Chief Executive Jeff Bezos tries never to schedule a meeting before 10 a.m.
“I go to bed early, I get up early, I like to putter in the morning” reading the newspaper, drinking a cup of coffee and eating breakfast with his children, he said. Mr. Bezos schedules “high IQ” meetings before lunch, and tries to head home by 5 p.m.
Mr. Bezos said his primary job each day as a senior executive is to make a small number of high-quality decisions. That means getting eight hours of sleep, too. “I think better, I have more energy, my mood’s better,” he said.
‘Everything I’ve ever done has started small. Amazon started with a couple of people.’
If he slept less, he could make more decisions. But it wouldn’t be worth it. “If I have three good decisions a day, that’s enough,” he said. “They should just be as high quality as I can make them.”
The insight into Mr. Bezos’ philosophy on time management came as the Amazon founder Thursday addressed a crowd of roughly 1,400 at an event held by the Economic Club of Washington, D.C.
He reminisced on the early days of Amazon and the lessons he has learned during decades of rapid change as he went from founding the online bookstore in his garage to overseeing a massive company with several business lines and offices around the world.
That explosive growth helped push Amazon last week to briefly become the second U.S. company to reach a $1 trillion market value, after
and has made Mr. Bezos the richest person in the world.
It is a title Mr. Bezos said he has never sought. “I would much rather if they said like, ‘inventor Jeff Bezos’ or ‘entrepreneur Jeff Bezos’ or ‘father Jeff Bezos.’ Those kinds of things are much more meaningful to me,” he told the audience.
While Amazon’s stock is currently near record levels, he said he continues to tell employees the same thing he has told them in more than two decades of all-hands meetings.
“When the stock is up 30% in a month, don’t feel 30% smarter, because when the stock is down 30% in a month, it’s not going to feel so good to feel 30% dumber—and that’s what happens,” Mr. Bezos said.
He pointed to a quote by legendary investor Benjamin Graham, who said in the short term the stock market is a voting machine. In the long term, it is a weighing machine.
“What you need to do is operate your company in such a way, knowing that you will be weighed one day,” he said. “Never spend any time thinking about the daily stock price. I never do.”
He also learned the importance of clarity when choosing a name for his company. He initially wanted to name his online startup Cadabra, as in the old magician’s term abracadabra.
When he called to speak with a lawyer about incorporating the company, the attorney misunderstood the name as cadaver. “I was like, OK, that’s not going to work.”
About three months later, he changed it to Amazon: “Earth’s biggest river, earth’s biggest selection,” he said.
Mr. Bezos spent time talking about one of his favorite topics: the customer.
When he considered how to expand Amazon beyond its initial book, music and video businesses, he emailed a random group of 1,000 customers, asking them what they wanted to buy on his site. Most responded with whatever they needed to purchase in the moment, like windshield wipers.
“I thought to myself, ‘We can sell anything this way,’” he said.
Mr. Bezos said he would bring many of his business-leadership lessons to his new Bezos Day One Fund, which he announced Thursday and said would be funded with an initial $2 billion to help homeless families and to form a new network of preschools in low-income areas.
Day One refers to one of Mr. Bezos’s most fundamental lessons: how to keep a company in startup mode.
“Everything I’ve ever done has started small. Amazon started with a couple of people,” he said. “It’s hard to remember for you guys, but for me it was like yesterday that I was driving the packages to the post office myself and hoping one day we could afford a forklift.”
He has tried to maintain that spirit even as the company has sprawled to more than a half million employees. “Even though it’s a large company, I want it to have the heart and spirit of a small one,” he said.
Mr. Bezos now will bring his legendary customer focus to a new group—in this case, preschoolers.
“The No. 1 thing that has made us successful by far is obsessive, compulsive focus on the customer as opposed to obsession over the competitor,” he said. “We’re going to be obsessively, compulsively focused on the child. We’re going to be scientific when we can be. And we’re going to use heart and intuition.”
Write to Laura Stevens at firstname.lastname@example.org