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Lessons from an interview

BUSINESS MATTERS (BEYOND THE BOTTOM LINE) - Francis J. Kong (The Philippine Star) - January 16, 2021 - 12:00am

I enjoyed the interview conducted by David Rubenstein, and his subject at that time happened to be the wealthiest person in the world Jeff Bezos. Of course today it’s Elon Musk and perhaps one day we can talk about him too. But the Rubenstein-Bezos interview was fascinating.

Jeff Bezos graduated valedictorian, went to Princeton, took up electrical engineering, and graduated summa cum laude. He talked about a lesson he had learned as he and his friend Joe who was good at math, worked on a homework program for three hours and got nowhere. In the interview, Bezos said they looked at each other over the table at the same moment and decided to bring the problem to the smartest guy in Princeton for help.

Bezos said, “We show him this problem, and he looks at it, stares at it for a while. And he says, “cosine.” And I’m like, what do you mean? So he brings us into his room. He sits us down; he writes out three pages of detailed algebra, everything crosses out. And the answer is cosine.”

Jeff and Joe were in awe. “Did you just do that in your head? And he said, no, that would be impossible. Three years ago, I solved a very similar problem. And I was able to map this problem onto that problem. And then it was immediately obvious that the answer was cosine.”

Most people might have missed this, but Jeff took the explanation seriously. He began to learn the power of asking those who know.

Bezos started Amazon selling books. When he began, he had to deliver books himself by bringing the orders to the post office. Bezos recalled another learning moment when he was packing boxes. He spent many days and nights on his hands and knees on the hard cement floors. Somebody was kneeling next to Bezos doing the same. Bezos said, “You know, we need knee pads. This is killing my knees.” And this guy packing alongside said. “We need packing tables.” And I was like, “that’s the most brilliant idea I’ve ever heard. And the next day, I went and bought packing tables and like doubled our productivity.”

David Rubenstein being in investment himself, got curious and asked a pointed question. “So what propelled you to sell things more than books? I mean, if you’re only selling books today, you wouldn’t be the richest man in the world. Presumably, it’s the idea that you’re selling other things. When did you first get the idea to sell other things?”

Bezos responded and said: “We sold the books, we started selling music, and then we started selling videos. And then I got smarter. I emailed 1,000 randomly selected customers and asked them what they would like to see us sell? That answer came back incredibly long-tailed as people said basically, the way they answered the question was with whatever they were looking for at that moment. I remember one of the answers was; I wish you sold windshield wiper blades, because I need windshield wiper blades. And I thought to myself; we can sell anything this way. And so, then we launched electronics and toys and many other categories over time.”

Again, the power of listening to other people’s ideas.

“But you don’t like meetings before 10 a.m.?” asked David. The former richest man in the world says he likes to get eight hours of sleep. He goes to bed early and gets up early. He likes to read the newspaper. I suppose this would be “The Washington Post” since he owns it. Have breakfast with his kids before they go to school, and he never sets any meetings before 10 o’clock.

Bezos says he likes to do his high IQ meetings before lunch because he thinks better. With enough sleep, he has more energy, his mood is better, and he explains the rationale behind this.

Bezos says that a senior executive gets paid to make a small number of high-quality decisions. Their job is not to make 1000 decisions every day. He says: “If I make like three good decisions a day, that’s enough. And Warren Buffett says he’s good if he makes three good decisions a year. And all of our senior executives operate the same way I do; they work in the future; they live in the future.”

There are many leadership lessons we can learn from Bezos and a lot more featured leaders in David Rubenstein’s new book “How to Lead: Wisdom from the World’s Greatest CEOs, Founders, and Game Changers. However, I would recommend that you get the audio version of this so you can enjoy it even more.

(Connect with Francis Kong at www.facebook.com/franciskong2. or listen to “Business Matters” Monday to Friday 8 a.m. and 6:30 p.m. over 98.7 dzFE-FM ‘The Master’s Touch’, the classical music station.)

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