Who Is Jeff Bezos?
Entrepreneur and e-commerce pioneer Jeff Bezos is the founder and CEO of the e-commerce company Amazon, owner of The Washington Post and founder of the space exploration company Blue Origin. His successful business ventures have made him one of the richest people in the world. Born in 1964 in New Mexico, Bezos had an early love of computers and studied computer science and electrical engineering at Princeton University. After graduation, he worked on Wall Street, and in 1990 he became the youngest senior vice president at the investment firm D.E. Shaw. Four years later, Bezos quit his lucrative job to open Amazon.com, an online bookstore that became one of the Internet’s biggest success stories. In 2013, Bezos purchased The Washington Post, and in 2017 Amazon acquired Whole Foods. In February 2021, Amazon announced that Bezos will step down as CEO in the third quarter of the year.
Early Life and Education
Bezos was born on January 12, 1964, in Albuquerque, New Mexico, to a teenage mother, Jacklyn Gise Jorgensen, and his biological father, Ted Jorgensen.
The Jorgensens were married less than a year. When Bezos was 4 years old, his mother remarried Mike Bezos, a Cuban immigrant.
Bezos graduated summa cum laude from Princeton University in 1986 with a degree in computer science and electrical engineering.
Bezos showed an early interest in how things work, turning his parents’ garage into a laboratory and rigging electrical contraptions around his house as a child.
He moved to Miami with his family as a teenager, where he developed a love for computers and graduated valedictorian of his high school. It was during high school that he started his first business, the Dream Institute, an educational summer camp for fourth, fifth and sixth graders.
Career in Finance
After graduating from Princeton, Bezos found work at several firms on Wall Street, including Fitel, Bankers Trust and the investment firm D.E. Shaw. In 1990, Bezos became D.E. Shaw’s youngest vice president.
While his career in finance was extremely lucrative, Bezos chose to make a risky move into the nascent world of e-commerce. He quit his job in 1994, moved to Seattle and targeted the untapped potential of the Internet market by opening an online bookstore.
Founder and CEO of Amazon.com
Bezos opened Amazon.com, named after the meandering South American river, on July 16, 1995, after asking 300 friends to beta test his site. In the months leading up to launch, a few employees began developing software with Bezos in his garage; they eventually expanded operations into a two-bedroom house equipped with three Sun Microstations.
The initial success of the company was meteoric. With no press promotion, Amazon.com sold books across the United States and in 45 foreign countries within 30 days. In two months, sales reached $20,000 a week, growing faster than Bezos and his startup team had envisioned.
Amazon.com went public in 1997, leading many market analysts to question whether the company could hold its own when traditional retailers launched their own e-commerce sites. Two years later, the start-up not only kept up, but also outpaced competitors, becoming an e-commerce leader.
Bezos continued to diversify Amazon’s offerings with the sale of CDs and videos in 1998, and later clothes, electronics, toys and more through major retail partnerships.
While many dot.coms of the early ’90s went bust, Amazon flourished with yearly sales that jumped from $510,000 in 1995 to over $17 billion in 2011.
As part of Bezos’ 2018 annual shareholder letter, the media tycoon said the company had surpassed 100 million paid subscribers for Amazon Prime. By September 2018, Amazon was valued at more than $1 trillion, the second company to ever hit that record just a few weeks after Apple.
At the end of 2018, Amazon announced it was raising the minimum wage for its workers to $15 per hour. The company has still been criticized for its working conditions and grueling pace, with workers protesting during Prime Day in July 2019.
Amazon Instant Video & Amazon Studios
In 2006, Amazon.com launched its video-on-demand service. Initially known as Amazon Unbox on TiVo, it was eventually rebranded as Amazon Instant Video.
Bezos premiered several original programs with the launch of Amazon Studios in 2013. The company hit it big in 2014 with the critically-acclaimed Transparent and Mozart in the Jungle.
The company produced and released its first original feature film, Spike Lee’s Chi-Raq, In 2015.
In 2016, Bezos stepped in front of the camera for a cameo appearance playing an alien in Star Trek Beyond. A Star Trek fan since childhood, Bezos is listed as a Starfleet Official in the movie credits on IMDb.
In early 2018, The Seattle Times reported that Amazon had consolidated its consumer retail operations in order to focus on growing areas including digital entertainment and Alexa, Amazon’s virtual assistant.
Amazon released the Kindle, a handheld digital book reader that allowed users to buy, download, read and store their book selections, in 2007.
Bezos entered Amazon into the tablet marketplace with the unveiling of the Kindle Fire in 2011. The following September, he announced the new Kindle Fire HD, the company’s next-generation tablet designed to give Apple’s iPad a run for its money.
“We haven’t built the best tablet at a certain price. We have built the best tablet at any price,” Bezos said, according to ABC News.
In early December 2013, Bezos made headlines when he revealed a new, experimental initiative by Amazon, called “Amazon Prime Air,” using drones to provide delivery services to customers. He said these drones would be able to carry items weighing up to five pounds and be capable of traveling within a 10-mile distance of the company’s distribution center.
The first Prime Air delivery took place in Cambridge, England, on December 7, 2016.
Bezos oversaw one of Amazon’s few major missteps when the company launched the Fire Phone in 2014. Criticized for being too gimmicky, it was discontinued the following year.
Bezos had been eyeing the food delivery market, and in 2017 Amazon announced it had acquired the Whole Foods grocery chain for $13.7 billion in cash.
The company began offering in-store deals to Amazon Prime customers and grocery delivery in as little as two hours, depending on the market. As a result, Walmart and Krogers also began offering meal delivery to its customers.
Owner of ‘The Washington Post’
On August 5, 2013, Bezos made headlines worldwide when he purchased The Washington Post and other publications affiliated with its parent company, The Washington Post Co., for $250 million.
