The Year I bought Jeff Bezos Lunch
The year was 1997. My office was right above the NBC studios at Rockefeller Center. On the way to work, I walked past the same people I had seen 30 minutes earlier on TV in my Upper East Side studio apartment when I watched Good Morning, America.
20 years ago, the internet was still a curiosity for most. Two years earlier, in 1995, I had created my first website. The client was Chicago Title Company. This did not strike me as meaningful much less as a sign of things to come.
My assignment in New York City at Siegel & Gale, a prominent corporate identity firm of its day, included the management of the firm’s fledgling interactive operations. The drumbeat of the dotcom revolution was still faint, but everyone in the marketing communications business knew they needed to be a part of it. Concurrently, advertising agencies, public relations, and design firms consolidated their operations globally, and everything became a brand.
One day on short notice, I was told to join other executives in the conference room to meet a guy named Jeff Bezos. I don’t remember much about the meeting except that the head of Siegel & Gale talked and Jeff Bezos listened. Everyone who was there knew about his plans to sell books online. None of us knew that he had much greater ambitions. In hindsight, I know that he was just gathering intelligence.
After the hour-long meeting, someone assigned Jeff an empty cubicle so he could make a few phone calls. Oddly, nobody had arranged for a company lunch with him. Being hungry myself, I offered to buy him a sandwich. I walked a few blocks to one of the world’s best delis. For myself, I ordered my favorite pastrami sandwich. I don’t remember what Jeff asked me to get for him. I should have asked him for a job in return.
Over the years, I followed Amazon with professional interest. Being involved with online branding, the Amazon name surfaced again when I was Creative Director at the Landor Associates office in Seattle. The San Francisco firm was the west coast competitor of Siegel & Gale and wanted to pitch their branding services to Amazon. Nothing came of it, quite the contrary. I lost my job due to the dot-com bust, and later the Seattle office closed its doors.
So I changed careers while Amazon kept on growing. The company’s smart branding showed me that Jeff Bezos had listened carefully. To this day I don’t know who is responsible for Amazon’s branding. I do know that the company made its brand stand for excellence in customer service. As a consumer, I came to appreciate that service.
In 2002 when I started in real estate, Amazon launched its web services business known today as AWS. The number of employees rose dramatically, and so did their need for housing. Consequently, Amazon employees became my clients. The first one relocated from Chicago. I have helped his family to settle in Seattle some twelve years ago. Over the years, I enjoyed helping them with the purchase of three homes and the sale of two. My most recent Amazon home buyer relocated to Seattle from California.
Our son who was in seventh grade when I bought Jeff Bezos lunch now works for Amazon.
You never know.
First published by Gerhard as his
November 2017 View from the Street Newsletter.