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Resignation to signal end of a rocky era for Detroit

Tue, 2014-12-09 11:00

Detroit emergency manager, Kevyn Orr, is expected to resign at a press conference scheduled for Wednesday morning.

Orr is responsible for putting Detroit into – and getting it out of – the biggest municipal bankruptcy this country has ever seen.

After adjusting $18 billion worth of debt, Detroit will end this fiscal year in the black.

Who wins and loses as oil prices fall

Tue, 2014-12-09 11:00

As oil prices fall,the global economy has winners and losers. The losers include oil companies, and countries that rely on oil revenue. But the worst hit countries aren't necessarily the best-known or biggest producers. Trevor Houser, a partner at the Rhodium Group, has calculated the economic impact on every country if oil prices stay low. "It turns out the countries that are most vulnerable are oil producers we never hear about," Houser says. For instance, if oil prices stay low, the Republic of Congo will effectively see about 27 percent of its economy disappear.

The thinking behind the Fed's next move

Tue, 2014-12-09 11:00

Next week, Federal Reserve policymakers hold their last meeting of the calendar year, and many economists expect they may do something major.

Really major.

They may remove the two-word phrase, "considerable time," from the guidance they issue – the tea leaves economists and investors try to read to figure out what the policymakers are thinking.

Former Fed Chair Ben Bernanke first used the phrase “considerable time” in September 2012: “The committee emphasized that it expects a highly accommodative stance of monetary policy to remain appropriate for a considerable time after the economic recovery strengthens,” the language read that day, and in the 17 Fed statements since.

Two words may not sound important, but according to Dana Saporta, an economist with Credit Suisse, that first mention was a turning point. “It was a time in which the Fed was moving away from calendar-based forward guidance” – that is, tying policy changes to certain dates– “to thresholds”—that is, tying policy changes to inflation or unemployment.

Throughout the economic recovery, the Fed has been trying to telegraph something, says Guy Berger, U.S. economist at RBS Securities: “Our policy is dictated by how the economy is evolving.” And maybe, now that Fed has wrapped up its multi-trillion-dollar bond-buying program, the economy has evolved enough for it to signal to investors higher rates are coming soon.

Why?

Well, take last week’s employment report. In November, the U.S. economy added 321,000 new jobs, and wages ticked up 0.4 percent. “When they look at domestic economic indicators, almost all of them have improved,” says Mark Vitner, a senior economist at Wells Fargo. But, he notes, there is a lot more on the Fed’s radar.

“The plunge in oil prices has caught a lot of folks by surprise,” Vitner points out. “Right now the rest of the world is a bit of a drag on the U.S. economy, and it presents some downside risk.”

He says Fed policymakers are keeping an eye on the economies of China and Germany, both of which have slowed down, and that could affect the economy here in the future.

Greek election move rattles investors

Tue, 2014-12-09 11:00

Greece’s Prime Minister Antonis Samaras spooked investors on Thursday. Greek lawmakers had been due to vote in a new president in February but Samaras moved the vote forward in an attempt to force parliament to back his candidate for the presidency and, in turn, his pro-austerity policies. It’s a big gamble: If Samaras loses that vote, it could trigger a general election, which he would likely lose. The victor – according to the opinion polls – could be the left-wing, anti-austerity Syriza party. That outcome would raise fears about Greece repaying its debts. And it could once again re-ignite a wider crisis of confidence in the euro.

'Botnets' are costing advertisers billions

Tue, 2014-12-09 07:00

Want to watch Taylor Swift’s new music video? First, you’re supposed to sit through a video ad. How much advertisers pay for that ad depends on how many times it’s viewed.

However, almost a quarter of the impressions registered for online video ads are fraudulent, according to a new report from the Association of National Advertisers, which found hackers are faking views with networks of computers called “botnets” that make it seem like an ad’s been viewed by a person, when it was really just a computer.

That means advertisers are losing money on these fake views, says Bill Duggan of the Association of National Advertisers.

“While fraud hurts all of the players, publishers, advertisers, and agencies, it hurts the advertisers the most,” he says.

These phony views come up in nearly every conversation that Lauren Fisher, an analyst with eMarketer, has with brands and agencies.

