Good morning, Quartz readers!
In a few months, Jeff Bezos will step down as CEO of the sprawling empire that he founded nearly 27 years ago, taking on the role of executive chairman. Amazon is the fourth most valuable US company, as of this writing, the second largest US employer, and has had the second best performance of any stock since going public in 1997. More than any other company, it has taught the world to buy things online.
How will we remember the Bezos era? Tech analyst Ben Thompson has called him “arguably the greatest CEO in tech history,” and the financial data backs that up. Harvard Business Review’s CEO rankings put Bezos first in financial performance among S&P 1200 executives every year from 2014 to 2019. (The magazine did not publish a ranking in 2020.) But when it added social and environmental performance to its ranking in 2015, Bezos fell from first to 87th.
That drop points to the difficulty of assessing Bezos’s legacy, at least so far. Should we remember him as a customer-obsessed founder? A long-term thinker and internet visionary? A 21st century robber baron? A union buster? Is he an enabler of small businesses or their archenemy? What should we make of his role as the owner of the Washington Post or his commitment to furthering space travel?
For Quartz members this week, we asked 11 thoughtful experts from business, academia, labor, and policy to assess Jeff Bezos’s legacy. Their answers capture the complexity of one of the most influential CEOs of our era, and offer a guide for aspiring leaders who hope to learn from his success without necessarily following in his footsteps.
As a kid, Bezos admired Thomas Edison, and two of our respondents drew the comparison—journalist Brad Stone, who has written two books on Bezos, called him “the Thomas Edison of the internet era.” Edison’s greatest achievement was arguably the lab he created at Menlo Park, New Jersey, which redefined the process of invention itself. Likewise, Bezos’s legacy is tied up in the organization he created in Amazon. Whatever he does next, he will be judged in large part by what he did in the role he is about to vacate. —Walter Frick
✦ To explore the many sides of Bezos, we also charted his legacy, examined his influence in Africa, unpacked the books on Bezos that Amazon recommends, and looked at how Bezos’s 1997 letter to Amazon shareholders became a blueprint for the company’s success. If you’re not yet a Quartz member, sign up for a seven-day free trial and we’ll bring all that directly to your doorstep—er, inbox.
Five things from Quartz we especially liked
Running on empty. Covid-19 has been disastrous for American nursing homes. Ninety percent are operating at a loss or with razor-thin margins, and a third expect to have to close within a year. Pretty much everything about senior care facilities, from the way they’re funded to the care they can offer, needs to change, writes Lila MacLellan. We have an opportunity to fix a heartbreakingly flawed industry, but doing so will require immense public pressure and political will. —Katherine Bell, editor in chief
Covid-19 has plunged the world’s garment workers into crisis. Slowing retail sales have prompted canceled orders and delayed payments at factories in countries like Cambodia and Bangladesh, putting the livelihoods of people who make clothing for companies like Gap and Target in jeopardy. Marc Bain explains that while clothing supply chains make it hard to hold any one party accountable, the best bet may be to put pressure on corporations to put principles ahead of profits. —Sarah Todd, senior reporter
It’s hard to run a multinational business. Especially when you’re trying to make a buck in countries that don’t get on well. HSBC finds itself in a tough situation—that its critics might say is largely self-inflicted—by having to toe the line with Chinese and Western governments. Mary Hui, Jane Li, and Annabelle Timsit explain what the bank might have to do to survive. —Hasit Shah, news editor
How much is too much? That’s the question about the Biden administration’s $1.9 trillion stimulus plan. There are reasons to think support of that magnitude is necessary, especially considering the pandemic’s toll on lower-income workers and small businesses. But how the money gets used also matters. Tim Fernholz details the ways the support could be made better—like by including more aid for children—to get the most bang for the buck. —John Detrixhe, senior reporter
This virtual economy is doing just fine. As prices of virtual assets, a.k.a. non-fungible tokens, go berserk, Samanth Subramanian takes us on a charming tour of the more tranquil economy of Second Life. Here, the emphasis is on living, not profiteering, so a digital kitten is worth $4.30, not the $600,000 recently fetched by a rainbow-trailing cat meme. That makes the old-school online world not only a haven from the pandemic, but from market bubbles as well. —Ana Campoy, deputy finance and economics editor
One membership thing that made us 🎵
TikTok has altered the contours of the music industry, from artists’ path to stardom to the power of record company executives. Here’s a brief history of how we got here:
2016: Video-sharing app Douyin debuts in China.
