Last week, when Time magazine named Amazon.com chief executive and founder Jeffrey Bezos its “Person of the Year,” I greeted the announcement with a measure of ambivalence.
On one hand, Time editor Walter Isaacson’s reasoning for choosing the 35 year-old Bezos has some merit: “This year it was easier than most,” Isaacson explained, “because there were two great themes of the year — online shopping and dot-com mania. The minute we thought of Bezos, it was obvious that he embodied both.”
On the other hand, Issacson’s reasoning seems to have left a few key components out.
Heavy Losses Despite Skyrocketing Sales
No one can deny that Bezos has enjoyed incredible success. After all, the bookstore that he launched in his two-bedroom rented home in a Seattle, Washington suburb has grown into an online powerhouse that is expected to crank out $8 billion (US$) in revenue this year.
Additionally, no one can argue with the fact that shares of Amazon have risen by 76 percent this year and 5,571 percent since it went public in 1997.
Still, despite Amazon’s skyrocketing sales and stock price, the company has accumulated $550 million in losses. Issacson seems to have ignored the fact that, despite projections showing that the giant online retailer could more than double its fourth-quarter sales, no one is talking about profits.
Two Alternative Nominees
If it had been my call to choose whose mug would have been displayed on Time’s cover, it would have come down to two people whom I believe will have a far greater impact on e-commerce than Bezos ever will.
My first alternative nominee is the 29 year-old Linus Torvalds, who created the Linux operating system while attending the University of Helsinki in Finland.
This alternative to the Windows operating system now runs some of the most sophisticated computers in the world, including research computers at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). Importantly, unlike Windows, the Linux software is free and its source code is public domain.
For this reason, Torvalds’ impact on the world will be felt for decades to come, while Amazon.com may soon end up as a footnote to history.
The Man Who Stood Up To Gates
My second substitute nominee for Time’s person of the year is Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson.
I believe that this tough but fair-minded judge will go down in the history books as the man who stood up to Bill Gates and Co. I can only imagine the kind of pressure that the good judge must have faced before deciding to declare Microsoft a monopoly.
It takes someone of principle to make such a tough call, especially when engaged in a face-off with the world’s richest human being.
Ultimately, the fact of the matter is that the long-term ramifications of Judge Jackson’s decision will play out over the next century. This reason alone, in my opinion, makes him a much worthier candidate for Time’s title than Bezos.
So, who is your pick for person of the year? Let’s talk about it.