“It’s even going so far as deterring some people from investing in buying video ads because they are so concerned about the level of fraud that they just don’t want to take the risk of losing money in that manner,” she says.

 Advertisers may lose $6.3 billion to this type of fraud next year, according to an advertisers association estimate.

An oversupply of oil isn't all good

Tue, 2014-12-09 07:00

There’s simply an oversupply of oil right now, and too much supply causes prices fall – They’re currently near five-year lows. And when prices fall, oil companies have to cut back.

ConocoPhillips says it plans to cut spending 20 percent next year, and will slow activity in U.S. shale oil and gas exploration. BP is expected to announce layoffs Wednesday.

The low prices have come as a shock to many in the industry, says Jeffrey Grossman, president of BRG Brokerage.

“They were hoping for a big next year or two,” he says. “Now suddenly it’s, ‘Uh oh, if this price doesn’t go up, I’m spending $75 to pull something up that I can only get $65.’ That’s not a trade you want to make.”

With prices this low, Torbjørn Kjus, chief oil analyst at Norway’s DNB Markets, says companies have a few options. He expects more companies will announce job cuts, slash spending and delay investments in new projects.

“Some of them will also probably borrow more money,” he says. “Some also might even touch the dividends, but that will be seen as very negative by the investors and the shareowners.”

Kjus says because dividend cuts often hurt companies’ stock price, oil executives often view them as a last resort. 

Robots are costing advertisers billions

Tue, 2014-12-09 07:00

Want to watch Taylor Swift’s new music video? First, you’re supposed to sit a video ad. How much advertisers pay for that ad depends on how many times it’s viewed.

However, almost a quarter of the impressions registered for online video ads are fraudulent, according a new report from the Association of National Advertisers, which found hackers are faking views with networks of computers called “botnets” that make it seem like an ad’s been viewed by a person, when it was really just a computer.

That means advertisers are losing money on these fake views, says Bill Duggan, with Association of National Advertisers.

“While fraud hurts all of the players, publishers, advertisers, and agencies, it hurts the advertisers the most,” he says.

These phony views come up in nearly every conversation Lauren Fisher, an analyst with eMarketer, has with brands and agencies.

“It’s even going so far as deterring some people from investing in buying video ads because they are so concerned about the level of fraud that they just don’t want to take the risk of losing money in that manner,” she says.

The ANA estimates advertisers will lose $6.3 billion to this type of fraud next year.

The Kochs: Big brothers of personal data

Tue, 2014-12-09 05:57

The Koch brothers and their network of big-money players are investing millions into a data company that's developing detailed profiles on millions of Americans.

At this point, along with all the other in-house expertise the network has, the Koch’s political operation could be a privatized national party all on its own if they wanted it to be.

"When you have this outside money paying for the latest technology, you really have a very potent force," says Ken Vogel, a reporter for Politico. "That’s what the Koch brothers have, perhaps ever more so than the Republican National Committee or the Democratic National Committee."

Quiz: How presidents at private colleges are paid

Tue, 2014-12-09 04:39

The median pay for a president at a private college was $392,000 in 2012, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education.

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The Sony hack continues

Tue, 2014-12-09 04:00
2 executives

In the latest threat from the "Guardians of Peace" (the hackers behind the release of confidential documents from Sony), the group threatened to release the private information of two executives if the company did not "stop immediately showing the movie of terrorism", i.e. 'The Interview'

70 million

The number of users Napster claimed at its peak, in the early years of the new millennium. That's not even accounting for the many other file-sharing services that cropped up during that time. Napster is long dead, but a new Retro Report documentary looks back at the powerful paradigm shift it kickstarted, one the industry is still sorting out: that media online should be free.

300,000 beds

Airbnb currently has about 300,000 more than the number of beds of either Hilton and Marriott. But now the brand is having an identity crisis: when someone stays at an Airbnb rental, there's nothing that distinguishes the experience. It's why the lodging service is launching "Pineapple,"a magazine that will be sent to hosts and bookstores around the world.

56.1 percent

The portion of web ads that don't appear on screen for even a full second, if they appear at all, according to new data from Google. One contributor to this problem is virus-affected computers, Quartz reported, which request ads billions of times without actually displaying them.

