Amazon PBS documentary missing Jeff Bezos

Amazon executive Jeff Wilke described the corporation as a 'speck'

Jeff Bezos loomed large but never sat down for an interview in PBS "Frontline's" wide-ranging Amazon documentary that aired Tuesday night.

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Instead, several Amazon executives answered questions about warehouse conditions, Amazon facial recognition technology, the company's stance on unions and other topics.

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In response to criticism that Amazon has monopolistic tendencies and is running small competitors out of business, Amazon executive Jeff Wilke described the corporation as a "speck" compared to the global economy.

"I do understand why when you're in a lot of [vertical markets] it can seem like we're everywhere, but if we were everywhere that means we're talking about the global economy, not just global retail," Wilke said. "It's so vast. We're just a speck."

"We're far from the largest retailer," he said. "I describe this as retail and we're competing against Walmart and Target ... selling in both physical stores and online. ... There are intense competitors, and these competitors are global."

But Amazon's critics say it has bullied smaller business partners, like book publishers, and should be looked at closely by antitrust regulators.

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"If the door was open, the publisher would say, 'Amazon, they’re a terrific customer,'" Open Markets Institute executive director Barry Lynn said. "You close the door, they say Amazon is destroying our business model. … They have way too much power. We must do something about it."

The documentary highlighted Amazon's humble origins in Bezos' garage and lesser-known aspects of its history, like Bezos' original idea to call his website Relentless.com. Decades-old footage showed Bezos pointing to the original poster-board-and-spray-paint "amazon.com" sign he made himself.

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, right along with American news anchor Lauren Sánchez poses for photographs during a blue carpet event organized by Amazon Prime Video in Mumbai, India, Thursday, Jan. 16, 2020. (AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool)

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But masked by Bezos' everyman looks and big laugh was a man with a plan. Bezos, an avid Star Trek fan, has dreamed of space travel and artificial intelligence since his high school days. With his space company Blue Origin and the popularity of Amazon's voice assistant Alexa, he's at the forefront of both.

"He admits that [Star Strek] was on his brain when he came up with the idea that Amazon should be pursuing a little disc that you can bark commands to," said author Franklin Foer, who has called for Amazon to be broken up. "This is his 'Beam me up, Scotty' fantasy realized."

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Bezos looked for the best and the brightest to help him lead his company, and his unusual interview characteristics included asking applicants for their SAT scores. The company announced this week that it is hiring fewer MBA graduates from top colleges and more from a broader range of business schools in an effort to expand its management base.

Now he's the world's richest man and tabloid fodder following his affair with Lauren Sanchez and divorce from wife MacKenzie Bezos.

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