03 Oct 2017
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Can Bezos’s Ties to Boston—and HBS—Seal the Deal?


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Photo by Matthew Ryan Williams/New York Times/File

In the battle to land Amazon’s second American headquarters, Boston may have an historical advantage with CEO Jeff Bezos.

A recent Boston Globe article details Bezos ties to the area, which began with a visit to HBS campus 20 years ago.

Since the founder of Amazon showed up to speak at a class at Harvard Business School in 1997, Bezos has invested in a handful of local companies—and bought others, sometimes pulling their leaders out to Seattle to work with him directly. He has overseen the growth of local Amazon offices, which now employ more than 3,000 techies and white-collar workers, separate from Amazon’s logistics operations and distribution centers in the state.

Those early HBS visits, the article notes, were to drop in at a class taught by current Senior Lecturer Jeffrey Rayport, who wrote an early case study on Amazon.

It was the late 1990s, and the company was on the verge of its Nasdaq stock market debut. But Bezos was still feeling frugal. He didn’t want to spring for a cab from Logan to the Harvard campus, so some MBA students vied to give him a lift. Two of them, Rayport recalls, were promptly hired to work at Amazon — they helped the company add DVDs and consumer electronics devices to Amazon’s online storefront.

HBS would continue to play a role in Amazon’s development, with the article noting that two of Amazon’s earliest acquisitions included local companies founded by Warren Adams (MBA 1998) and Stig Leschly (MBA 1997). More recent acquisitions included North Reading’s Kiva Systems, founded by Mick Mountz (MBA 1996).

Regarding the headquarters decision, Russ Wilcox (MBA 1995), who cofounded E Ink–which would become a key supplier for the Amazon Kindle—says the Bezos might be employing a tactic he often used with suppliers.

If one city sets a policy that the company doesn’t like, or isn’t willing to rezone a chunk of land, Bezos would be able to say “the next 10,000 jobs could go into either of our headquarters locations. What are you willing to do for us now?” Wilcox predicts. “He’s going to be able to auction the two cities against each other.”

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