When Jobs went to Memphis five years ago for a liver transplant, I was visiting Chengdu, China, but I quickly dashed off 500 words complaining about how investors had been kept in the dark about the state of Jobs' health, sneaking the copy out by piggy-backing on the WiFi of a nearby apartment.
The piece at ZDNet, for whom I was then working, got more than 300,000 readers, plus 500 comments and a death threat. Because I was paid based on page views, it was wildly profitable. That one column nearly paid for my trip.
Jeff Bezos of Amazon.com (AMZN) is no Steve Jobs. After he suffered an attack of kidney stones last week, while on a cruise in the Galapagos Islands, Amazon informed the media what was going on, and Bezos sent an email with Reaganesque wit:
"Galapagos: five stars. Kidney Stones: zero stars."
As a reporter and investor in the company, I give Amazon's reaction to Bezos' illness five stars as well.
The only quibble is that Bezos might have also given some stars to the Ecuadorean navy, which flew him by helicopter off his cruise ship for treatment. There was fear surgery might be needed, but the stones passed naturally. All should be well.
Bezos, who turns 50 on Jan. 12, has been running Amazon.com for 20 years, since 1994, and probably has another 10 to 15 years to go before he thinks of slowing down, although many entrepreneurs blow right by the normal retirement age of 65.
Still, an emergency like this reminds us all that none of us get out of life alive, and that death can come at any moment to the hardiest of us.
Which means we should probably focus a little time and attention today on Thomas Szkutak, 52. He has been senior vice president and CFO at Amazon since 2002, having joined from General Electric (GE). If Bezos passed away suddenly, power would first go to him.