While Christmas is arguably the most wonderful time of the year, I’m always quite relieved to get back into the old routine when January comes around. Balancing Yuletide festivities with getting something of a break is always a challenge, with family and friends to catch up with and children to keep entertained.
I definitely had a few nice Christmas moments over the piece though. In no particular order, these included seeing our daughter sing carols with school friends, our son in his first nativity play, running through a winter wonderland-like frozen forest up on Deeside, driving home to Glasgow to see my parents and, last but not least, securing a decent-sized slice of a good friend’s annually-baked goose pie.
Festive television highlights – alongside an umpteenth watching of The Grinch and an amazing version of Under Pressure by David Bowie and Annie Lennox at a Freddie Mercury tribute concert I came across when channel hopping one night – included an extended interview with Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s founder, chairman and chief executive. Interviewed by US financier and philanthropist David Rubenstein and screened on Bloomberg, if you happen to be in need of a bit of inspiration for 2019, I’d thoroughly recommend a watch.
From Bezos’s daily habits (going to bed early and rising early, breakfasting with his kids and having “pottering time”), how he structures his work day (Bezos has his first meeting at 10am, always does “high IQ” meetings before lunchtime and believes senior executives are paid to make “a small number of high quality decisions”) and the causes he supports away from Amazon (primarily, pre-school education in low income communities and homelessness charities) it’s hard not to be impressed by the tech titan who retains his humility and apparent selflessness.
Born in New Mexico to a 17-year-old schoolgirl, Bezos founded space infrastructure business Blue Origin in 2000 (“I got to ride on the back of the pre-existing transportation system and telecommunications networks, so I want to build the infrastructure so the next generation can use it like I’ve used UPS to build Amazon”) and acquired The Washington Post in 2013 (“I knew nothing about newspapers but they needed somebody who understood the internet”). He talked about what he describes as “day one mentality” running through everything he does and, reflecting on how Amazon has a headcount of over half a million, says he still wants the tech giant to have the “heart and soul” of a start-up.
He discusses how his best decisions in business and life have been made with “heart, intuition and guts – not analysis” (something Bezos also describes as “the power of wandering”) and says the “secret sauce” of Amazon’s success has been an “obsessive compulsive focus on the customer, as opposed to the competition”.
Albeit on an extreme micro level, there were some affirming takeaways from the Bezos interview for me. On a personal level, I endeavour to spend as much time with my kids as possible, in spite of a fairly constant, heavy workload and, in terms of my work life, I have no shame in admitting to an OCD-like approach to my clients. If anything, the former (personal life) suffers from the latter (work life), but I think that is simply the nature of the beast and I’m okay with that. Helpfully, I think my wife is okay with it too.
I definitely adhere to Bezos’s wandering principle. I have never employed a business development function but, I think in essence by focusing on consistently doing the best possible job for my clients, over time the word has spread about the kind of commitment and thoroughness I extend to the companies I advise. From my side, intuition has been important in determining both the companies I want to work with and how I go about advising them.
- Nick Freer is a founding director of Freer Consultancy and Full Circle Partners