Jeff Bezos has told Amazon’s staff that the company will fail one day. This is of course true and obvious. Nothing human made lasts for ever, companies rather less than many other things. The world’s oldest company lasted about 1200 years or so (A Japanese sake maker? Or was it soy sauce?) before it fell over just a few years ago. And the average is very much shorter than that – the average age of a company in the S&P 500 these days is only about 20 years.
Businesses are fragile things, something all to many of us really just don’t grasp at any intuitive level:
‘I predict one day Amazon will fail. Amazon will go bankrupt’: Jeff Bezos makes surprise admission about Amazon’s life span
There’s nothing surprising about this at all. Jeff Bezos will die, you and I will too. None of the three of us is going to be assumed into heaven directly, nor ascend on a fiery chariot. So too with any business or other human activity. It’ll fail, eventually, die. Because that’s just what does happen, even mountains die in the end as the sand on any and every beach tells us.
“Amazon is not too big to fail,” Bezos said, in a recording of the meeting that CNBC has heard. “In fact, I predict one day Amazon will fail. Amazon will go bankrupt. If you look at large companies, their lifespans tend to be 30-plus years, not a hundred-plus years.”
Yep, Bezos is just observing reality there. Of course, it’s not quite the same thing as saying, well, we’ve been in business 30 years so we’ll all go home now. Just as with us humans, there’s the fight against the dying of the light to consider:
The key to fending off the inevitable, Bezos continued, is for Amazon to “obsess over customers” and to avoid looking inward, worrying about itself.
“If we start to focus on ourselves, instead of focusing on our customers, that will be the beginning of the end,” he said. “We have to try and delay that day for as long as possible.”
Quite so. The universe itself is a fight against entropy which is a rather grander thought than what happens to an online tchotchke seller but the point does still stand. It’s the most unlikely and rare businesses which last a century or more. We might well expect Amazon to manage that but nothing at all is certain. That Amazon will go bankrupt, sure, Bezos is correct. The only question is when.