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Amazon's Jeff Bezos as 'Businessperson of the Year': Can the book world learn from him?

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Gus Ruelas/Reuters

(Read caption) Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos says his inspiration for one of Amazon's new products, Kindle Serials, was author Charles Dickens, and he applies Dickens to his business, too. 'He would take notice of the criticism of the prior installments and use it to his advantage,' says Bezos. 'We innovate by starting with the customer and working backwards.'

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By and large, the book industry today is a beleaguered one, dogged by stagnant sales, bankruptcy, and failure to adapt to changing technology like self-publishing and digital books.

And yet there’s at least one shining success in the industry, a $100 billion empire built in the last couple of decades – on books. It’s an anomaly all in the book industry would do well to study, if they weren’t so busy dissing it. 

That’s right, we’re talking about Amazon – and we’re not the only ones. Founder and CEO Jeff Bezos was just named Fortune Magazine’s Businessperson of the Year, and the book, tech, and business worlds are buzzing.

In its profile, Fortune calls Bezos “the ultimate disruptor: He has upended the book industry and displaced electronics merchants…. He’s willing to take risks and lose money, yet investors have embraced him, pushing Amazon’s stock up 30 percent so far this year. And even as Amazon expands and experiments, Bezos remains zealous about delivering a good customer experience. For all these reasons and more, Fortune has named Bezos its 2012 Businessperson of the Year.”

The profile goes on to describe the strange mix of qualities that have made Bezos so successful: “clear thinking,” “cohesive vision,” “manic” competitiveness, famous frugality, shrewd ruthlessness, pragmatism, and reverence for invention and exploration.

“He’s a pro-customer, tightfisted risk-taker who is conditioning Wall Street to embrace his erratic earnings. If you’re running a business with high margins – watch out.”

What’s impressive about this honor is that the man at the helm of a $100 billion empire built on books edged out a slew of technology and telecommunications executives whose companies are well positioned in healthy, thriving industries.

And Bezos isn’t shy about his love of books and the role they play in his expansive empire. According to the profile, meetings with senior executives begin with “participants quietly absorbing the written word” as they “consume six-page printed memos,” called narratives, “in total silence for as long as 30 minutes.”

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