on the Amazon.com site.

Challenge: Proving to disbelievers that Amazon can land in the black. Analysts don't expect the company to be profitable until 2002.

Does anything faze Jeffrey P. Bezos? The hyperkinetic chief executive of Web superstore Amazon.com Inc. (AMZN) faces investors livid over Amazon's big losses and fallen stock price. People openly wonder if e-tailing is a bust. And traditional retailers, led by giant Wal-Mart Stores, are piling online. On top of all that, Bezos has new domestic chores: changing diapers for Preston, his newborn baby boy.

But if he's exhausted, Bezos doesn't let on. Thunderous laugh intact, he is driving as hard as ever to make Amazon.com one of the world's great consumer companies. And he isn't letting all the hand-wringing about Amazon's high-risk strategy get him down. ''We've been called Amazon.bomb, Amazon.toast, and Amazon.org--because we don't make profits yet,'' he says. ''We're used to skepticism. In fact, it's good for us. If everybody agreed that our strategy was a winner, everybody would do it, and it would be harder to make excessive returns.''

And finally, those returns may be in sight. Most analysts think the company will turn profitable by 2002, when sales are estimated to reach $6 billion, from $1.6 billion last year. As a result, they generally view Amazon as the only e-tailer that is almost certain to survive.

Even so, Bezos isn't easing up. After opening seven new online stores and acquiring nine companies last year, he says this year Amazon will step up that pace--it has already added new stores for patio furniture, health and beauty aids, and kitchenware. Tops on the agenda: expanding internationally, where Amazon currently gets just 24% of its sales.

So what's down the road for a multibillionaire visionary who can't sit still? The only hint comes from Bezos' open admiration for Oprah Winfrey, on whose TV show he appeared. ''She is somebody who is totally dedicated to using her life to improve other people's lives,'' he says, and that sounds pretty good to him. But maybe he could produce that elusive profit first?



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