This week it was revealed that the world’s richest man has ordered one of the world’s most expensive yachts. It cost $500m – double what he paid for The Washington Post in 2013 – and is so big (417ft) that it needs its own support yacht.
Just remind us, how rich is Bezos?
As rich as Croesus. He made $75bn during the pandemic from his retail company, Amazon, which pulled in $386bn as everyone shopped from their sofa. Bloomberg puts his total net worth at $186bn and Business Insider claims he made $152,207 a minute in February. What does a 57-year-old divorcee spend all that money on? Real estate, his $70m Gulfstream G650ER jet (he avoids helicopters after surviving a crash in 2003) and his space exploration company, Blue Origin.
Hasn’t he just stepped down as Amazon’s CEO?
He will by the end of the year. Not before time, some say, given the terrible press the company gets about its working conditions. Bezos made a big fuss about giving customers his email – firstname.lastname@example.org – but almost never responds. “Are you lazy or just incompetent?” he’s said to have asked one employee. “Why are you ruining my life?” he apparently demanded of another. In 2019 Harvard Business Review didn’t rank him in its top 100 CEOs, citing the risks created by Amazon’s “working conditions and employment policies, data security, and antitrust issues”. The New York Times once called him “a brilliant but mysterious and cold-blooded corporate titan”. Bezos says he will now be devoting more time to space exploration and philanthropy.
But isn’t he known for being stingy?
He’s certainly not associated with generosity. Although he’s been a billionaire since 1999, he’s been in no hurry to give money away. His first public gift wasn’t until 2011, when he gave $10m to the Museum of History and Industry in Seattle, creating the Bezos Center for Innovation. Last year he pledged $10bn to fight climate change. But there’s no deadline for that donation, and frankly it’s small beer compared to his overall wealth. Only $7.2bn of the Amazon fortune has actually been given away – mostly by his ex-wife, MacKenzie Scott. Last year she donated almost $6bn. Publicly, at least, Jeff has given away a mere $1.4bn in his lifetime.
I suppose his divorce in 2019 cost him a pretty penny.
Nowhere near half his fortune. His wife of 25 years, with whom he has three sons and an adopted daughter, ended up with about $38bn in Amazon shares – a 4% stake – instantly making her the world’s fourth richest woman. Bezos retained 12% of the company’s stock, worth almost $108bn, according to The New York Times. Scott promised to donate at least half her fortune to charity, signing the Giving Pledge in May 2019. She has since married a science teacher.
So there’s lots left for him and his new girlfriend.
Tons. We don’t know how much MacKenzie got of his vast real-estate portfolio: a 2017 Land Report named Bezos as 28th largest landowner in the US. His main home is in Medina, Washington – an exclusive waterside suburb that’s home to Bill Gates and other tech bigwigs. It spans 5.3 acres and underwent a $28m renovation in 2010. Last year he bought music mogul David Geffen’s nine-acre Warner Estate in Beverly Hills for $165m, making it the most expensive home ever sold in the Los Angeles area. And in June 2019 he spent $80m on three adjacent apartments in New York’s largest real-estate deal south of 42nd Street. Then there’s the new yacht. The helipad on the support vessel will come in handy: his new girlfriend, TV anchor Lauren Sanchez, 51, is a trained helicopter pilot.
Weren’t they embroiled in a sexting scandal?
Indeed. In January 2019, while Bezos was still technically married, the National Enquirer got hold of “below-the-belt selfies” of the Amazon founder. It was reported that Sanchez had bizarrely forwarded them to her brother, who sold them to the US tabloid for $200,000. (He denies this and is suing the Enquirer for claiming he was its main source.) Rather than hide behind a phalanx of PRs, Bezos beat the Enquirer at its own game, going public with a blog post that included descriptions of the toe-curling texts and nudes. He suggested the paper was threatening to publish them as political retribution for The Washington Post’s reporting on the Enquirer’s connections to the Trump administration. The story died, along with his marriage, but amazingly his relationship with Sanchez survived.
Clever and ruthless. Is that how he came to be so rich?
Exactly. He was born in Albuquerque, New Mexico, to a 17-year-old mother, Jacklyn, and a 19-year-old father, Theodore Jorgensen. His parents divorced while he was still a toddler and he was adopted by his mother’s second husband, Cuban immigrant Miguel “Mike” Bezos. Jeff proved to be a precocious and nerdy kid: as a youngster, he reportedly felt “too old” to sleep in his crib and took it apart by himself with a screwdriver. At his graduation speech, he said he dreamed of the day when mankind would colonise space. After Princeton, he spent his twenties in various Wall Street jobs before throwing in the corporate towel in 1994 to start Amazon from his garage. It is now the world’s largest online sales company, the largest internet company by revenue and the largest provider of virtual assistants and cloud infrastructure services. Not bad for a boy born to teens from the boondocks.
Still, he doesn’t always win – isn’t he losing his space race with Elon Musk?
True. The billionaires are battling to be first to take space tourists up to the stars. Bezos’s Blue Origin, founded in 2000, will soon begin selling tickets for rides on its tourism rocket, New Shepard. The problem is, Musk’s SpaceX project is miles ahead. It landed rockets at sea in 2016, before Blue Origin had even built a sea-going landing platform. What’s more, last month SpaceX beat Blue Origin to a $2.9bn contract to build a lunar lander for Nasa. Regardless, Bezos is committed to selling $1bn of Amazon stock every year to fund his celestial dream.
At least his obsession with space gave birth to one of his most profitable products.
That’ll be Alexa. In early discussions about Amazon’s virtual assistant – eventually launched in 2014 – Bezos told technical adviser Greg Hart that the goal was to create “the Star Trek computer”. He was so obsessed with the TV series and movies that for years he begged Paramount to let him appear in one of them. Bezos eventually played a Starfleet official in the 2016 movie Star Trek: Beyond.
An alien. That figures.