Your Margin Is My Opportunity

Jeff Bezos? Adam Lashinsky? Om Malik? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: Business leaders often boast about the profit margins of their corporations, and some stock analysts praise companies which maximize that metric. Yet, a self-satisfied attitude attracts dangerous competitors. Jeff Bezos, the entrepreneurial founder of the Amazon juggernaut, has received credit for this trenchant remark:

Your margin is my opportunity.

Is this quotation authentic? Would you please help me to find a citation?

Quote Investigator: The earliest match found by QI appeared in November 2012 on the website of business magazine “Fortune” within a lengthy cover article titled “Amazon’s Jeff Bezos: The Ultimate Disrupter” by journalist Adam Lashinsky. The piece contrasted the approaches of Amazon versus Apple and asserted that Amazon followed a low-price and low-margin strategy. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

A favorite Bezos aphorism is “Your margin is my opportunity.” In fact, whereas Apple has long prided itself for premium prices—with the operating margins to show for it: 31% in 2011, vs. 2% for Amazon—Amazon sells at the bare minimum needed to break even, on the assumption it will make money elsewhere.

The quotation may have come from an interview of Bezos conducted by Lashinsky although the phrase “your margin” does not quite fit when addressing a journalist. Some other quotations in the article appear to have been gathered during an interview.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

On the day the “Fortune” article was posted in 2012, several people tweeted the adage ascribed to Bezos while sharing a link. The link in the tweet is now several years old and no longer works properly: 2

In July 2013 influential journalist and venture capitalist Om Malik posted a tweet asserting that Bezos employed the adage while communicating with another CEO: 3

In 2013 Morgan Housel of Motley Fool Investor published an article titled “The 10 Smartest Things Jeff Bezos Has Ever Said”, and these were the first three items: 4

1. “All businesses need to be young forever. If your customer base ages with you, you’re Woolworth’s.”

2. “There are two kinds of companies: Those that work to try to charge more and those that work to charge less. We will be the second.”

3. “Your margin is my opportunity.”

In 2014 Amazon battled fiercely with book publishers over the pricing of ebooks. An article in the “Financial Times” mentioned the quotation: 5

Despite Amazon’s strength, and the falling prices of books, the biggest publishers reported operating profits of between 10 and 13 per cent of revenues last year. The largest publisher, Penguin Random House, part-owned by Pearson, parent of the Financial Times, generated EUR363m in profits before accounting expenses and tax.

That may be unacceptably high to Mr Bezos, who has been known to tell suppliers in meetings: “Your margin is my opportunity.”

In conclusion, the evidence that Jeff Bezos employed this quotation is substantive based on the “Fortune” article. Yet, it would be helpful to know from Adam Lashinsky precisely how he learned of the expression. QI does not know whether Lashinsky or someone else has heard the statement directly from Bezos.

Image Notes: Graphic representing online shopping from geralt at Pixabay.

(Great thanks to the anonymous person whose inquiry led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration.)

Notes:

  1. Website: Fortune Magazine, Article title: Amazon’s Jeff Bezos: The Ultimate Disrupter, Article author: Adam Lashinsky, Date on website: November 16, 2012, Note: Story from December 3, 2012 issue of Fortune, Website description: Business magazine headquartered in New York City. (Accessed fortune.com on January 13, 2019) link
  2. Tweet, From: Garrett Dallas @GRDALLAS, Time: 10:52 AM, Date: November 16, 2012, Text: “Your Margin is My Opportunity”. Amazing. Amazon’s Jeff Bezos: The ultimate disrupter http://management.fortune.cnn.com/2012/11/16/jeff-bezos-amazon/ … via @FortuneMagazine. (Accessed on twitter.com on January 13, 2019) link
  3. Tweet, From: OM @om, Time: 10:43 AM, Date: July 10, 2013, Text: “Your margin is my opportunity” — Jeff Bezos, CEO/Founder of http://Amazon.com in conversation with another CEO #AmazonStrategy $AMZN. (Accessed on twitter.com on January 13, 2019) link
  4. 2013 September 12, Saline Courier, Section: Opinions, The 10 smartest things Jeff Bezos has ever said by Morgan Housel (Motley Fool Investor), Quote Page 4, Benton, Arkansas. (NewsBank Access World News)
  5. 2014 August 16, Financial Times, Amazon’s page turner: Book Wars by Shannon Bond and Henry Mance, Quote Page 5, London, United Kingdom. (ProQuest)