$140,000

When the flu vaccine targets the wrong strain (like it did this year), it means more people will get sick. According to some estimates, businesses spent almost $140,000 more on flu-related costs per 100,000 workers the last time federal scientists made the wrong guess.

9 times

That's how much viewership on YouTube has increased since 2010. Online video hasn't just exploded, it's in the middle of a big bang and it's already produced a staggering number of largely independent and niche producers and channels whose viewership rivals television and movies, but attract young audiences that don't fit the conventional wisdom attached to those media. The New Yorker took a deep dive this week into the lives of YouTube and Vine "creators" and their uneasy relationship with an entertainment industry that sees dollar signs but doesn't know how to grab on to such a rapidly changing business.

PODCAST: Airbnb gets a makeover

Tue, 2014-12-09 03:00

First up, more on the tumbling Chinese stock. Then, the flu vaccine gets it wrong. Plus, Airbnb does some rebranding.

The path of recovery from a violent past

Tue, 2014-12-09 02:00

Rachel stands behind a row of metal buffet trays full of pasta and fried fish, lined up on a table skirted in white fabric. She is demur and quiet. She, unlike many of the men in the room, exhibits no desire to be in the spotlight or consume the oxygen in the room.

Her past, much like this region's, is complex and fraught. In 1996, Rachel was 16. Neighboring Rwanda's genocidal ethnic war had been spilling into Congo for several years, bringing economic, political, and personal chaos to millions of people. Rachel was one of those people.

"My family had left, they fled when the soldiers were coming," she remembers. "But I had gone back to the house, I was trying to hide."

"They came into the house, five or six soldiers. They raped me," she says.

Tragically, Rachel was just one of the millions of women who had to endure sexual violence during Congo's long and vicious wars. 

Rachel stayed with an elderly neighbor for a few months, but decided to leave. "I felt like I had no value in my neighborhood anymore," she says. "So I decided to become a soldier myself. I wanted people to fear me, to respect me."

She joined the Mai Mai rebel group, one of many dozens rampaging through Eastern Congo in the late 90's and early 2000's (and to some extent still today) as the social fabric and infrastructure of the region became unmoored. 

30,000 children were serving as soldiers in 2003 in Eastern Congo, many conscripted against their will. Living in the forest, they  moved from camp site to camp site, sometimes witnessing or participating in violence of the most brutal kind. 

Rachel says her wish came true. People did fear her. "They knew that I could kill them or hit them or do something to them," she says. "They  knew I had the capacity and spirit to do it."

When fighting  began to calm down, her group agreed to merge with the Congolese army, which represented the same forces who'd raped her years before. It was at this time she also found out her mother was still alive, back in Bukavu. 

"I deserted, and I came back to Bukavu. They arrested me there for desertion," she says.

In prison, she became pregnant. Out of prison, and now with a three month old, she moved back in with her mother—A happy, if complicated reunification. Making a living proved tough. What once made her feared now made her suspect. 

"People said, 'Oh she's a soldier! She'll kill us! She's a thief!'" she says.

She became a prostitute for a time. Another child and a failed marriage later—her husband shunned her after learning about her past—she decided  to learn a trade. 

She arrived at Laissez Afrique Vivre, a school for ex combattants, where she learned how to cook: "I studied hospitality, hotelerie."

Behind Rachel are shimmery lavender bows and pleated white fabric covering the walls and table. "All of these decorations, I did them," she says. 

Buffet trays of rice and fried plantains are added to the lineup, part of a banquet for special guests.

"I can cook anything int he Congolese kitchen," Rachel says. "Not so much your European food, but any Congolese food you like, I can cook!"

Rachel caters, she makes street food. She likes to make wedding cakes. She has two children now and pays their way to school. Her dream now is to work in a hotel. 

"I don't think about the past."

Off-target flu shot will cost employers

Tue, 2014-12-09 02:00

Every year, federal scientists make a bet on the flu—They try to figure out the dominant flu strain, and vaccine makers produce a flu shot to fight that strain.

“In some years, the prediction is on the mark, and in some years the prediction is further away from the mark,” says Dr. Bruce Lee, an associate professor of international health at Johns Hopkins School of Public Health. This year, the vaccine is off the mark, which probably means more flu, he says. “We’ll see more cases this year, and more severe cases."

