If you thought the Fire Phone was a flop, consider the Jeff Bezos ideas that never made it off the drawing board. In a Fortune profile naming the Amazon CEO the No. 1 World’s Greatest Leader today, the Washington Post’s CTO Shailesh Prakash was quoted recalling a rather peculiar idea.
Bezos, who purchased the Post in 2013, suggested a feature in which a reader who didn’t care for an article to could pay to “disemvowel” (remove all the vowels) from the piece. Other readers, in this strange theoretical world of news junkie racketeering, would then pay to reinstate the vowels so they could get on with their reading.
But Bezos would not have topped Fortune’s annual list if he didn’t also have a lot of very good ideas. Amazon is constantly growing its team and expanding wildly into new ventures like commercial freight, fashion and brick-and-mortar retail. Bezos recently opened up his Blue Origin facility to journalists, for the first time, after successfully landing a used rocket. And, as Fortune notes, the Washington Post’s monthly traffic is up from 30.5 million in October 2013 to 73.4 million last month.
The success of these ventures speaks to Bezos’ business acumen, but he makes it clear in the profile that getting into the newspaper and space businesses were decisions driven by passion.
“I would not have bought the Washington Post if it had been a financially upside-down salty-snack-food company,” he told Fortune. “We need institutions that have the resources and the training and the skill, expertise, to find things.”
As for Blue Origin, which Bezos is funding out of pocket, his motivation is even more personal.
“Nobody gets into the space business because they’ve done an exhaustive analysis of all the industries they might invest in and they find that the one with the least risk and the highest returns on capital is the space business,” he said.
Still Jeff Bezos’ interventions in the two ventures have clearly helped drive their success. His role at Amazon, which exec Jeff Wilke says has evolved from “being more prescriptive to teaching and refining” has been defining the company’s leadership culture for over 20 years.
The good fortune of all three businesses sits just fine with infamously intense Seattle billionaire.