Jeff Bezos is Right—Amazon is Too Big To Fail, Says Writer Who Profiled Company

In his new book, Bezonomics: How Amazon is Changing Our Lives and What the World's Best Companies are Learning From It, award-winning Fortune magazine writer Brian Dumaine discusses how the underlying principles such as automation and AI utilized by Jeff Bezos and Amazon have remade the way all companies do business and we live everyday life.

In this Q&A, Dumaine shares his views on whether Amazon is too big to fail, his rivalry with Alexa and his own favorite websites.

A star engineer resigned over Amazon's treatment of warehouse workers and the firing of whistleblowers during the pandemic. What kind of problems do you foresee for the company resulting from this chain of events?

Amazon made some mistakes handling safety issues during the pandemic, and the resignation of this engineer gives credence to those workers' complaints. The company, which said it will spend $4 billion on COVID-related safety issues, is working hard to address those problems, but its reputation as America's most-trusted brand has taken a hit. Also, Congress has asked Bezos to testify about uncompetitive practices, and he's sure to be grilled about his treatment of these workers, something the world's richest person can't be happy about.

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos Book Excerpt
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos participating in an event hosted by the Air Force Association September 19, 2018 in National Harbor, Maryland. Alex Wong/Getty

Why this book?

Amazon represents an inflection point in the way we live and do business. Bezos is digitizing the physical world. I wanted to examine what that will mean for all of us. Businesses will have to learn to integrate big data, machine learning, the Internet of Things and AI into their operations. This is not easy to do, and Amazon has a huge head start. Amazon didn't start as a bookseller. It started as a tech company that just happened to sell books. It has the latest tech in its DNA and keeps getting smarter and smarter. One of the facts that really surprised me is that Amazon has 10,000 engineers, scientists and others working on Alexa alone.

Then there are the societal implications. Amazon's drive for automation in everything from its warehouses and delivery vans is likely to lead to massive unemployment, and business and governments will have to work together to find solutions to that.

Bezos himself said "Amazon is not too big to fail." Do you agree?

In principle, Jeff is right—even some of the best companies eventually fail. While spending time at Amazon talking to its executives I didn't see any evidence of that. In fact, it was the opposite. Amazon is driving headlong into new industries. I think Jeff said it to keep his workers from being complacent. That's one of his greatest fears.

What do you think is the single most important thing behind Amazon's success?

I've never seen a corporate culture so single-mindedly focused on doing whatever it takes to please the customer. A lot of companies say that, but Amazonians really believe it and act on it. Every time I interviewed someone at the company, the phrase "everything is for the customer" came up as if Amazon's smart computer scientists had hardwired their brains. Now they're applying that fanaticism to new industries like media, health care, finance, consumer electronics and advertising. Watch out.

Are you a Luddite? Or an early adopter of technology? Somewhere in between?

Before I started researching this book I had Luddite tendencies, but the project forced me to fill my house with a few Alexa Echos, a Google Home and an Apple HomePod. My wife hates talking to Alexa, but I like it. I think she's jealous.

Are you an online shopper? Your favorite sites?

I shop online too much. I know it, but I can't help it. I love to research products online and the majority of the time I end up back on Amazon to find what I needed. I like Crate and Barrel for furniture and household goods—they seem to have things Amazon doesn't. And of course, Harry & David for sending holiday presents.

Are you a Prime member?

Yes. The thing about Prime is that you get so used to the convenience of free, fast shipping that you don't even price-comparison shop. You just hit the Amazon "Buy" button.

Delivery times during the pandemic have become much longer and even many staples are unavailable. Will this have long-term implications once things return to normal?

When demand for online goods surged, Amazon had to scramble. In March and April, it hired 175,000 frontline workers and is rushing to implement new safety protocols. Amazon being Amazon, it will eventually figure it out. This e-commerce giant will come out of this crisis stronger.

What's next for you?

I'm looking for the next global business titan to profile, but there are not a lot out there like Bezos.