Lee says, the last time this happened, businesses spent almost $140,000 more on flu-related costs per 100,000 workers.

But employers can fight back. 

“You could increase the number of shifts so there are not as many people working together in the office. Some companies limit the number of meetings," says John Challenger, CEO of Challenger, Gray & Christmas. 

And Challenger says employers should still encourage their workers to get a flu shot. Because, doctors say, even if you get the flu anyway, you carry less virus. And that's good news for your co-workers.  

Former child soldiers find rehabilitation a hard road

Tue, 2014-12-09 02:00

A handful of young men in their twenties are busy on the side of the road here in Bukavu, wielding a welding machine that looks as though it barely survived the wars itself. 

"We're fixing this motorcycle," says Daniel Baguma over the din of a saw.  

Putting things back together seems an apt profession for people whose lives came to pieces as children. Eastern Congo has endured two decades of conflict that began when Rwanda's genocidal war spilled across its borders. It proved too much for the fragile Congolese state to handle, and the region descended into chaos.

Thousands of children were swept up by armed groups for use as forced labor or military manpower. As many as 30,000 children were used as child soldiers in 2003. That number has shrunk to an estimated 3,000 or so as violence has declined, some armed groups have demobilized, and a patchwork of peace agreements have been signed. 

For some child soldiers those days are distant memories; for others they remain open wounds. 

"I was out in the country side, taking care of some cattle, and they took me. That's how it started," says Baguma. 

He was 12, and "they" were the Mai Mai — one of dozens of armed groups fighting in Congo in the early 2000's. The group still exists, even though many of the soldiers have since been integrated into the Congolese Arms Forces.   

"I started carrying luggage for them. All of a sudden you don't have a home anymore. You just go. You're just walking through whatever town you find yourself in. You're just ... dispersed."

Baguma remembers those days as he sits down to dinner with friends, many of them former child soldiers like himself. It's a bit like a reunion for Peter Pan's lost boys. 

"I was smoking a lot of weed and taking a lot of drugs. These were the Mai Mai drugs; you inject them and people can't shoot you," he says of the drugs the Mai Mai believed imparted supernatural powers during battle. "I regret it. It messed with my mind."

Pascal Birashirwa was even younger than Baguma when he was taken. He was just 10.

"My father was fetching water for the toilet," when the soldiers appeared, he says. His father fled, and told everyone in town that his son was dead. His family and neighbors went into mourning.

In the jungle, picked up by soldiers, Birashirwa roamed the countryside. "Sometimes they would give me food, sometimes they wouldn't. Sometimes the commanders would eat and leave me with nothing, guarding the camp," he recalls. "I couldn't leave. It was all I knew."

None of the young men like talking about what they did or saw done in the five, seven, sometimes eight years they spent with the armed groups.

"I never killed people, only enemies," says Birashirwa. "And whatever happened out there stays out there."

When their groups demobilized in 2010, the boys—now nearly young men—found their way back to town. Everyone thought they had died.

"They were so happy," says Birashirwa. "So, so happy to see me."

Likewise, the whole neighborhood came out to celebrate for Baguma when he came back.

But the joy was short-lived.

"My family was disappointed," says Birashirwa. His shame is typical. "They said I could've gone to school, but I came back smoking weed and cigarettes."

"When we compare our lives with the lives of someone who stayed in town, stayed in school, did the usual route, they have had successful lives. We're still figuring ours out," says Baguma. 

While many Congolese sympathize with child soldiers, they are often suspicious of them as well. It can make finding work difficult. Baguma spent a year essentially doing nothing, wondering if he should return to the forest. 

Learning some basic literacy skills and some kind of vocation has been critical to reintegrating young people whose childhoods were stolen by armed groups. But sometimes they've needed to learn things that were much more basic.

"Things like: you're allowed to make eye contact with people. It's OK to disagree with people when having a conversation. You are valuable as a person and you have the right to determine your own future," says Jocelyn Kelly, director of the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative. 

"These are the skills that are so incredibly human and basic, but often, especially for young girls who were in armed groups, [they] had no idea no idea were available to them," she says.

HHI helped do a study of what worked and what didn't when integrating former child soldiers. A lot of groups have tried a lot of different things. 

