The World Needs Visionaries

Jeff Bezos is stepping down as CEO of Amazon Monday. I met him briefly at an internal company conference (the Amazon Machine Learning conference) when I worked there 2016.

Figure 1: Jeff Bezos

Figure 1: Jeff Bezos

I admire him. He’s created things. He built a company that’s changing the world. He had vision. He (and his in-laws) took risks. He provided leadership (see the The Amazon Leadership Principals) and he knew when to get out of the way.

Any organization of humans that’s big enough will have problems. It’s full of humans. But I view it as a mark of success that the teamsters and the taxman are taking aim at Amazon now. There is value there that can be envied, vilified, stolen, leached off of and sued1. The European Union and Congress are not trying (as hard) to take down smaller companies. Amazon is on their radar because there is real value there. Bezos created it and he deserves every penny of the value his %10 stake in the company gives him. Who is John Gault Dagny Taggart?

A couple years ago I finally met Jeff Wilkins, the early CEO of CompuServe. I had heard him spoken of in reverential terms by Steve Wilhite (creator of GIF) and others at CompuServe. But Henry Block canned Wilkins the week I started at CompuServe. After meeting Wilkins and having a little time to actually talk to him, I get the importance of vision at the top. Wilhite, Dr. John Goltz et al. did some amazing tech work (packet switching in 1972 anyone?) but it took vision to drive the company to pioneer much of what we now know as the online world in the 1975-1985 time-frame … email (gmail), electronic news, online shopping (Amazon, eBay), chat (slack), file sharing (iTunes), discussion groups (blogs, twitter, et al.), “cloud computing” (wide area networking, virtual private networks and time-sharing). CompuServe ran on steam (and the back of some great tech work by Wilhite and others) for another 10 years, but the vision was gone. CompuServe was eclipsed (and purchased) by Steve Case and AOL, the Internet happened and about this time an online bookstore was starting up.

Hats off to the visionary, the risk taker and the leader. You made the world a better place. Thank you…and enjoy your trip to space following the vision of Robert Goddard, Gene Roddnenbery and others :-)

  1. See The Beatles and Apple Corp. (not Apple Computer) for examples of creative visionaries who wound up in a morass of lawsuits. George Harrion, “Sue Me, Sue You Blues”↩︎