Why Jeff Bezos always thinks three years out and only makes a few decisions a day

Jeff Bezos
Photo by Franziska Krug

On Tuesday, Amazon announced its founder and CEO Jeff Bezos will step down later this year and take on an executive chair role. In all likelihood, it's something Bezos has had on his mind for a while. That's because Bezos has said he's always thinking three years out and only makes a few good decisions a day.

In the new book, "Invent & Wander: The Collected Writings of Jeff Bezos," Bezos said he, along with his senior staff, are always working "in the future," according to the book.

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"When I have a good quarterly conference call with Wall Street, people will stop me and say, 'Congratulations on your quarter,' and I say, 'Thank you,' but what I'm really thinking is that quarter was baked three years ago," Bezos said.

For example, right now, Bezos and his team are working on a quarter that's "going to reveal itself in 2023 sometime," according to writing, "Thinking Three Years Out," in the book.

"And that's what you need to be doing," Bezos said when you run a corporation with a market cap over a trillion dollars like Amazon. Having this long-term thinking approach, helps businesses focus on planning and where they should invest their energy, Bezos said in 2017 during the Internet Association's annual gala.

As CEO, it is also is critical that Bezos only makes a few decisions a day. "As a senior executive, what do you really get paid to do? You get paid to make a small number of high-quality decisions," he said.

Bezos, 56, said if he makes "three good decisions a day, that's enough, and they should just be as high quality as I can make them."

Things were different when Amazon was a start-up in the mid-1990s, he said. During that time, Bezos had to make hundreds of decisions a day and was even packing shipments and dropping them off at the post office himself.

But things changed quickly when Amazon went public in 1997 and the company's employee base grew from 158 to 614 people that year. Today, Amazon has more than 1 million employees worldwide.

To make good decisions, Bezos emulates fellow billionaire Warren Buffet's decision-making philosophy: "Warren Buffet says he's good if he makes three good decisions a year, and I really believe that," Bezos said.

This story has been updated to reflect the news of Bezos stepping down as Amazon CEO later in 2021.

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