Jeff Bezos is the richest person alive, now worth $119 billion. He built an online bookseller into e-commerce giant Amazon, with a current market cap of nearly $947 billion. It took hard work and ingenuity, but it also takes something else to be successful, according to Bezos: luck.
“I feel very strongly that I’ve won a lot of lotteries,” Bezos said at the Bush Center’s Forum on Leadership in 2018.
“Amazon is one of the lotteries I won.”
Another? Having a great support system.
“I think one of the precursors of being able to take risk is to have some kind of support from somebody,” he said. “You have to have some mentors, you have to have somebody that loves you. These are the kind of things that build up and allow you to jump off into uncharted terrain and do something new, because you know you have a support system.”
In Bezos’ case, he said, “I had a big lottery with my parents.”
Despite being a divorced, teenage mom, Bezos’ mother Jackie “made it work.” “Her parents, my grandparents, helped her and made that all work,” Bezos said at the Bush Center in 2018. Mike Bezos, the man who raised him (Bezos’ biological father left when he was a baby), is “a great guy,” Bezos said. “My dad is a Cuban immigrant. He came here when he was 16 years old. He didn’t speak any English.”
“If you don’t get that kind of support somehow – it doesn’t have to be your parents, sometimes people get lucky and it’s the grandparent, or a friend, or a family friend, or a teacher. But you need that. Somebody has to step into your life.”
Bezos isn’t the only billionaire who acknowledges the role luck plays in success.
Mark Zuckerberg has said his family’s financial and other support is a big part of what allowed him to found Facebook.
“The greatest successes come from having the freedom to fail,” Zuckerberg said in a Harvard University commencement speech in 2017. “If … I didn’t know I’d be fine if Facebook didn’t work out, I wouldn’t be standing here today.”
“If we’re honest, we all know how much luck we’ve had,” he said.
And Warren Buffett often says he won the “ovarian lottery.”
“The womb from which you emerge determines your fate to an enormous degree for most of the seven billion people in the world,” Buffett told journalist Rebecca Jarvis in 2013.
Buffett said that he and Charlie Munger were born “wired in a certain way,” at the 1997 Berkshire Hathaway shareholders meeting, “which we had nothing to do with, [and] that happens to enable us to be good at valuing businesses.”
“And, you know, is that the greatest talent in the world? No. It just happens to be something that pays off like crazy in this system.”