Though some are portraying Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’ July 20 plan to blast off into space as an impulsive publicity stunt, much more is at issue here than just the richest person on Earth moving on to conquer new worlds.
Bezos’ Blue Origin launch is the highest point of a career built on unflagging patience, unblinking vision and undaunted competitiveness. Others in business would be wise to take note of the lessons.
Let’s be clear about one thing up front: The launch is not a marketing gimmick. Bezos is smart enough to know that attention-seeking stunts are usually a sign of desperation.
Someone whose net worth exceeds the gross national product of 150 countries of the world does not have his back against any wall. Bezos clearly could afford to buy the best marketing for Blue Origin. He doesn’t need to put his own neck on the line for public relations.
Instead, Bezos’ decision to personally board his company’s first human spaceflight, with his brother and a paying customer as the second and third passengers, is the ultimate endorsement of confidence in his product. Like President Biden and Dr. Anthony Fauci receiving their first COVID-19 vaccinations on live television, Bezos would use a successful rocket launch to assure the world that his decision is safe.
He’s also trying to show the time is right to demonstrate progress on his long-term vision. Bezos is an unnaturally patient businessperson.
The Amazon precedent
For more than four years, he was brutally hammered by Wall Street analysts for not making a profit. Instead, Bezos plowed those Amazon
proceeds right back into building company capacity, footprint, distribution and the infrastructure for growth.
What other CEO of a major corporation had the guts to not care for so long about quarterly profits? While critics howled for short-term gains, Bezos stayed focused on the long-term viability of his company.
It’s the same kind of strategy that he devoted to voice-recognition technology, where he secretly invested years and many millions of dollars before it finally bore profitable fruit as Amazon’s blockbuster consumer hit Alexa.
Bezos’ push into space is just the latest sign of that quiet confidence and patience. He has dreamed of space travel since boyhood. He funded a team of researchers to recover the F-1 engines from Apollo 11, motivated not by profit or notoriety but by personal passion. And in the early 2000s, when he started assembling the 300,000 acres in West Texas that eventually became the home of his aerospace operation, Bezos shied away from publicity, granting his only interview to the local Van Horn Advocate, a weekly newspaper run from the back office of the town’s Radio Shack.
“He told me their first spacecraft is going to carry three people up to the edge of space and back,” Larry Simpson, publisher of the newspaper, told NBC News in 2005.
Sixteen years later, Bezos’ space plans have remained exactly the same — three people to the edge of space, where they are to remain weightless for three minutes before returning to Earth.
How many executives have a multi-billion-dollar side project that, 16 years later, is poised to deliver on an unprecedented goal?
Though Bezos may possess superhuman patience and intensity, he also is an extremely competitive person.
It must have driven him nuts to see a showboating rival like Tesla’s
Elon Musk pull ahead in the space race with his SpaceX, which plans to carry private citizens into orbit within a year. Another billionaire, Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Galactic
also is aiming to put humans in space in the same time frame.
The July 20 Blue Origin launch will give Bezos another chance to show off his prowess. Bezos hates to lose.
Most of all, though, Bezos has a vision that’s a hundred years out, thinking at a distance that no one else thinks. The rest of us may be wondering whether he’ll survive the launch. He’s thinking about how many people will be living on Mars generations from now. He’s thinking about his legacy in human exploration.
We may never have his fortune, but we can all learn from his patience, his intensity, and his competitive drive.
Scott J. Miller is the special adviser on thought leadership and former chief marketing officer at FranklinCovey.