Gongol.com Archives: November 2023

Brian Gongol

November 8, 2023

Business and Finance Running (a business) scared

The Stoic philosopher Epictetus, ever keen to discourage indulgence in strong feelings, warned his readers to "check" and "curb" the sense of pleasure "as those who stand behind men in their triumphs and remind them that they are mortal." His warning was a reference to the Roman practice of reminding triumphant generals that all victory is temporary, and that they too would someday die. ■ It's hard to travel far across the United States today without seeing an Amazon delivery van, a Prime-branded semi-trailer, or one of a few hundred Amazon fulfillment centers near a major highway. The company is enormous, with a top-ten market capitalization and 1.54 million employees -- more than the entire population of Hawaii. ■ As a business, Amazon is a titanic success. It's such a success that it gets singled out for regulatory scrutiny and is a frequent favorite target of antitrust regulators at home and abroad. ■ All across America are the relics of Sears stores, once even more ubiquitous than Amazon fulfillment centers. The remaining number of operating Sears stores today is perhaps a dozen. The faded ghost signs of their predecessors are like the characters described by Epictetus -- whispering "memento mori" throughout the executive suites at Amazon. Their enterprise, too, is mortal. ■ It's unlikely that regulators will ever have the power to bring down Amazon (and they probably shouldn't). But the same market that once built an enterprise big enough to finance the then-tallest building in the world is also the market that can crush that same enterprise if it doesn't deliver what the common consumer demands.

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