A day after unveiling his first major charitable initiative (an announcement that arrived, coincidentally, we're sure, after a bruising week of headlines detailing the latest crop of worker-abuse allegations directed at Amazon), Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos (also the world's wealthiest man) disappointed hundreds of powerful people who had convened to hear him speak - as rumors swirled that he might reveal the location of Amazon's much-hyped HQ2 - last night at the Economic Club of Washington DC. But instead of an outright reveal, Bezos assured his audience that Amazon plans to announce the location by the end of the year, though he wouldn't elaborate beyond that.
According to CNBC, Bezos, who was interviewed by private equity titan David Rubenstein, assured his audience that Amazon's team is "working hard" on evaluating the finalists (the company announced 20 finalists earlier this year).
"The answer is very simple...We will answer the decision before the end of the year," Bezos said. "We will get there." Bezos swiftly changed the subject to his recently launched "Day One" charitable fund, which he recently seeded with $2 billion of his personal fortune.
As is his nature, Bezos shared his intentions to expand the "Day One" fund as his team learns more about the "business" of philanthropy.
"I believe in the power of wandering," Bezos said. "All of my best decisions in business and life have been made with heart, intuition, guts — not analysis."
He later said he would like to invest "a lot of money" in an enterprise that most rational investors would view as a "really bad investment", a statement that turned into a plug for his Blue Origin space exploration company.
"If I can't make Blue Origin a for-profit thing, maybe I'll convert it to non-profit some distant point in the future, but I wouldn't want that," Bezos said. "I want it to be a thriving ecosystem more like UPS and FedEx."
As the conversation turned to the early days of Amazon, Bezos said he was attracted to the Emerald City because of the proximity to Microsoft, which he admired for its technically advanced workforce.
"I did locate Amazon in Seattle because of Microsoft," he said. "It's not a complete coincidence - there is some correlation there."
After repeatedly refusing to respond to President Trump's repeated Amazon bashing (a phenomenon that has on occasion impacted Amazon shares), Bezos seized the opportunity to lash out at the president - though he largely avoided using the president's name. In addition to Amazon, Trump has famously bashed the Washington Post as Amazon's "chief lobbyist" amid broader criticisms of the industry.
But rather than being angry at WaPo and the New York Times for churning out an unceasing stream of negative press coverage, Bezos suggested that politicians (read: Trump) should instead respect the fact that he's being held accountable by the immense press scrutiny (perhaps Bezos should consider taking his own advice, seeing that Amazon continues to withhold access from the NYT after the paper published a controversial story back in 2015 alleging a toxic corporate culture at Amazon HQ). When directly asked about Trump's tweets, Bezos declined to defend himself, but did defend the Washington Post, saying it is dangerous for politicians to "demonize" the media.
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When asked about it, Bezos called it a "mistake" for any elected official to "attack media and journalists."
What Trump "should say is, 'This is right, this is good. I am glad I am being scrutinized,' and that would be so secure and confident," Bezos said in comments reported by Reuters. "But it is really dangerous to demonize the media. It is dangerous to call the media lowlifes, it is dangerous to say that they are the enemy of the people."
Trump has referred to the Washington Post as Amazon’s "chief lobbyist."
The newspaper says Bezos has no involvement in its news coverage.
"The media," Bezos added, "is going to be fine. We're going to push through this."
"All big institutions of any kind will be and should be scrutinized," Mr. Bezos said. "It’s not personal. It’s kind of what we want to have as a society happen."
"There are certain things that only big companies can do," Mr. Bezos said. "Nobody in their garage is going to build an all-fiber fuel-efficient Boeing 787."
Circling back to the discussion of Amazon's HQ2, it's worth noting that speculators have heavily favored the Washington DC-area (if not the capital itself) as the most likely setting for HQ2. A series of seemingly unintentional leaks have only furthered the speculation. As of Friday, betting site OddsShark had Northern Virginia as the most likely location for HQ2, followed by Washington DC. Whichever city wins the "honor" of hosting Amazon (an honor that will be accompanied, no doubt, by tens - if not hundreds - of millions of dollars in tax incentives) will reportedly receive a $5 billion investment from Amazon, as well as 50,000 jobs.
While his audience was no doubt delighted by Bezos' chat, others were less than pleased.
Photos showing dozens of the country's most powerful people - the audience included 20 ambassadors and at least one governor - lining up to kiss Bezos's ring after the talk sparked something of a backlash on twitter.
love when our elected officials treat corporate titans like teens at a Taylor Swift meet and greet. I feel great about our political system, personally https://t.co/1VJ1JfqUyc— Emma Roller (@emmaroller) September 14, 2018
Watch the full interview below: