By Michael M. Clements and Jeff Dufour | June 29, 2018 | People
Washington is in the midst of a Bezvolution. One of the richest men is making the Capital Region his backyard; join us as we we hit all his favorite stops.
Perhaps at no other time in our region’s history has any one individual, in politics or otherwise, become this deeply ingrained, this quickly, across such a wide swath of local industries and touch points. Current buzz surrounds if the Beltway will become home to Amazon’s HQ2. If not, the regional influence of one of our country’s most successful businessmen is still undeniable.
Let’s start in the future—this September, Amazon CEO, Washington Post owner and Blue Origin founder, Jeff Bezos, will speak at the Economic Club of Washington DC. Will he announce that he’s bringing 8 million square-feet of office space and 50,000 employees to the area? We shall see. Either way, Bezos will have a lot of business to attend to while he is in town. So, why don’t we go through his itinerary, shall we?
Before dinner, he can chat with Economic Club board member Teresa Carlson, who is vice president, worldwide public sector for Amazon Web Services, as well as club president, David Rubenstein. Perhaps Rubenstein and Bezos can reminisce about The Carlyle Group’s missed opportunity to hold its early ‘90s Amazon investment longer or its use of Amazon Web Services (AWS) and their mutual membership in the Business Council (1901 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, DC). If you’re looking for the Masters of the Universe, the Business Council isn’t a bad place to start. The invite-only roundtable—Michael Dell invited Bezos, a past chairman—includes the most powerful CEOs in the country.
The next morning Bezos can wake up and assess the progress of his Kalorama estate at 2320–2330 S Street NW, DC. The former Textile Museum, set amid a sea of embassies and notable addresses, is slated to become his permanent District home—that is, once he’s done renovating and expanding its 27,000 square feet into the biggest abode in the city. Purchased for a cool $23 million (in cash), the mansion comprises two connected homes that date back to the early 1900s. Architectural plans reveal it will have 25 bathrooms, 11 bedrooms, five living rooms/lounges and one huge ballroom, which is sure to house some of the city’s most sought-after social soirees.
Who needs a coffee shop when you can swing by your Amazon.com offices (610 New Jersey Ave. NW) and oversee the machinery of tech’s largest lobbying operation? The company spent $15.4 million on influencing policy in 2017, an uptick of more than $3 million from 2016, Reuters reported. The spending will come in handy given the sitting U.S. president’s inclinations to exercise his executive power to undermine Bezos’ businesses.
Next stop? How about a late-morning meeting at the hometown newspaper that Jeff purchased in 2013 with $250 million of his own money—The Washington Post (1301 K St. NW). Democracy may die in darkness, but this newspaper might have gone dark without a tech-tycoon cash injection. “This is not a philanthropic endeavor,” Bezos told a Future of Newspapers conference in 2017. “For me, I really believe, a healthy newspaper that has an independent newsroom should be self-sustaining.
And I think it’s achievable. And we’ve achieved it.” Indeed they have—The Post was profitable in 2016 and, by 2017, its unique users and digital page views trailed only CNN and The New York Times among news organizations.
But who has time to bask in success stories–it’s lunchtime! That means a quick trip to one of the District’s four Whole Foods Markets. Amazon acquired the healthy grocer for $13.4 billion in 2017 and has plans to use it to upend retail as we know it. Should Bezos wonder why his peach costs $3, he can always ask Alexa. He’ll probably be too busy, though, to make the trek to Whole Foods’ Mid-Atlantic headquarters in Rockville, Md.
Once he’s eaten, he can sashay with his security detail over to Amazon Books (3040 M St. NW). As if to underline its bookselling dominance, Amazon recently opened its first local brickand- mortar store in Barnes & Noble’s former Georgetown location. On the shelves, he can find a copy of Christian Davenport’s book, The Space Barons: Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, and the Quest to Colonize the Cosmos, which will come in handy the next time he meets with NASA (300 E St. SW). Blue Origin, the private space company Bezos founded, launched its passenger spaceship on a test flight in April. It’s one of several space-exploration companies seeking to land lucrative NASA contracts.
Speaking of immense government contracts, Mr. Bezos should chalk out some time for meetings with the CIA and the Pentagon. Amazon’s most cloak-and-dagger client, the CIA reportedly contracted AWS to build them a private cloud. The cost? $600 million over 10 years. At The Pentagon, AWS is said to be the front-runner for a cloud computing services contract worth about $10 billion (yes, billion). In total, AWS’ public-sector business includes more than 2,300 federal, state and local government customers, including all 17 agencies within the intelligence community. Much to the chagrin of the ACLU, it’s also most likely pushing the effectiveness of its facial recognition software, Rekognition. Enter, Big Brother Bezos.
Given the enormity of these public sector deals, the billionaire baron should pay a visit to his Virginia farms where money does apparently grow on trees—digital ones. Amazon’s biggest and oldest data center farm, US-East-1, is located in Ashburn. Coincidently, or not, the CIA is about 20 miles away. AWS is expanding its Beltway presence with a new East Coast corporate headquarters at One Dulles Tower in Fairfax that could add as many as 1,500 jobs. That area is close to a number of federal customers and the MAE-East internet hub, a hotbed for data centers and telecommunications traffic. Interesting factoid: much of the nation’s web traffic is routed through an array of nondescript, highly secretive server farms in and around Loudoun County in Northern Virginia—many of which are under the Amazon umbrella.
After a full day, he will need to trade enteprenuer for entertainer and save time for some good old-fashioned Washington socializing and philanthropy. He’s been spotted at the annual Alfalfa Club members-only dinner and the Gridiron Dinner; he’s donated millions to the causes of gay rights and marriage equality, including to the Human Rights Campaign (1640 Rhode Island Ave. NW); and, along with his wife MacKenzie Bezos, he’s donated $33 million to TheDream.US (1201 Connecticut Ave. NW), a charity that funds college scholarships for students with DACA status. Speaking of donations, Senator Maria Cantwell is Bezos’s home-state senator, a former tech executive and a leading voice on neutrality. Bezos maxed out his contributions to her campaign last year.
After the city slips into night, this intrepid media mogul can traverse back to Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport and board his Gulfstream G650—records show the plane has landed there more than at any other airport outside of Seattle. If this all keeps up, Seattle will soon become “the other Washington” while we become Washington, DB—District of Bezos.
BEZOS PHOTO BY ANNIE THEBY; DC PHOTO, UNSPLASH.COM;
June 20, 2018