"Cash payouts, a kit that has basic household goods, trying to engage people in small income generating activities," she says. 

Fly by night operations that gave a group of young, male child soldiers a goat and a pat on the back, and then left after a few months—and Kelly says programs like this did exist—did not work. And former child soldiers whose psychological needs weren't met, suffered. 

Some ended up institutionalized.

"I mean it's kind of the foundation of everything you're expected to do. If you don't have that basic capacity to engage with people, overcome anxiety or symptoms of PTSD, you're not going to be able to engage with a job in any way shape or form," she says.

Child soldier survivors need sustained follow up care—essentially a caseworker—and so do their parents, says Kelly. "I've not seen many programs at all deal with the effects on families," she says. Parents are anguished that they can no longer seem to communicate or connect with their children; a typical problem for parents of teenagers, made exponentially more intense by a parent's knowledge that just on the other side of their childrens' eyes is an ungraspable reality of deprivation and trauma. 

If they could just get through. 

Both Pascal Birashirwa and Daniel Baguma were lucky enough to find a place at Laissez Afrique Vivre, a school for former child soldiers. They learned welding. For Baguma, who now has his own children, his new career seems to be working out. 

"Business is good," he says. "I know a lot of people who respect my work, I have work, I make money, I feed my kids." He's built a house, and he's paying his children's way through school.

Pascal Birashirwa is having a little more trouble. 

"I could've gone to school. I could've had a life. Welding is giving me money day to day, but I can't plan on anything bigger than that," he says.

Back at the welding shop, former child soldiers are smoothing off some scarred metal on a door they repaired. They're trying to smooth away their own scars too.

Airbnb confronts an unusual marketing challenge

Tue, 2014-12-09 02:00

Airbnb, the home sharing website, is now by some measures the largest lodging provider in the world. It’s valued at over $10 billion and has a million listings — that’s about 300,000 more than the number of beds of either Hilton and Marriott.

Bob Thorson rents out his Washington, DC apartment while he’s out of the city. Guests find his place online, pay $130 a night, and get a cool apartment in one of the city’s trendiest neighborhoods. But once you’re inside, there’s nothing that indicates it was rented through Airbnb.

Andrew Schapiro, head of brand creative teams at Airbnb, says he recognized that disconnect.

“Every day hundreds of thousands of people are traveling on Airbnb and staying in homes all over the world,” Schapiro says. “How do we actually share stories of those people who are on those travel adventures?”

So, this winter, Airbnb will publish its first issue of "Pineapple," a magazine that will be sent to hosts and bookstores around the world. It will contain stories from three of its most popular cities: San Francisco, London, and Seoul. Pineapple is an effort to address what other companies in the so-called sharing economy have faced when they make it big: moving their online success into real-world brand loyalty.

“It kind of expresses how Airbnb can fit into the greater travel landscape, and that’s part of the issue; people have some sense of Airbnb in general, but not really how it fits in,” says Bjorn Hanson, a hospitality professor at NYU.

The area where Airbnb and its hosts still haven’t figured out where they fit in is with the law. New York’s attorney general has set his sights on the company, which he says enables hosts to violate zoning and hotel laws. In fact, it was hard to find an Airbnb host willing to be interviewed. They said they worry about breaking the law, breaking their lease, their condo board rules, or just about irritating their neighbors.

Thorson owns his place, but some of his fellow host friends are renters. When asked what they do, Thorson says, “they try to skirt it. They just hope that they don’t get found out.”

So guests will soon be able to flip through Pineapple to plan their next travel adventure, even if their hosts would prefer that nobody find out that they’re there.

 

Can the Democratic Republic of Congo rebound?

Mon, 2014-12-08 14:00

The Democratic Republic of Congo has been hit hard over the past few decades by war, currency instability and corruption. 

Marketplace's Sabri Ben-Achour recently spent time in the DRC and says, for him, the Congo is both extraordinary and tragic. "It is a place that is sitting on $24 trillion of mineral wealth, and yet it ranks next to last on the planet in terms of human development," Ben-Achour says.

Even with a history of civil wars and a stifling bureaucracy that makes business difficult, some choose to return home to the DRC. In the city of Goma, Ben-Achour says he saw not only new construction, but bustling streets as well.

