The Life And Awesomeness Of Jeff Bezos

bezosNot an actual photo from the helicopter crash scene

Photo: Photo Illustration by Business Insider

Amazon CEO and founder Jeff Bezos probably should have died about 8 years ago.It was 2003, and he was out looking at a property in West Texas.

Done with the tour, he jumped into his helicopter, ready to take off.

But as hard as the pilot cranked the throttle, the helicopter wouldn’t take off.

“We had a full cabin, and a full tank of gas, so the helicopter was heavy,” Bezos told Josh Quittner of Fortune magazine back in 2008.

“The way a helicopter takes off is to lift off a few feet, then the rotors tilt and it needs to get some forward momentum to generate lift.”

That didn’t happen.

Instead, the helicopter crashed.


Back in 2008, Bezos told Quittner he only remembers thinking: “what a dumb way to die” – and that his life did not flash before his eyes.

Jeff was born in 1964 to 19 year-old year old Jackie Bezos and 20-year-old Mike Bezos, an adopted father.

Jeff didn't find out that his father is not his biological father until he was 10. It didn't bother him much. Still doesn't.

'The reality, as far as I'm concerned, is that my Dad is my natural father. The only time I ever think about it, genuinely, is when a doctor asks me to fill out a form,' Jeff told Wired in 1999.

'It's a fine truth to have out there,' he says. 'I'm not embarrassed by it.'

He spent his childhood summers at his grandparents home in Texas, castrating cattle and doing other farmwork.

It wasn't all field work, though. Jeff's grandfather was huge role model in his life.

Lawrence Preston 'Pop' Gise worked in the space industry and supervised 26,000 employees.

In a 2010 commencement speech, Jeff told the graduates that his grandfather taught him how 'its harder to be kind then clever.'

The book describes Bezos as 'friendly but serious' and 'not particularly gifted in leadership.'

He was made captain in a couple weeks because he's the only kid who can remember all the plays.

As a kid, Jeff never talked about being a spaceman. He wanted to be a space entrepreneur.

Years later, Jeff owns a space exploration company called Blue Origin.

'I do think we have all our eggs in one basket,' he said in 1999.

As a teenager, Jeff worked for a summer at a McDonald's. He hated it.

So the next summer, Jeff and his girlfriend created a education camp for younger kids. They charged $600 a pop.

Called 'The DREAM Institute,' the camp got six signups.

The camp's required reading gives a look into Jeff Bezo's right- and left-brain mind.

According to Wired, it was: The Once and Future King, Stranger in a Strange Land, The Lord of the Rings, Dune, Watership Down, Black Beauty, Gulliver's Travels, Treasure Island, and David Copperfield, along with the plays Our Town and The Matchmaker.

Then came Princeton.

After college, Bezos became employee number 11 at a startup called Fitel.

Tthe job had him flying between New York and London every week.

'This is not the right way to organise a start-up company,' Jeff told Wired in 1999.

Next came a job with Bankers Trust.

Jeff almost quit that job to found a news-by-fax service startup with Halsey Minor, who would later found CNET

Instead, Jeff quit Bankers Trust to work for D.E. Shaw's hedge fund. He cruised to a SVP title in four years.

The same way VCs and Wall Street types establish 'Deal Flows,' Bezos created a 'women flow.'

He told Wired:

'What I really wanted was someone resourceful. But nobody knows what you mean when you say, 'I'm looking for a resourceful woman.' If I tell somebody I'm looking for a woman who can get me out of a Third World prison, they start thinking Ross Perot - Ah-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha! - they have something they can hang their hat on! Life's too short to hang out with people who aren't resourceful.'

He eventually married an office-mate named Mackenzie. She's now a novelist and mother to 4.

Despite DE Shaw's protests – and begging – Bezos quit to start Amazon.

On a long walk in Central Park, Shaw tried to talk Jeff out of quitting, but Jeff couldn't get over the fact that the Internet was growing 2,400% per year.

He decided he'd rather try and fail at a startup than never try at all.

In Seattle, Jeff and his first employee, Shel Kaplan, built in a garage with a potbellied stove.

They built the site around the huge digital catalogues book distributors started using in the 1980s.

In an ultimate irony, Jeff held most of his meetings at the neighbourhood Barnes & Noble.

In fact, Amazon's first freight contracts were negotiated at a Barnes & Noble.

Bezos and Kaplan set up a bell to ring every time made a sale.

They turned it off after a couple weeks because it wouldn't stop.

Amazon's initial public offering went nuts in 1997, of course…

But then came the crash.

For a while, analyst called the company 'Amazon.bomb.'

But Amazon survived for two reasons: Users kept coming to the site in bigger numbers, and Jeff never promised shareholders anything but a long-term vision.

Then came a worse crash…a real one.

In 2003, Jeff Bezos almost died in a helicopter crash. Josh Quittner told the story in Fortune back in 2008:

The helicopter was out of control and Jeff Bezos, the dotcom billionaire who founded Amazon, was pretty sure he was about to die. He was pinioned in the front passenger seat as the pilot frantically tried to thread the cherry-red copter through a field of trees.

Bezos had been flying around the boondocks of West Texas to scout out a site for Blue Origin, a space tourism venture he'd long dreamed of starting. The helicopter ferried them to a remote area that a government report would later describe as 'mountainous terrain next to a creek.' After a brief look around, Bezos and two employees hopped back into the helicopter, and the pilot tried to take off. That's when things went bad.

'We had a full cabin, and a full tank of gas, so the helicopter was heavy,' Bezos recalls, discussing the 2003 incident for the first time. 'The way a helicopter takes off is to lift off a few feet, then the rotors tilt and it needs to get some forward momentum to generate lift.' That didn't happen.

Instead, as the aircraft skittered along the field, its tail boom struck a tree, causing the aircraft to roll and zigzag crazily. 'Finally, one of the sleds hooked into a mound of dirt, the helicopter flipped, and landed in a creek,' Bezos says.

Does his life flash before his eyes? Does he think about all the things he might have done? Nope. 'I thought, what a dumb way to die,' he says.

After the crashes, it's been only up for Jeff. has expanded beyond selling books, to selling almost everything, including music, video, and even its own gadget, the Amazon Kindle. By 2009, Amazon was up 5000% since its IPO.

We learned about Jeff reading these fantastic articles, and you should too

  • Buzz in West Texas is about Jeff Bezos space craft launch site
  • Jeff Bezos Princeton Commencement
  • The charmed dot-com life of Jeff Bezos
  • Wired 7.03: The Inner Bezos

And now for another biography…

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