By Mark Matteson
When Jeff Bezos was a college student at Princeton, he slept at the Math and Computer lab, literally. As a result he enjoyed a 4.3 GPA. Upon graduation he accepted a job with one of the large brokerage houses on Wall Street and did pretty well.
Being a math whiz, and an insatiable student of business and trends, the idea of an online bookstore consumed all his spare time. On a trip to Seattle, the idea took hold and he made the bold leap. He drove to the Northwest from NYC in his beat-up Honda Accord and set up shop in the funkiest part of downtown Seattle, Pioneer Square. Amid the needle-exchange junkies, skid-row bums and homeless shelters, he rented office space in the worst part of town.
He went to Home Depot and bought a door and two sawhorses. His first desk.
Microsoft in 1996 was hiring the best and brightest from all the major universities and attaching their loyalty with golden handcuffs, stock options. NO ONE was leaving Microsoft. One their brightest and most respected employee was a gracious, 31-year-old marketing executive named David Risher, who paid a visit to Bezos’ office one day. In the office was a giant white board. It had 200 action items listed in no particular order. After pitching his vision to Risher, he threw down the gauntlet. You see, Risher had been one of Bezos’ classmates at Princeton.
“Prioritize the list for me.”
By the time the list was prioritized, Risher realized he and Bezos had a lot in common. Before he left that day, he was sold on the community of people and Bezos' vision. He became employee No. 16. Another fortune awaited him.
Jeff Bezos was rigid about the quality of the people he brought on the Amazon bus. At times in the early days, when fulfillment and reputation were expanding, he would interview 50 to 60 people before he would say yes to a new hiree. It was painful. It meant 16-hour days for those who were employed. He wouldn’t bend. Smart people. Dedicated people. Passionate people … or no deal.
Years later Bezos was criticized for pouring profits back into the company in the form of technology and innovative process and fulfillment. He stuck to his guns again. Most people thought he was mad.
Most people never enjoyed a 4.3 GPA in college. Most people are not that frugal. Most people don’t understand which values and principles will ensure long-term success. Jeff Bezos does. He recently sold his original “door desk” on e-bay for $30,000. The original shareholders of Amazon are enjoying similar returns on their investment.
What are willing to stand up for? Fight for? What is on YOUR white board?