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Interesting pair of stories over the weekend taking a look at on the occasion of the company’s 10th anniversary.

The New York Times focuses largely on whether or not Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos needs to “find a professionally trained chief executive with a deep background in operations to take the reins.” In essence, the Times seems to suggest that it may be time for the man who conceptualized, founded and directed Amazon during its sometimes troubled decade of existence.

Certainly Amazon has been less profitable that investors or company management would like, and Bezos can fairly be accused of missteps and miscalculations. But at the same time, while profitability has been elusive, the company has managed to survive the ups and downs of the Internet to become a viable and vital marketing system that has defined e-commerce to a great degree.

Mark R. Anderson, who writes a technology newsletter, tells the NYT that “Bezos's relentless focus on the customer - at the expense of his other audience, his shareholders - is ‘both Jeff's brilliance and his curse. If you're a long-term investor, you're probably thinking that it will be worth a lot of money to be the Wal-Mart of the online world. On the other hand, if you're the kind of investor who has run out of patience, you're probably wondering whether there's any trained management in place that knows how to get a return on investment."

Perhaps not surprisingly, the Seattle Times takes a rosier view of Amazon’s growth since its first sale a decade ago. “What began with the sale of a science textbook — its first order — has morphed into an online retail juggernaut that last year sold $218.86 worth of books, music ,toys and other goods every second.

“But the alchemy that created Amazon — venture capital invested in an unproven retail concept, a stock market that rewarded growth over profits, lucrative stock options to motivate and retain the best employees — may be a once-in-a-lifetime event.”

Here’s one interesting statistic about Amazon that the Seattle Times reports: “If you had bought 100 shares of Amazon stock in 1997 at $18 a share, it would be worth $39,708 today — a 2,100 percent return.”

Of course, Bezos notes that he is a bargain – he makes just $81,000 a year, and doesn’t take stock options. (Of course, he also owns about 25 percent of the company – and at current prices, that means he is worth somewhere in the neighborhood of $3.5 billion. That’s a pretty healthy neighborhood.)
KC's View:
It is ironic that in certain quarters, a “relentless focus on the customer” can be considered a curse.

Especially when the person with said relentless focus is a retailer.

We could use a lot more people in the retailing biz with this approach.

While Amazon hasn’t been a perfect company by any means, it has achieved what it has through a peculiar combination of timing, ambition and even a touch of arrogance. But it doesn’t seem to be the kind of arrogance or ambition driven by concerns about the people who buy stock, but rather driven by the needs of people who buy products.

Which seems to us to be exactly right.

Replacing Bezos with someone who may, in fact, be a better manager would be an enormous mistake, in our view. It would replace leadership and vision with management…which definitely would be trading down.

There are too many managers in the ranks of retailing who have their eyes on the stock tables, and too few leaders with their eyes on the customer.