Leadership

Jeff Bezos is the world's most powerful CEO—here's how he got there

This week, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos was named the world's most powerful CEO by Forbes. The tech mogul also took the No. 5 spot on the Forbes ranking of the "World's Most Powerful People" of 2018, ahead of Pope Francis and Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates.

It's been a big year for Bezos: He has not only become the richest man in the world, but he has also helped make Amazon the second most valuable company in the world, behind Apple. And his success can arguably be traced back to a risk he took when he was 30 years old.

Bezos was a straight-A high school student and the class valedictorian, and he got accepted via early admission to Princeton, according to Brad Stone's biography "The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon." He majored in computer science and electrical engineering, and then went on to work various finance and tech jobs after college.

It was while serving as a vice president at the hedge fund D. E. Shaw in the 1990s that Bezos came up with the idea to sell books over the Internet. Doing so, though, would mean taking a significant risk and perhaps sacrificing his stable job.

"I came across the fact that Web usage was growing at 2,300 percent per year," Bezos said in a 2010 address at his alma mater. "I'd never seen or heard of anything that grew that fast, and the idea of building an online bookstore with millions of titles — something that simply couldn't exist in the physical world — was very exciting to me."

At the 2017 Summit LA conference, Bezos recalled that, when he told his boss about his Internet bookstore idea, his boss said, "I think this is a good idea, but I think this would be an even better idea for somebody that didn't already have a good job."

That's when Bezos considered what his 80-year-old self would say if he did or didn't seize this opportunity.

"In most cases, our biggest regrets turn out to be acts of omission. It's paths not taken and they haunt us. We wonder what would have happened," Bezos said at Summit LA. "I knew that when I'm 80, I would never regret trying this thing that I was super excited about and it failing. If it failed, fine. I would be very proud of the fact when I'm 80 that I tried. I also knew that it would always haunt me if I didn't try."

After "a lot of soul-searching," Bezos quit his job to start his dream company. The decision paid off.

Here are the other top 10 most powerful CEOs of 2018, according to Forbes.

10. Ma 'Pony' Huateng

Tencent Inc. CEO Pony Ma Huateng arrives at the Great Hall of the People to attend the opening ceremony of the Fifth Session of the 12th National People's Congress (NPC) on March 5, 2017 in Beijing, China.
Tencent Inc. CEO Pony Ma Huateng arrives at the Great Hall of the People to attend the opening ceremony of the Fifth Session of the 12th National People's Congress (NPC) on March 5, 2017 in Beijing, China.

CEO of Tencent
Age: 46
Net worth: $45.3 billion
Oversees more than 44,000 employees

9. Elon Musk

Elon Musk speaks onstage at Elon Musk Answers Your Questions! during SXSW at ACL Live on March 11, 2018 in Austin, Texas.
Diego Donamaria | Getty Images | SXSW
Elon Musk speaks onstage at Elon Musk Answers Your Questions! during SXSW at ACL Live on March 11, 2018 in Austin, Texas.

CEO of Tesla and SpaceX
Age: 46
Net worth: $19.6 billion
Oversees more than 5,000 employees at SpaceX and 37,000 at Tesla

8. Tim Cook

Tim Cook, chief executive officer of Apple, Inc.
Daniel Acker | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Tim Cook, chief executive officer of Apple, Inc.

CEO of Apple
Age: 57
Net worth: $625 million
Oversees more than 80,000 employees

7. Doug McMillon

Doug McMillon, CEO of Wal-Mart.
David Orrell | CNBC
Doug McMillon, CEO of Wal-Mart.

CEO of Walmart
Age: 51
Net Worth: Unclear; his most recently reported compensation was $22.4 million
Oversees more than 2.3 million employees

6. Jack Ma

Jack Ma
David A. Grogan | CNBC
Jack Ma

CEO of Alibaba
Age: 53
Net worth: $41.3 billion
Oversees 66,421 employees

5. Jamie Dimon

Jamie Dimon
Adam Galica | CNBC
Jamie Dimon

CEO of JPMorgan Chase
Age: 62
Net worth: $1.31 billion
Oversees more than 250,000 employees

4. Warren Buffett

Warren Buffet walks the floor at the 2018 Berkshire Hathaway Annual Shareholder's Meeting in Omaha, NE on May 5th, 2018.
Lacy O'Toole | CNBC
Warren Buffet walks the floor at the 2018 Berkshire Hathaway Annual Shareholder's Meeting in Omaha, NE on May 5th, 2018.

CEO of Berkshire Hathaway
Age: 87
Net worth: $85.9 billion
Oversees 360,000 employees

3. Mark Zuckerberg

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg speaks during the F8 Facebook Developers conference on May 1, 2018 in San Jose, California.
Getty Images
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg speaks during the F8 Facebook Developers conference on May 1, 2018 in San Jose, California.

CEO of Facebook
Age: 33
Net worth: $74.2 billion
Oversees 27,742 employees

2. Larry Page

Larry Page chief executive officer of Google's parent company, Alphabet Inc.
David Paul Morris | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Larry Page chief executive officer of Google's parent company, Alphabet Inc.

CEO of Alphabet
Age: 45
Net worth: $51.1 billion
Oversees 88,110 employees

1. Jeff Bezos

Amazon and Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos
Photo by Bloomberg
Amazon and Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos

CEO of Amazon
Age: 54
Net worth: $132.5 billion
Oversees 566,000 employees

A majority of today's top CEOs are based out of the United States and lead tech or e-commerce companies. The list also features China's richest man, Ma 'Pony' Huateng, who leads tech giant Tencent. Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg is the youngest CEO at 33 while Berkshire Hathaway CEO Warren Buffett is the oldest at 87.

Other noteworthy CEOs who didn't make the top 10 but are on the Forbes overall list of the world's most powerful people include CEO of Google's parent company Alphabet Larry Page, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings, Disney CEO Bob Iger and Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella.

Many of today's most influential billionaires, Bezos, Hastings and Zuckerberg included, would agree that taking risks and thinking long-term are two crucial steps in setting yourself up for success. When Bezos built Amazon, his flexibility and ability to adapt allowed the company to go from selling books to selling just about everything.

If you're wondering what it takes to be a CEO, being able to adapt to your surroundings is just one of the four behaviors that a recent study of 2,600 leaders found will help you climb the ladder.

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