The deal marked the end of the four-generation reign over The Post Co. by the Graham family, which included Donald E. Graham, the company’s chairman and chief executive, and his niece, Post publisher Katharine Graham.
“The Post could have survived under the company’s ownership and been profitable for the foreseeable future,” Graham stated, in an effort to explain the transaction. “But we wanted to do more than survive. I’m not saying this guarantees success, but it gives us a much greater chance of success.”
In a statement to Post employees on August 5, Bezos wrote:
“The values of The Post do not need changing. …There will, of course, be change at The Post over the coming years. That’s essential and would have happened with or without new ownership. The Internet is transforming almost every element of the news business: shortening news cycles, eroding long-reliable revenue sources, and enabling new kinds of competition, some of which bear little or no news-gathering costs.”
Bezos hired hundreds of reporters and editors and tripled the newspaper’s technology staff (hundreds of those employees published an open letter to their boss asking for salary increases and better benefits in the summer of 2018). The organization boasted several scoops, including revealing that former national security advisor Michael Flynn lied about his contact with Russians, leading to his resignation.
By 2016, the organization said it was profitable. The following year, the Post had an ad revenue of more than $100 million, with three straight years of double-digit revenue growth. Amazon soon bypassed The New York Times digital in unique users, with 86.4 million unique users as of June 2019, according to ComScore.
In 2000, Bezos founded Blue Origin, an aerospace company that develops technologies to lower the cost of space travel to make it accessible to paying customers. For a decade and a half, the company operated quietly.
Then, in 2016, Bezos invited reporters to visit the headquarters in Kent, Washington, just south of Seattle. He described a vision of humans not only visiting but eventually colonizing space. In 2017, Bezos promised to sell about $1 billion in Amazon stock annually to fund Blue Origin.
Two years later, he revealed the Blue Origin moon lander and said the company was conducting test flights of its suborbital New Shepard rocket, which would take tourists into space for a few minutes.
“We are going to build a road to space. And then amazing things will happen,” Bezos said.
In August 2019, NASA announced that Blue Origin was among 13 companies selected to collaborate on 19 technology projects to reach the moon and Mars. Blue Origin is developing a safe and precise landing system for the moon as well as engine nozzles for rockets with liquid propellant. The company is also working with NASA to build and launch reusable rockets from a refurbished complex just outside of NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.
Bezos Day One Fund
In 2018, Bezos launched the Bezos Day One Fund, which focuses on “funding existing non-profits that help homeless families, and creating a network of new, non-profit tier-one preschools in low-income communities.” The announcement came a year after Bezos had asked his Twitter followers how to donate part of his fortune.
Bezos founded the organization with his ex-wife MacKenzie before their divorce, and he gave away $2 billion of his personal fortune to fund the nonprofit. As one of the world’s wealthiest people, Bezos had been publicly criticized in the past for his lack of philanthropic efforts.
On January 30, 2018, Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway and JPMorgan Chase delivered a joint press release in which they announced plans to pool their resources to form a new healthcare company for their U.S. employees.
According to the release, the company will be “free from profit-making incentives and constraints” as it tries to find ways to cut costs and boost satisfaction for patients, with an initial focus on technology solutions.
“The healthcare system is complex, and we enter into this challenge open-eyed about the degree of difficulty,” said Bezos. “Hard as it might be, reducing healthcare’s burden on the economy while improving outcomes for employees and their families would be worth the effort.”
On February 17, 2020, Bezos announced that he was launching the Bezos Earth Fund to combat the potentially devastating effects of climate change. Along with committing $10 billion to the initiative, Bezos said he would begin issuing grants and fund “scientists, activists, NGOs — any effort that offers a real possibility to help preserve and protect the natural world.”
Stepping Down as CEO
In February 2021, Amazon announced that Bezos will step down as CEO in the third quarter of the year. He will transition to executive chair of Amazon’s board.
Wife and Kids
Bezos met MacKenzie Tuttle when they both worked at D.E. Shaw: he as a senior vice president and she as an administrative assistant to pay the bills to fund her writing career. The couple dated for three months before getting engaged and married shortly thereafter in 1993.
MacKenzie was an integral part of the founding and success of Amazon, helping create Amazon’s first business plan and serving as the company’s first accountant. Although quiet and bookish, she publicly supported Amazon and her husband. A novelist by trade, training under Toni Morrison during her college years at Princeton University, MacKenzie published her first book, The Testing of Luther Albright, in 2005, and her second novel, Traps, in 2013.
After more than 25 years of marriage, Bezos and MacKenzie divorced in 2019. As part of the divorce settlement, Bezos’ stake in Amazon was cut from 16 percent to 12 percent, putting his stake at nearly $110 billion and MacKenzie’s at more than $37 billion. MacKenzie announced that she planned to give away at least half of her wealth to charity.
Bezos and MacKenzie have four children together: three sons and a daughter adopted from China.
Right after Bezos announced his divorce from MacKenzie in January 2019, The National Enquirer published an 11-page exposé of the media mogul’s extramarital affair with television host Lauren Sanchez.
Bezos subsequently launched an investigation into the motives of The National Enquirer and its parent company, American Media Inc. The following month, in a lengthy post on Medium, Bezos accused AMI of threatening to publish explicit photos unless he backed off the investigation.
“Of course I don’t want personal photos published, but I also won’t participate in their well-known practice of blackmail, political favors, political attacks and corruption,” Bezos wrote. “I prefer to stand up, roll this log over and see what crawls out.”
In that same post, Bezos suggested that there was possibly a link between AMI’s actions and the Saudi Arabian government. Later, a forensic analysis of Bezos’ phone revealed that it was hacked after the mogul received a video via WhatsApp from Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.