‘Washington Post’ owner boldly goes where no internet retailer has gone before
Amazon founder and ‘Star Trek’ fan Jeff Bezos is a man of contradictions
Amazon chief executive and Washington Post owner Jeff Bezos. “If Mr Bezos can’t remember his pills, what hope is there of him remembering anything?” Photograph: J Emilio Flores/The New York Times
The vitamins-socks-wife combo was not quite Watergate but hints at something slightly creepy.
Fifteen years ago, I interviewed the founder of Amazon – then a relatively tiny company worth a mere $6 billion – over a croissant in a London hotel. It did not go terribly well as the entrepreneur was itching for the interview to be over so he could get back to selling books. On either side of him sat a minder, one of whom was holding a tape recorder.
Just as my time was up, Mr Bezos took out a little plastic bag containing five pills, which he proceeded to swallow. He explained that when he travels, his wife inserts vitamin pills into his socks. She packs one pair of socks for every day he is away and slips a bag of tablets into each – on the principle that she trusts him to change his socks daily but not to take his vitamins.
“She doesn’t want me to die,” he said, and let out one of his crazy laughs. “Ah! ha! ha! ha! ha!”
I don’t have the first idea why Mr Bezos has bought the Washington Post or what he thinks journalism is all about. But for me, what it is about is getting scoops like this. The sheer eccentricity of the vitamins-socks-wife combination struck me as a brilliant story. It’s not quite Watergate but still offers a rare glimpse into a life and hints at something enigmatic and slightly creepy.
It was made all the sweeter as the only other personal detail that anyone seems to know about the opaque Mr Bezos is that he likes Star Trek – which isn’t especially interesting. A geek who doesn’t like Star Trek – now, that would be a story.
So what exactly does vitamins-in-socksgate tell us about the US’s newest newspaper proprietor? For a start it shows that he is a man of contradictions.
At work, he applies his formidable intelligence to data. He starts every meeting with his senior team in silence that can last up to half an hour while everyone reads briefing papers and absorbs the facts before sounding off. Yet when it comes to taking vitamins – the rough equivalent of believing in UFOs – he seems to disregard the advice of most doctors who say adults with normal diets don’t need supplements.
If you have scurvy, vitamin C helps. If you’ve had a gastric bypass you also need vitamins. Otherwise you don’t.