Jeff Bezos
Jeff Bezos

Amazon's CEO launched Amazon as an online bookstore in 1994, then turned it into a massive virtual mall.

"One day after spending quite a lot of money of our original investors' in building our web site, Jeff decided to open that web site up to our competitors," recalled Marc Onetto, Senior Vice President of Worldwide Operations and Customer Service, during a college lecture in 2009. Though Bezos' decision was first met by criticism from some corners, Onetto believes it helped make Amazon the $34 billion-a-year business it is today.

Eventually, Bezos would do the same thing with cloud computing services, letting customers rent out data storage and computing power. And with the Kindle, he essentially helped transform the modern-day book. Last December alone, the company sold upwards of four million Kindles, and Barclays Capital predicts Amazon could sell 21 million of its e-readers next year.

By JP Mangalindan, Writer-Reporter @FortuneMagazine - Last updated January 05 2012: 1:07 PM ET
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