Opinion

Felix Salmon

Jeff Bezos is secure

By Felix Salmon
April 29, 2011

Michelle Leder picks up on an unfortunate bit of English in Amazon’s latest proxy filing, in the discussion of the $1.6 million that the company spent on security for CEO Jeff Bezos:

We provide security for Mr. Bezos, including security in addition to that provided at business facilities and during business-related travel. We believe that all Company-incurred security costs are reasonable and necessary and for the Company’s benefit, and we believe that the amount of the reported security expenses is especially reasonable in light of Mr. Bezos’ low salary and the fact that he has never received any stock-based compensation.

If you read this closely, it’s hard to see any internal consistency here.

First of all, Amazon admits that the $1.6 million is over and above the security which is provided for Bezos at work and “during business-related travel.” I don’t have the imagination to envisage what kind of personal security $1.6 million per year buys, but I wonder whether such expenditure can ever be money well spent.

At some point, security expenses stop making executives safer, and start just making them more paranoid. Nobody ever wants to be the kind of person who sends out staffers a few days in advance when they’ve been invited over somewhere for dinner, just to check out the entrances, exits, and safe rooms. And even fewer people spend their own money on such services. But if your employer is giving you such services “for free,” then it probably gets harder to politely decline the offer — especially when your employer, which is also the company you founded, says that those services are “necessary and for the Company’s benefit.”

But then comes that telling phrase: the $1.6 million, says Amazon, “is especially reasonable in light of Mr. Bezos’ low salary.” This is basically the what-do-you-give-the-man-who-has-everything argument: Bezos neither wants nor needs a regular paycheck or more stock in Amazon, so how are we to compensate him for all the work he does? Spending $1.6 million a year on his security is a way of giving him something he otherwise wouldn’t have, but which is still valuable to him — the perfect gift. Or, in this case, compensation. It’s the Amazon equivalent of the G5 that a grateful Apple board gave Steve Jobs in 2000.

Amazon is saying here, in as many words, that if Bezos were paid the kind of money that most CEOs get paid, it would be much less reasonable for the company to spend $1.6 million a year on his personal security. But it’s hard to say that at the same time as you’re saying that the expenditure is both reasonable and necessary for the company’s benefit: you can’t really have it both ways.

I wonder how long it’s been since Bezos felt free to do something spontaneous, without worrying about the security implications. If Amazon could give him the ability to do that, it would probably be worth much more than $1.6 million to him. But the next time you’re invited round to Jeff’s place, know this: he’s paying a bunch of people a lot of money to consider you a potential risk to his security. Which might be worth bearing in mind before you offer to help with the dishes.

Comments
6 comments so far | RSS Comments RSS

Funny, if he was a rapper or a pro athlete I would totally understand him takin’ care of the boyz from back in the ‘hood by adding them to the entourage!

Posted by DanHess | Report as abusive
 

wonder how much (or any) of that $$$ goes towards digital security?

Posted by zubin | Report as abusive
 

Felix, you wrote: I don’t have the imagination to envisage what kind of personal security $1.6 million per year buys, but I wonder whether such expenditure can ever be money well spent.

With no snark intended Felix, do you think it’s possible that you’re wondering a little bit outside your area of expertise?

Numbers aside, most people automatically equate security risks to fame and think in terms of someone’s specific intent (or the unlikely existence thereof) to do physical harm.

Some of the most realistic and more likely risks, however, have to do with money, and not fame or intent to do harm. If you haven’t already thought of it by now, think Mexico.

There are thousands of examples of wealthy people in the US, however, either having been the subject of kidnapping (and attempts), or having their loved ones taken for ransom.

The one individual I have actually known personally to whom this happened was a small child many years ago when he was taken. Nobody reading this would likely have ANY idea who is is, or who his parents were at the time it happened. They just owned a business and had a lot of money. It didn’t take actual “fame” for many people to know that. They were targeted.

Has it occurred to you that threats of this kind against Bezos or his family may have already occurred? Don’t assume you’d know about it; they wouldn’t want you to.

I’m not suggesting anyone needs to cry a river for rich people. Security, however, isn’t anywhere near as cut and dried as one might think.

Posted by fixedincome | Report as abusive
 

I think people are far to paranoid, it seems to inflate their sense of self-importance.

My father was a diplomat and I was at the sharp end of several assassination attempts when I was younger, not to mention at constant threat of kidnap. Far more so, in fact, than most ‘rich people’. Since I was on television a number of times (nothing like going to eat breakfast and finding a TV crew in the dining room…), I was also a recognizable, identifiable target.

Never the less, I had very little security, mostly because when I was old enough to decline it, I did. Instead, I found that blending in was the best form of security. Sure, in some parts of the world, blending in would not be possible, but that’s not the case for anyone wealthy in the western world.

The founder of Ikea is famous for traveling in coach, something he picked up after being criticized for conspicuous consumption. The point is that a lot of people make themselves targets through their behavior and conspicuous show of wealth and avoiding that is the best form of security. If Jeff Bezos wore an old t-shirt, ratty jeans, a 3-day beard and carried a beatup backpack while traveling on trains or in coach, I doubt anyone would recognize him.

In fact, I rather think that have a security guard makes you a rather obvious target, but people like it because of the statement it makes. In the end, however, no amount of guards or bulletproof cars will save you if someone is determined to get you…

Posted by ChrisMaresca | Report as abusive
 

The need for security in his case (and in his own paranoid mind) is probably more related to his making enemies of so many business partners. From individual sellers of their cd collections to big time publishing companies, Bezos has shown himself to be greedy and megalomaniacal. Surprised this article didn’t mention this well known fact.

Posted by getbach | Report as abusive
 

Does anyone know the security company that provides services for Mr. Bezo? i am a Executive Protection agent moving to the seattle area and am looking for employment. Any info would be greatly appreciated

Posted by selflessservice | Report as abusive
 

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