08 February 2021

Insider: “Jeff Bezos reveals what it’s like to build an empire and become the richest man in the world”

Bezos: Yes. This is super important to me, and I believe on the longest timeframe — and really here I’m thinking of a timeframe of a couple of hundred years, so over millions of decades — I believe and I get increasing conviction with every passing year, that Blue Origin, the space company, is the most important work that I’m doing. And so there is a whole plan for Blue Origin.

Döpfner: Really, so you’d say retail, e-commerce, clouds, publishing — that’s all less relevant than the space project?

Bezos: Yes, and I’ll tell you why.

First of all, of course, I’m interested in space, because I’m passionate about it. I’ve been studying it and thinking about it since I was a 5-year-old boy. But that is not why I’m pursuing this work. I’m pursuing this work, because I believe if we don’t we will eventually end up with a civilization of stasis, which I find very demoralizing. I don’t want my great-grandchildren's great-grandchildren to live in a civilization of stasis. We all enjoy a dynamic civilization of growth and change.

Mathias Döpfner

In light of the Jeff Bezos’s recent announcement that he is stepping down as Amazon CEO to focus on Blue Origin among other things, I have dug up this older interview where he talks at length about his vision for humanity in space. Despite criticism for his business practices, I support his drive for expansion into outer space, and I think he is more suited to deliver on this vision than Elon Musk.

Jeff Bezos announces plans to build a rocket-manufacturing plant
Amazon founder and Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos announces plans to build a rocket-manufacturing plant and launch site at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, September 15, 2015. HO/Mike Brown/Space Florida

Over the coming years, I expect the competition in the space launch industry between Bezos and Musk to grow even fiercer. There are already signs of pushback against Starlink’s aggressive launch schedule, from challenging the federal subsidies to provide rural broadband service SpaceX won under the Trump administration, to challenging proposed changes to satellites’ orbits, and Jeff Bezos is backing at least one of these moves. I’m not particularly keen on the idea of another massive satellite constellation, but I consider anything that delays Starlink’s deployment a positive.

This work-life harmony thing is what I try to teach young employees and actually senior executives at Amazon too. But especially the people coming in. I get asked about work-life balance all the time. And my view is, that’s a debilitating phrase because it implies there’s a strict trade-off. And the reality is, if I am happy at home, I come into the office with tremendous energy. And if I am happy at work, I come home with tremendous energy. It actually is a circle; it’s not a balance. And I think that is worth everybody paying attention to it. You never want to be that guy — and we all have a coworker who’s that person — who as soon as they come into a meeting they drain all the energy out of the room. You can just feel the energy go whoosh! You don’t want to be that guy. You want to come into the office and give everyone a kick in their step.

Jeff Bezos

In another interview around the same time, he supports NASA’s current plan to return to the Moon as a stepping stone in the journey to Mars, which I also consider a sensible proposal:

Boyle: I wanted to ask about the White House’s lunar initiative and what you thought about that.

Bezos: I am a big fan. I don’t like to skip steps, and I always thought that this idea of going to Mars without building a permanent base on the moon was … I believe it would end the same way Apollo did, where we would do it, there would be a ticker-tape parade, and then 50 years of nothing. And so I hate that idea. It’s out of sequence.

The special ops guys and the firefighters around the world have this great phrase. They say Slow is smooth, and smooth is fast, and that is true. Everything I’ve accomplished in my life has been because of that attitude. We don’t skip steps, and we’ve got to go back to the moon.

Alan Boyle

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