A couple of years ago, I posted a series of columns on the favorite books of a bunch of billionaire entrepreneurs, including Bill Gates, Elon Musk, Steve Jobs, Richard Branson, Warren Buffet, and Mark Zuckerberg

And Jeff Bezos.

The first six columns were widely shared and viewed, the Jeff Bezos column, not so much. It didn't exactly bomb, but there seemed to be little demand for Bezos's opinions about what people should read.

Which is odd, because Amazon does sell a few books here and there, on a good day.

I encountered a similar phenomenon last week, when I posted some business/life advice from GatesMusk and Bezos. People seemed to like the Gates and Musk posts, but the Bezos column lit up my twitter feed with comments like:

  • Bezos is a greedy megalomaniac.
  • Bezos is drunk on power.
  • Bezos and this author are f***ing psychopaths.

At first I thought that the negative reaction to the Bezo column was due to the nature of the management technique I considered exemplary: having the CEO call customer support during a staff meeting to check whether he'd been told the truth about support wait times.

But then it occurred to me that if I'd told the exact same story but attributed the technique  to Steve Jobs, people would probably think (and tweet) that holding the customer support executive's feet to the fire was a stroke of Jobsian genius.

There are just no two ways about it, there's something about Jeff Bezos that seems to raise people's hackles. What up with that?

The hostility isn't Amazon's services. Consumers hate airlines and telecoms (and by extension their CEOs) because those companies provide horrible service. But everyone seems to like what Amazon offers: an easy way to get the stuff you need.

The hostility can't be due to the company's culture. Yes, Amazon is famous for having a cut-throat management style and driving employees hard, but that's hardly unique among high tech firms. Quite the contrary; it's the norm.

The hostility can't, or shouldn't, be about how Amazon treats its employees. Yes, employees in Amazon's warehouses have claimed that they've not been given sufficient time for bio breaks.

But that's pretty tame stuff compared the supply chains of consumer electronics firms, which often include forced labor and create insane pollution. And, unlike workers in the "gig economy," Amazon's warehouse employees get employee benefits.

The hostility can't, or shouldn't be, about Amazon's disruptive business model. While the business press tends to blame Amazon for the failure of traditional retailers, Amazon's percentage of retail purchases remains in the single digits. 

The hostility can't, or shouldn't be, about Amazon harvesting your personal data because compared to say, Facebook or Twitter, Amazon is barely scratching the surface. From what I can tell, mostly it just tracks what type of products you might want. 

From what I can see from here, it's Bezos himself, not Amazon, who irritates just about everyone. So, again, what up with that? Consider:

  • Bezos is by any measure as impressive an entrepreneur as Gates.
  • Bezos has a cool life-sized model rocketry side business, just like Musk.
  • Bezos bailed out the Washington Post, one of the world's great newspapers.

And while Bezos has yet to do much philanthropy, he's only in his 50s. He may simply be too focused on growing Amazon to give much thought to how he'll give away his money.

So why does everyone seem to hate Bezos?

Is it his bald head? Because short of that, I can't see how Bezos any worse--morally, ethically or intellectually--than any other self-made, high-tech billionaire. He even has an inspiring backstory.

Seriously, people, what am I missing?

Published on: May 1, 2018