4. Jeff Bezos
4. Jeff Bezos
Books "R" Us: Bezos in Seattle in 1998
Company: Amazon
Market Value: $84.0 billion
Sales: $48.1 billion
Employees: 56,200
Advice: Take regular mini-retreats.

After ignoring his boss' advice and quitting his job in New York, Jeff Bezos drove across the country to Seattle, drawn by the city's large population of software developers. Once he launched Amazon in 1994, it took the e-commerce company more than six years to report its first quarterly profit.

He was in no hurry then and he is in no hurry now to boost profits at the expense of building "an important and lasting company." Bezos has long resisted entreaties from an often frustrated Wall Street to manage his company for profit instead of revenue growth and customer service.

Leading a closely watched, high-growth company can be frenetic. One of the biggest problems: finding the time to be pro-active rather than reactive. But Bezos, at the end of each quarter, solves this by just going away. His solo retreats have been put to good effect, resulting in several new ideas and products, including Amazon's fulfillment center for third-party sellers. As he has explained it, "I just lock myself up. There are no distractions from the office. No phones ringing. It's just because with a little bit of isolation I find I start to get more creative. I do spend a lot of time web surfing during those two or three days and just looking at what hobbyists and hackers are doing. What are the sorts of things that are on the cutting edge?"

Bezos, 48, will then write up two- or three-page memos, sometimes to himself, other times to his executive team. "What I find is, by the time that process is done, I'm never really sure if I invented something or not, because it starts here and ends up there. That's what you want if you have a bunch of smart people. Somebody says, `Well, that will never work because you forgot x, y, and z.' And then you step back and recognize that's true and then it morphs and builds."

By John A. Byrne, contributor @FortuneMagazine - Last updated April 09 2012: 4:27 PM ET
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