By: Victoria Yates
Jeffrey Preston Jorgensen was born on January 12th 1964 in Albuquerque, New Mexico to Jacklyn Gise Jorgensen, a teenage mother, and Ted Jorgensen. The marriage broke up after a year, and Jacklyn went on to remarry Miguel Bezos, a Cuban immigrant, who adopted the then five-year-old Bezos.
The family moved to Houston where Bezos attended River Oaks Elementary School. His maternal grandparents had retired to their ancestral home, a ranch in Cotulla, Texas, and Bezos spent many of his summers there helping with daily chores or repairing equipment. His skill for innovation was clear, regularly displaying his aptitude as a child in around-the-house projects like an alarm for his room to keep his siblings out.
The family later moved to Miami where Bezos graduated valedictorian from Miami Palmetto Senior High School. Alongside school he attended the Student Science Training Program at the University of Florida. In 1982, Bezos won the Silver Knight Award from the Miami Herald, an accolade that recognizes students who maintain good grades while applying their unique skills to help their schools or communities.
Bezos went on to study at Princeton University where he majored in electrical engineering and computer science. After graduating summa cum laude in 1986, Bezos took a job on Wall Street, working to build a network for start-up company Fitel. After two years, he moved on to head computer systems development at Bankers Trust, becoming the company’s youngest vice president in 1990.
Also in 1990, Bezos moved to D.E. Shaw & Co where his love of computers helped to turn the firm into the most technologically advanced hedge fund on Wall Street. Bezos again worked his way up in the company, becoming the youngest senior vice president at the firm in 1992.
Despite his success in finance, Bezos was inspired by the burgeoning potential of the internet and, in 2004, set out on a cross country road trip to Seattle with his wife MacKenzie, Bezos typing out a business plan for Amazon.com along the way.
He had already started planning his new venture in New York. Looking for a new avenue to harness technology, Bezos had noted that because of the high cost of mailing, comprehensive catalogues mail order bookstores weren’t viable. With the emergence of the Internet, however, a company would be able to offer a wide-ranging selection of books to customers without needing a physical presence on the high street.
Bezos spent time studying the book industry and made several recruitment trips to California to meet with programmers. On one such trip, he convinced Shel Kaphan to become Amazon.com’s first employee.
The Amazon website was first trialed in June 1995, before it being launched for customers in every state and 45 countries on the 16th of July that year. Consumers immediately flocked to the site as Bezos and his team continued to hone it, adding new features like one-click shopping and customer reviews.
From the start, Bezos was keen to hear from customers about how Amazon could do better, introducing electronic products like music and VHS after receiving emails from users. The company expanded quickly, starting websites in the United Kingdom, Germany, Japan and France within its first few years.
The company faced a crisis when the dot-com world began to suffer at the turn of the millennium. Shares plunged and Bezos was forced to lay off 1,300 workers in February 2001.
Despite this, Amazon defied the difficult environment that was forcing many dot-coms to close, continuing to not only survive but expand. Amazon partnered with other companies like Borders and Toys’R’Us as well as offering clothing from big name retailers like The Gap. By 2003, the company reported a net income of $73.2 million. Today, Amazon is worth over $100 billion.
Bezos’ continued focus on innovation and on customer service has kept the company at the forefront of online vending. Amazon has dramatically reshaped the book and movie retail landscape with traditional brick and mortar stores struggling to match the catalog and convenience of the site.
The company’s enduring success has made Amazon a model for e-commerce and catapulted Bezos to guru status in the online world. Amazon remains the dominant leader in its market, and neither it nor Bezos shows signs of slowing down just yet.