But what about long-term recovery for the Congo? According to Ben-Achour, the DRC and the U.S. are more intertwined economically than one might think. "We have a power to this place that we don't maybe recognize," he says. "All of our cellphones have minerals that could have come from this part of the world."

Tell us about your best gift ever

Mon, 2014-12-08 12:27
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Growing wages, job creation, and your money

Mon, 2014-12-08 12:16

321,000 jobs were added in November, with jobs in retail, health care, manufacturing, and professional and business services growing. Unemployment held steady at 5.8 percent.

Another significant change was the increase in hourly earnings for ordinary workers — at .4 percent, wage growth exceeded the anticipated increase by double. The U.S. has struggled with wage stagnation and the jobless rate, and this most recent report cast a sunny outlook for the future of both.

How have you been impacted by changes in the job market? Have you felt some of the benefits to a lower unemployment and rising wages? Tell us more about your experiences in the comments or @MarketplaceWKND.

Starbucks, potential tech juggernaut?

Mon, 2014-12-08 12:08

If you’ve been to a Starbucks lately, you might’ve used your smartphone or noticed other customers using theirs to pay for their lattes.

Now Starbucks is taking another technological step forward by rolling out a fleet of Powermat wireless phone chargers in its stores.

They may help curb arguments with power-outlet hoarders, but the chargers serve a larger purpose – to burnish the Starbucks brand. The company's adoption of new technology is just as important to its image as the quality of its coffee beans, says Jonah Berger, a University of Pennsylvania marketing professor and author of the 2013 book “Contagious: Why Things Catch On.” 

“Starbucks is an older brand, you know, it's not the new kid on the block,” Berger says, “So, seeming like they're technology-forward, like they know what's going on ... will move [them] from [looking like] sort of a fuddy-duddy company to somebody that's on the cutting edge.”

But this strategy comes with risks, Berger says. If customers don't like the chargers, the technology could come off as gimmicky.

All sorts of restaurants are looking to technology to appeal to younger customers

“McDonald’s, the Coffee Bean, Madison Square Garden also use the Powermat. Starbucks is not the only one out there,” says Betsy Sigman, a Georgetown University business professor. 

When done right, Sigman says, access to new technology gives customers another reason to go to the restaurant and spend more.

Starbucks wants to do more than sell more coffee to young people, Berger says. It also wants to influence the way technology is adopted.

If Starbucks can become "the market-maker" for this technology – and Berger notes that it's a big "if" – the company could become a bigger player in the tech industry.

 

Jeff Bezos on the best gift he's ever recieved

Mon, 2014-12-08 12:00

Ten years ago, we started calling up big names in business and culture and asking them, "What was the best gift you've received?"

In honor of Marketplace's 25th anniversary and the holiday season, we've pulled the "Best Gift Ever" series out of our archives. Here's the answer we got from Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, which originally aired in December 2004:

The best gift I ever received was all the construction toys that my grandfather gave me over the years when I was a little kid. You know, Lincoln Logs, Erector Sets, Legos. 

Every year I'd get a new construction toy of some kind. And then building things is something that has served me well all throughout the years. 

In fact, I love construction toys to this day, and I love them so much that for my fifth wedding anniversary, my wife gave me a huge, 5-foot-tall tool chest filled to the brim with Legos.

 

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Here's how the story originally played when it aired in 2004:

LISA NAPOLI: Time now for our Holiday feature, the Best Gift Ever.

JEFF BEZOS: My name is Jeff Bezos and I'm the founder and CEO of Amazon.com.

The best gift I ever received was all the construction toys that my grandfather gave me over the years when I was a little kid. You know, Lincoln Logs, Erector Sets, Legos.

Every year I'd get a new construction toy of some kind. And then building things is something that has served me well all throughout the years.

In fact, I love construction toys to this day, and I love them so much that for my fifth wedding anniversary, my wife gave me a huge five-foot-tall tool chest filled to the brim with Legos.

NAPOLI: Jeff Bezos is CEO of Amazon.com

BEZOS OUTTAKE: What really turned into the best gift was I then got to spend all of my summers working with him on his ranch. Ranchers build everything so I got to do the construction toys for real. We would arc weld gates and build fences and lay pipelines.

 

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