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Thursday morning Fortune announces its annual list of the world’s greatest leaders. At the top is Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon
, of course, but also the owner of The Washington Post and sole financier of the rocketship company Blue Origin.
I wrote the magazine feature story on Bezos, and he granted Fortune rare access to all aspects of his business life. I spent an illuminating afternoon at The Washington Post, an institution that had been beaten down like much of the rest of the journalism industry and now has something of a spring in its step. I interviewed the top editorial, technical, and business leader there; each element is important in understanding the Post’s story under Bezos, who is passionate about the Post though uninvolved in its journalism.
At Blue Origin, in Kent, Wash., I encountered a surreal scene. The lobby has all sorts of space-nerd models and real artifacts from space missions. Inside the cavernous manufacturing floors I saw spaceships and rocket engines under construction. The company has been at it for 16 years, and now it is finally building a new world.
Then of course there is Amazon itself, the source of Bezos’s vast wealth—$46 billion at last count—and a hotbed of innovation. Amazon has so many things going at once that no man could possibly manage it all. In fact, Bezos delegates heavily and dives deeply into a handful of projects. Currently these include aspects of apparel, Amazon Web Services, and the company’s next-generation fulfillment centers.
Bezos is evolving, as is Amazon. This week, the company hosted a conference at a swank hotel in Palm Springs, Calif., geared toward robotics and machine-learning experts. In Seattle a couple weeks ago I asked Bezos if the company was becoming less frugal, a hallmark of its corporate culture. “Some things are so hard to measure that you have to just take them as articles of faith,” he said. If he were a politician that might read as a flip-flop or a rationalization. In a business leader such thinking is called an evolution.