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26 December 2011

One Click by Richard L.Brandt

The Amazon effect. Hard to ignore. It's already led to significant changes on our local high streets. Bookshops have almost vanished, and those that remain struggle for profits. Pavement footfall on a cold winter's day has been replaced by mouse clicks by the fireside.

Richard Brandt's excellent book brings to life the story of Jeff Bezos - the man, the business executive and the visionary. And it explains in wonderful details how Amazon grew from the humblest of beginnings, to be mentioned in the same breath as Google and Apple.

There are fascinating insights into Bezos's early life. It's easy to see how his self-reliant, NASA-influenced, book-filled upbringing led to such high academic achievements and a love of technology. A boundless self belief helped sling shot him into a highflying executive career and ultimately to become one of the world's most influential entrepreneurs.

Yet, it was the early Internet, and its 2,300% yearly growth, that really caught his attention. A huge business opportunity just waiting to be tapped. The result was a classic US West Coast startup story, beginning as it did with a garage, one computer, two employees, a wife and a short course on book selling.

Amazon's stellar growth was only possible by forgoing all notion of profits, cutting non-essential costs, operating with a can-do attitude and attracting the right kind of investors. A strategy that resulted in a stock market floatation after only two years, those original $18 shares yielding a company valuation of $429 million. Only one year later the shares were $105, raising the valuation to in excess of $5 billion.

Despite the problems caused by the dotcom crash, Amazon expanded into CDs, DVDs, games and a host of other marketplaces - a trend that continues today with their wildly successful Kindle ebook devices. Yet, like any natural entrepreneur Bezos is always looking for the next big thing. The groundbreaking Amazon Web Services, which provide hosting services for a multitude of other companies (even some competitors), only confirms his impressive vision and boldness.

Amazon's phenomenal success, and his own billionaire status, has allowed Bezos to indulge in very personal projects. The Blue Origin company - with its aim of safe, affordable, commercial space flights - has its roots in those early childhood dreams of space exploration and NASA achievements.

On reading this book, it's clear the success of Amazon is down to Jeff Bezos's highly individual thinking, customer-obsessed focus, unconventional management style, unshakable self-belief and undoubted entrepreneurial skills - with an occasional slice of lady luck thrown in.

It's also clear Richard Brandt has the gift of conveying considerable amounts of information with splendid clarity, while maintaining a satisfying pace and sense of movement. I for one will be reading more of his work.

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