Jeff Bezos once wrote that mega-consequential business decisions, ones that can’t easily be reversed, “must be made methodically, carefully, slowly, with great deliberation and consultation.” Surely this explains the time and care that the Amazon founder has taken in both relieving Washington Post C.E.O. Fred Ryan from his throne—a decision that followed a $100 million revenue miss, a mild anarchy from within his newsroom, and Ryan’s general inability to innovate beyond the mediaco’s beltway sweetspot—and in appointing his successor. The Washington Post may represent couch cushion money on the balance sheet of the Bezos family office, but the Amazon founder ostensibly knows that he is the custodian of an institution, and he doesn’t want to Licht it. By all accounts, he takes pride in stewarding the company and remains staunchly committed to returning it to profitability after a rough couple years.
Following a four-months-long search by interim chief executive Patty Stonesifer and the Sucherman executive search firm, Bezos solicited six-page memos from five semi-finalist candidates and conducted one-on-one Zoom interviews with each of them. He then winnowed the group down to two finalists—Josh Steiner, the former banker and government official and current Bloomberg L.P. lieutenant, and Will Lewis, the former Dow Jones C.E.O.—both of whom he interviewed in person last week during hours-long meetings that were followed by lunch, per sources familiar. In 2021, after interviewing candidates for the Post executive editor position, Bezos similarly invited the candidates and their significant others over for dinner, which included Wagyu beef prepared three ways.
Such diligence is surely warranted. Selecting a chief executive is a consequential decision, the sort of sliding door moment that has the power to change the course of history. In 2012, Turner C.E.O. Phil Kent came very close to choosing Mark Shapiro, a veteran of ESPN and Dick Clark Productions, over former NBCUniversal C.E.O. Jeff Zucker for the top job at CNN. One wonders how Shapiro, now the president of Ari Emanuel’s Endeavor, would have navigated the Trump 2016 candidacy, to say nothing of the years that followed. By the same token, one wonders where the Post’s business, which is currently hemorrhaging $100 million a year, might be today if Ryan hadn’t courted Steve and Jean Case for an introduction to Bezos at the Alfalfa Club dinner all those years ago.