without Jeff Bezos?
That's what some investors may be wondering following reports that thecompany's chairman and chief executive officer survived a helicopter crashin Texas last week. Although Bezos, 39, presumably has many years of serviceto the company left in him, the frightening incident highlights hisimportance to the company, and Amazon's lack of an acknowledged No. 2.
"It would probably be more disruptive than you would imagine," said JeffMatthews, general partner of Greenwich, Conn.-based investment firm RamPartners, and a contributor to the
Web site. "It's a greatyellow flag for them, to make sure they do have a good guy or woman in placeto fill his shoes."
(Matthews has no position in Amazon.)
Bezos, who founded Amazon out of his garage in 1994, is, of course, morethan just the head of the company. To a larger extent than most CEOs, he'sthe public face of Amazon and the company's guiding visionary.
In that way, he's more akin to Martha Stewart than to Meg Whitman, whoserves as CEO of the other dot-com titan,
. Although Amazon's brand isnot wrapped up in Bezos' name, like Stewart's, he is the person thatinvestors and customers associate with Amazon.
"I think there's lot less of the company tied to
Whitman's cult of personality than at Amazon," Matthews said.
That wouldn't be so bad if Bezos had a clear-cut successor who couldassume his place in an emergency. But the company has seen the departure ofseveral senior executives over the last year.
Warren Jenson, the company's respected chief financial officer, left thecompany a year ago to become CFO of
Mark Britto, the company's senior vice president of worldwide sales, services and business development, left last June to become CEO of Keen.com, while David Risher, who served as senior vice president of marketing and product development, left in March 2002.
Although Amazon quickly replaced Jenson, the company has largely redistributed Risher and Britto's duties to other executives.
Meanwhile, the company has never replaced Joseph Galli, who served asits first president and chief operating officer, and essentially thecompany's second-in-command. Instead, Amazon named Bezos its presidentafter Galli left.
"There's no question about who's leading the company," said Jeff Fieler,who covers the company for Bear Stearns. He added, jokingly, "It wouldprobably be a bigger negative for Amazon
if something happened to Bezos,than for Bear if something happened to me."
A company spokesman declined to talk about Bezos' accident or thecompany's contingency plans if something were to happen to him.
Despite Bezos' importance to Amazon, some analysts warn not to get tooworried about what might happen to him. Noting Bezos' age, Fieler said thatthe chances something might incapacitate him anytime soon are pretty"remote."
Meanwhile, Amazon is no longer just a start-up operation, Fieler said.
"Amazon is big enough and has enough systems in place that it's more thanone man," he said. Bear Stearns has not recently done banking for Amazon.
And Amazon's management team may be deeper than it appears at firstglance, argued Shawn Milne, an analyst with SoundView Technology Group. TomSzkutak, who joined Amazon as its new CFO in October, formerly served as CFOof GE's lighting division, Milne noted.
Diego Piacentini, the company'ssenior vice president of worldwide retail and marketing, formerly headedApple Computer's overseas operations in Europe, Africa and the Middle East.
"They have a very strong management team, with good breadth," Milnesaid. (SoundView does not have any investment banking business with Amazon.)
But even Milne acknowledges that losing Bezos could be a blow to Amazon.
"If there is an issue with Jeff, it's the sentiment of him driving theship, that it's his vision," Milne said. "If he was gone, it would call intoquestion the vision."