2017: TikTok, similar to Douyin but English-language and using a separate server, launches around the world.
December 2018: Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road” storms TikTok. A few months later the song wins the rapper two Grammys.
2019: TikTok hits 1 billion downloads.
August 2020: US president Donald Trump tries to ban TikTok, citing security concerns.
2020: TikTok is the most downloaded app of the year.
February 2021: US president Joe Biden halts TikTok’s sale to Oracle and Walmart.
We’re obsessed with immunity
An internal security system. Viruses, bacteria, parasites, and fungi all want in on our cells’ goods (read: nutrients, genetic copying equipment, etc.). Thankfully, we’ve got a defense against these microbial freeloaders: our immune systems. Dozens of types of cells patrol our bodies to look out for trouble, flagging and dismantling threatening pathogens. How is it that these collections of cells work to keep us healthy? And why is it so hard to train them to respond the way we want to with vaccines? The Quartz Weekly Obsession gives it our best shot.
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Five things from elsewhere that made us smarter
No apologies. For millions of people in the US, obesity has been a source of stigma—despite the fact that body-mass index, the figure that determines obesity, is a racist, sexist, outdated measure. Now, these same individuals have gotten the go-ahead to register for coveted Covid-19 vaccines. For Vogue, Emma Specter writes about the conflicting feelings of shame many experience for receiving a vaccine for a condition the medical establishment has blamed and judged them for, and relief that a jab will lower the risk of getting sick with or spreading a deadly virus. —Katherine Ellen Foley, health and science reporter
Living through dark times and coming out ahead. For the Financial Times, author David Bodanis explains how the resentment and fear many of us are feeling right now can become energy, then clarity, and finally lead to creativity. These may be the worst of times, but for a lucky, motivated few, it could be an opportunity to take a leap into the unknown—and change your life. —Annabelle Timsit, geopolitics reporter
Interstellar games. As if it wasn’t enough to give us a change of scenery, by showing us around a new planet when we can barely leave home, NASA’s Perseverance team gave us a chance to play, too. As Kenneth Chang writes in the New York Times, the story of how a secret message was included in the spacecraft’s parachute and how a father-and-son duo deciphered it remotely is a delightful reminder that, no matter how far you’re flying, a little lightness will only push you further. —Annalisa Merelli, reporter
Reframing Britney Spears. The pop star’s seductive image during her rise threatened a society that couldn’t handle a teen girl in control of her sexuality. At least that’s the story portrayed in the new documentary about Spears’s battle to regain legal control of her life, Tavi Gevinson argues in The Cut. In reality, she argues, Spears was never in control. For women, sexual desirability does not confer genuine power, however much they may be led to believe it does, a fact Gevinson learned firsthand. —Marc Bain, senior reporter
We’ve come this far. The more I read about the light at the end of the pandemic tunnel, the more the rest of the tunnel seems frustratingly dull. But this edition of the Atlantic Daily reminded me of the encouraging advice we were all giving each other at the start. Let’s access that same energy and discover (or rediscover) all of these activities that we were so good about… for awhile. My only gripe with these Atlantic staffer tips—which will strengthen you for these last few miles—is that you should absolutely cut bangs. —Susan Howson, email editor, bangs wearer
Our best wishes for a relaxing but thought-filled weekend. Please send any news, comments, new TikTok bops, and simple pandemic-era pleasures to email@example.com. Get the most out of Quartz by downloading our app and becoming a member. Today’s Weekend Brief was brought to you by Walter Frick and Liz Webber.