Opinion | The Jeff Bezos Paradox

The newest creation from the expertise big Amazon occupies two flooring in a purchasing district in central London: a hair studio. Inside the 1,500-square-foot Amazon Salon, clients can visualize potential new hairstyles on the corporate’s tablets, purchase shampoos and conditioners not obtainable in drugstores, and order up issues like a kids’s haircut ($20), a roots tint ($62) or a thermal lower with heated scissors ($166).

When the corporate introduced this initiative within the spring, I in all probability wasn’t alone in considering it may be an April Fool’s joke. Hair coloring and conditioning appear particularly far afield from the corporate’s major pursuits in e-commerce and cloud computing. And Jeff Bezos, the wealthiest particular person on this planet, hasn’t had a substantive topiary mane himself for the reason that early 1990s.

But one thing in regards to the salon appeared apt contemplating Amazon’s wide-ranging ambitions below Mr. Bezos, who will retire as chief government on Monday after working the corporate for 27 years. He based Amazon in July 1994 to promote books on-line, a deceptively innocuous goal that served as a beachhead for probably the most profitable expansions in enterprise historical past. Today, the corporate is a sort of company apeirogon — a form with infinite sides — extending into new industries regularly, terrifying potential opponents and sending blasts of hysteria throughout the antitrust institution.

Mr. Bezos now palms his successor and longtime deputy, Andy Jassy, an organization with the third-largest market capitalization on this planet. But there’s an incongruity — name it the Bezos paradox. As the fortunes of the corporate and its founder have elevated, their public photographs have taken a beating. As current information reviews present, Amazon’s employees are sometimes pushed to the restrict by arduous objectives, arbitrarily altering guidelines and algorithmic masters, which appear to have little tolerance for human frailty.

I’ve written two books chronicling Amazon’s historical past and have come to view each the corporate’s endless growth and declining status as byproducts of Mr. Bezos’ character — his towering mind, together with a notable deficit of empathy and concern of stasis.

Early on, Mr. Bezos judged that in an age of disruptive technological change, firms must preserve making an attempt new issues at a fast clip, even on the threat of failure and embarrassment. “Doing things at high speed, that’s the best defense against the future,” he as soon as advised the journalist Walter Isaacson in an interview. “If you are leaning away from the future, the future is going to win every time.”

So he requested that groups throughout the corporate frequently provide you with new initiatives. Mr. Bezos wished Amazon’s well-known six-page paperwork, the atomic unit of its inner deliberations, to incorporate not simply monetary outcomes and projections but additionally new product pitches and growth plans. Often on the heart of the motion, he fired emails off to deputies in any respect hours. The method yielded stink bombs just like the ill-fated Fire Phone, in addition to quite a lot of triumphs. “We should build a $20 device with its brains in the cloud that’s completely controlled by your voice,” he wrote in 2010. Four years later, Alexa began chirping from clients’ properties.

Just a few favored executives may additionally generate outlandishly formidable initiatives, even when they have been removed from Mr. Bezos’ private geeky pursuits. Dave Clark, the manager who oversaw the corporate’s provide chain for a decade, wished to interrupt Amazon’s dependency on UPS and FedEx, partially by assembling a fleet of airplanes known as Amazon Air. Similarly, the executives who run the British retail workforce proposed opening hair salons to promote extra skilled magnificence care merchandise whereas exhibiting off the corporate’s tablets and different gadgets.

Why not? Among different issues, Amazon below Mr. Bezos has been a trial-by-error machine, writ giant. If the London hair salon reveals promise, Amazon will little doubt open extra of them. The different, within the Bezosian lexicon, was to change into a extra standard “Day 2” firm. “Day 2 is stasis, followed by irrelevance, followed by excruciating, painful decline, followed by death,” Mr. Bezos wrote in his 2016 letter to shareholders. “And that is why it is always Day 1.”

But there have been vital drawbacks to this method. Mr. Bezos’ peripatetic attentions have made the older divisions — and their clients — really feel ignored. Bookselling and publishing, as soon as areas of obsessive focus, now seem to be afterthoughts; Mr. Bezos’s curiosity is absolutely in Prime Video and Alexa.

As a outcome, giant parts of Amazon’s web site now resemble an unpoliced frontier. Over the previous few years, journalists have found counterfeits, pretend critiques and unsafe merchandise on the every little thing retailer. Domestic retailers more and more complain that they really feel displaced by abroad sellers with decrease prices and knockoff merchandise. When they search redress, they wrestle to get Amazon staff to take discover and devise options. Often, change comes solely after issues floor in information reviews.

Much of that is by design. Mr. Bezos began new initiatives with personalised care; however as they received greater, he wished to handle them with applied sciences that require much less worker consideration, thus reducing working prices and enhancing monetary outcomes. The technique has been nice for traders, who’ve quadrupled their cash up to now 5 years. It’s even been good for patrons, who take pleasure in low costs and quick supply — till they inadvertently purchase an affordable knockoff on the Amazon web site. For lots of the staff, companions and small firms caught up in Amazon’s whirling ecosystems, not a lot.

The present reproaching of Amazon within the in style press usually traces again to Mr. Bezos. Colleagues new and previous testify that he has many abilities, together with a superhuman capability to concentrate on disparate points and unravel advanced issues. But empathy was by no means certainly one of them. “If you’re not good, Jeff will chew you up and spit you out,” a former government as soon as advised me. “And if you’re good, he will jump on your back and ride you into the ground.”

This would be the defining problem for Andy Jassy, the incoming chief government: to sandpaper the tough edges of Amazon’s enterprise ways and formulate a humbler picture for the corporate, significantly earlier than the various antitrust authorities making an attempt to unravel the opaque, interlocking components of the Amazon empire. On Thursday, the corporate took a modest first step to positioning itself as a greater company citizen. It added two company values, “Strive to be Earth’s best employer” and “Success and scale bring broad responsibility,” to the checklist of sacrosanct management ideas that information main selections at Amazon.

Mr. Bezos will stay as government chairman and head of the board. But indicators level to his diminishing day-to-day involvement. He’s off to suborbital area on July 20 on a Blue Origin rocket, to his magnificent crusing yacht and luxurious properties, and to his philanthropic endeavors, which embody the $10 billion Bezos Earth Fund, dedicated to the reason for stemming local weather change. He is prone to apply the identical roaming curiosity and intolerance for stasis to his life exterior Amazon that he did for his profession inside it.

As for his colleagues, now the actually onerous work begins: discovering Amazon’s coronary heart.

Brad Stone is the creator of “Amazon Unbound: Jeff Bezos and the Invention of Global Empire” and a senior government editor for world expertise at Bloomberg News.

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