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Five Things We Learned About Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos From His Rare Public Appearance

He thinks dishwashing is sexy as hell.

Jason Del Rey
Jason Del Rey has been a business journalist for 15 years and has covered Amazon, Walmart, and the e-commerce industry for the last decade. He was a senior correspondent at Vox.

Jeff Bezos made a rare public appearance on Tuesday, when Business Insider CEO Henry Blodget interviewed him onstage at the media company’s New York City conference (Bezos is an investor in Business Insider). It was an entertaining 45 minutes, with interesting revelations about Amazon’s succession plan (there is one!) and the Fire phone (more are coming!). Here are five other things we learned about the Amazon CEO from the Blodget-Bezos bonanza.

Amazon’s definition of employee perks might be different from yours.

Blodget peppered Bezos with questions about why Amazon is “famously frugal” and doesn’t match the type of employee perks that other high-profile tech companies offer — there are no free lunches at Amazon cafeterias, for example, and the cash components of employee salaries are often well below those of top competitors.

Bezos argued that Amazon has its own “very significant benefits.” One is Amazon’s location in the city of Seattle, instead of a suburban campus. That allows 20 percent of employees to walk to work.

Then there are the food trucks. “We have an unbelievable food truck scene around our headquarters,” he said. “It’s out of control, actually.” Amazon also allows employees to bring their dogs to work. But the real showstopper may be office windows that open, Bezos said. You read that right.

“People, it turns out, really like fresh air,” he said. Take that, Google!

Bezos spends six hours a year meeting with investors.

Like other tech companies, Amazon has expressed little interest in accommodating Wall Street’s demands for care and feeding. In recent years, that has meant that Amazon has failed to generate anything more than a tiny profit. But it also means that Bezos doesn’t spend much time courting shareholders who aren’t on board with his vision. “We don’t meet with our biggest investors,” he said. “We meet with investors who have low portfolio turns.”

Amazon’s protracted and ugly public dispute with book publisher Hachette hasn’t changed Bezos’s mind.

Despite Amazon’s contract agreement with Hachette, Bezos’s tune hasn’t changed about the need for book prices to decrease. “It’s very difficult for incumbents who have a sweet thing to accept change,” he said.

Bezos thinks the media has been really kind to him and to Amazon. (He’s right!)

Blodget asked Bezos if he was surprised by the amount of vitriol directed at the company during the Hachette dispute.

“We’ve been treated extremely well by the press and the media, and certainly by customers,” Bezos said. “So I have no complaints. I think we’ve been treated way above average over time and I’m grateful for that.”

Bezos even had some mildly positive things to say about journalist Brad Stone’s book about Amazon, which Bezos’s wife ripped in a famous one-star review.

Stone, Bezos said, did a very good job of capturing the culture of Amazon during its early days. At the same time, he said the book gives him too much credit and does not do enough to acknowledge the roles of several employees he wouldn’t name. Of his wife’s review, he told Blodget there was no chance he would “sit up here onstage and tell you my wife is wrong.”

He doesn’t have maid-controlled drones doing the dishes at home.

“I do the dishes every night,” Bezos said. And, without any prompting, he offered this awkward follow-up: “I’m pretty convinced it’s the sexiest thing I do.”

Bezos also made a point to tell the audience that his eldest of four children, a 14-year-old son, was the last of his classmates to get a smartphone. But the younger Bezos seems to have a sense of humor. When the only other student in his class finally got a phone, he sent an email to his classmates saying, “And then there was one,” his dad told the audience.

If Papa Bezos is a good dad, we’re trusting he didn’t force the Fire phone on his son.

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